The Big Forest Find, England
Forestry England’s Big Forest Find is the country’s largest survey of forest wildlife. Volunteers can download the free iNaturalist app, then use it to take and upload photographs of animals and plants in their local forest, identifying the species they find. This can be anything from lichen and other fungi to birds, butterflies and mammals. These observations are verified by experts and added to national records on biodiversity. Accurate records help ecologists, scientists and rangers provide homes for wildlife and care for the forests. There are also expert-led activities, such as one in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, on 5 October. The Big Forest Find is part of Forestry England’s centenary celebrations – the Forestry Commission was founded in 1919 to restore the nation’s woods and forests after the first world war, and is now focusing on preparing for the climate crisis.
• Until 31 October, free, forestryengland.uk
Dormouse survey, Somerset
The National Trust’s working holidays involve various outdoor activities, including plant and animal surveys. Volunteers might be identifying plants on the Woolbeding estate in West Sussex, monitoring bats and birds at Arlington Court in Devon or surveying wildflowers and butterflies on Dorset’s Golden Cap estate. One appealing upcoming holiday is at the Holnicote estate in Somerset from 23-27 September, on 12,000 acres of moorland, woodland and beaches in Exmoor national park. Volunteers will take part in an annual dormouse survey, before the tiny creatures hibernate in October, and help with charcoal-making and coppicing – woodland management. This is vital to sustain the dormice population, because Hazel (or common) dormouse numbers in the UK have declined by a third since 2000. Volunteers will also join a deer stalker to learn about the ecology of Exmoor’s red deer. Accommodation is in a converted barn with two dormitories and there is a pub a short walk away.
• £180, including food, accommodation and transfers, nationaltrust.org.uk
Rock Pool Project, Cornwall
Rockpooling meets marine research in this year-old social enterprise project. Its family-friendly day trips around Falmouth and St Mawes offer a chance to discover the south Cornish coast and survey local wildlife along the way, helping to build a map of rock pool diversity across the project’s survey sites. Participants are given waterproof cameras with which to photograph finds over a two-hour guided experience, and at the end staff collect them and tag the images with species’ names before adding the information to the Rock Pool Project database.
• Two-hour guided experience, child £3.83 to £6.52. The last of the summer’s group events runs on 31 August (St Mawes by ferry from Prince of Wales Pier) but private sessions can also be arranged, therockpoolproject.co.uk
Project Puffin, Skomer, Pembrokeshire
Plan ahead for next summer and join the “puffarazzi” with the RSPB. Between early June and late July 2020, visitors to the UK’s puffin colonies will be asked to take photographs of birds with fish in their bills, making a note of the date, time and location and then uploading that information to a dedicated page on the RSPB’s website. The idea is to help conservation scientist Dr Ellie Owen and her team pinpoint why puffin colonies are declining (the current thinking is that it is related to a reduction in food availability caused by climate change). The colonies include Skomer Island, in Pembrokeshire, to which the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales runs day trips between Easter and the end of September.
• Boat fares from Martin’s Haven to Skomer are £11 adult, £7 child, landing fee £11 adult, £5 child. Hostel-style overnight stay from £30 adult, £15 child. Details of Project Puffin at rspb.org.uk
Silurian Research Expeditions, Hebrides
For an in-depth citizen science experience, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust offers research-centred boat trips of between seven and 12 days on its yacht, Silurian (which was used in filming BBC’s Blue Planet), between April and October each year. The project has been monitoring whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks off the west coast of Scotland for 17 years and holds the largest database of its kind for UK waters, adding to its records each year by systematically surveying the west coast. There are also dedicated sailings just for 16- and 17-year-olds. If a week is too long, the charity also runs the Whale Track initiative, whereby anyone visiting Scotland’s west coast can record whale and dolphin sightings via a free app, helping to track the movements of different species.
• From £950pp all-inclusive, hwdt.org
Under The Pier, Isle of Wight
When Ryde Pier opened in 1814, the idea was to offer foot passengers disembarking from boats an alternative to walking across a long stretch of wet sand to reach dry land (at low tide this was up to half a mile). Today, however, getting sand between your toes is an attraction in itself. Especially on 30 August, at this year’s Under The Pier art and nature event. It’s a volunteer-powered survey of the marine wildlife in, on and under the pier, and finds can be identified with the help of professional ecologists, then verified, recorded and submitted to the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society (which maintains the island’s species database). Along the way, younger visitors can sand-cast their own starfish or listen to the sea with a hydrophone.
• 3.30pm-6pm, free (take your own net), open to all ages, underthepier.space
Moth Night, North Yorkshire
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Moth Night, with a host of moth-counting activities across the country from 26 to 28 September. One of the most sociable events will be at the Yorkshire Arboretum, at Castle Howard near York, on 27 September. Visitors can hear more about typical local species over a drink at the cafe, before joining experts to set moth traps around the trees in the late evening. The group return the following morning to inspect the traps, record what is inside them and so help monitor species numbers and, potentially, identify the migration of species over time.
• 9pm-10.30pm, then 8am next day, £4 adult, £2 child, yorkshirearboretum.org, mothnight.info
Mull Otter Group
Otters are notoriously elusive but the island of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, has over 300 miles of suitable coastal habitat and supports one of the highest densities of Eurasian otters in the UK. Many wildlife enthusiasts travel to the island specifically to spot them and, while the Mull Otter Group doesn’t reveal known locations (to avoid disturbance), it encourages visitors to record otter sightings via its website. Reporting sightings helps the group better understand otter biology and ecology, encourage responsible otter watching, reduce otter road casualties and generally keep tabs on local otter populations. There’s a better chance of spotting one of the glossy-backed creatures with one of local wildlife walk operator Mull Magic’s Otter Detective Walks. Sightings aren’t guaranteed but the idea behind the small-group tours is to help visitors responsibly look for, and learn about, otters.
• mullottergroup.co.uk. One-day Otter Detective walk with Mull Magic from £60pp, including lunch and afternoon tea, mullmagic.com
The Great British Beach Clean, various locations
Plastic bottles, bras, false teeth, headless dolls… All these items and more could be scooped up by participants in this year’s Great British Beach Clean, on 20-23 September. With plastic pollution now an issue on all the world’s beaches, the need for this annual event is indisputable. It’s not just about litter-picking, however. The Marine Conservation Society also collects data from the initiative to help support its campaigns (which have succeeded in introducing the plastic bag levy, a ban on microplastics in personal care products and better wet wipe labelling). Find an organised event using the map on the Marine Conservation Society website. Listings for group cleans currently range from Ballyhornan Beach in County Down to Gorleston in Norfolk.
• Free, mcsuk.org
Big Seaweed Search, nationwide
The British Isles are home to more than 650 species of seaweed, which in turn create shelter and food for thousands of sea creatures, help protect coastlines from waves and are used in everything from foods to cosmetics. But rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and the spread of non-native species are affecting seaweed health and distribution. To monitor this, the long-running Big Seaweed Project asks volunteers to visit British shorelines at low tide and record the seaweed, taking photographs and recording finds with a downloadable booklet. One of several citizen science projects organised by the Natural History Museum, this is run in conjunction with the Marine Conservation Society and can be done year-round by anyone living by – or holidaying beside – a beach.
• Free, nhm.ac.uk
Bamburgh Research Project, Northumberland
While the majority of the UK’s citizen science projects are wildlife-focused, history and culture are also subject areas. In Northumberland, for instance, the Bamburgh Research Project is a long-running archaeological field school where volunteers can help with the ongoing excavation of Bamburgh Castle (the principal palace-fortress of the medieval Kings of Northumbria) and the documenting of finds. An independent, not-for-profit initiative, it runs for six weeks in June and July each year (so plan ahead for 2020) and is especially suited to archaeology undergraduates looking for dig experience. Anyone 12 and over can take part, however, beginners included.
• One week £280 (under-16s need a parent or guardian with them), including training and equipment, but not accommodation, which can be booked separately at a suggested campsite and bunkhouse, bamburghresearchproject.co.uk
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