Friday, 20 September 2013

MMNN - Contributing to Science OR Encouraging Participation ?

I have had it put to me this week that MMNN has to decide which side of the fence it is on.

My vision for MMNN is quite clear: It is so easy to tick both boxes and make a scientific contribution AND engage the public.

I can illustrate this fairly simply:

1. Members such as Council's and wardened reserves, that have the knowledge and experience of data collection, will continue to use a platform such as Living Record, or send data into local recorders and LRC's. They already do an excellent job contributing to Science. My aim here is simply to get as many members as possible onto a common platform, because it will help everyone along the chain in terms of quality and resources. Coordination, repeated surveying and "think-tanks" will help member council's in their tireless pursuit of biodiversity targets and allow them to monitor their performance more easily.

2. Next. The interesting one. What I call "The Second Element": the army of wildlife enthusiasts that hold intimate knowledge of their patches. 

To increase the quality and volume of the information hitting the LRC's and NBN, we need expansion of Local Wildlife Partnerships (LWP). This allows a patch of the British countryside to act as a structured "reserve". My life has taught me NEVER to have barriers or say something cannot be done. A central role of MMNN will be to assist in the creation of local partnerships and to identify new sites that require protection and designation, through our army of "bloggers" and "patch" watchers. 

It may well be the LWP's that provide the answers, as to why wildlife has vanished in such a short period of time, simply because they venture away from the managed reserves and into our more typical countryside and "wild Britain". The "patch" watchers may prove to be biodiversity's knights in shining armour!!!

3. Now for the worm and what I call the "Third Element". I had a biodiversity officer comment last week that 95% of the population have no intention at all in engaging with wildlife. 

Furthermore, my friend's son was asked at school a few weeks ago about his hobbies in front of the class. When he replied that he was a birdwatcher, his supply teacher laughed. Needless to say, after my involvement, her agency have been informed that she is no longer welcome at that school!!

To meet our 2020 biodiversity targets, this attitude has to change. MMNN  can embrace participation and education, WITHOUT compromising Science and Conservation. I'm not being funny, but if you ask a School to identify Worms, you will get misleading information!!! It probably would bore most of the kids to death too!!! 

If "Citizen Science" goes wrong, you cannot blame those making the records  for down-grading the quality of data. Surveys have to be designed carefully from the outset , in order to maximise accuracy of results and the positive influence that it has on the participants.

Is it right that we have more than 80,000 species of wildlife in the U.K? The vast majority of BAP species, don't even appear in the best selling field guides. These have to be recorded only by those with the necessary ability. But I will not accept that MMNN has to be on one side or the other, when the answer is so simple.

Schools can be provided with surveys, which cover easy to identify species. Don't ask them to survey Small White Butterflies, because some kids or even teachers may confuse them with worms, if you see what I mean?

But if every school in Britain performed a survey of male Orange Tip Butterflies, would you disregard the data as useless because it was produced by the 95% of the population that we need on board to save our wildlife? How many future naturalists would this approach produce? How many kids might be influenced by the hunting Kestrel that they see, whilst out on a warm Spring day with their school mates, counting butterflies on their local green space?

We are so lucky to have so many safe LNR's, Wildlife Trusts sites and other reserves and parks in close proximity to schools. We are also blessed to have our State of Nature partner organisations, and I am sure that they can produce a short-list of say 200 species, which are unmistakable and that can be surveyed annually by schools. If I were a science teacher and I had these species on Power Point, the first thing I would be doing with them, on the first week of the academic year, is showing them to my class and allowing them to pick their favourites to study during the year, so that they would already be attached to the project. (I think this area is actually part of the U.K's commitment to biodiversity?). There are a good number of easily identifiable "indicator" species, that if widely surveyed repeatedly, would tell scientists a lot about the strength of ecosystems, locally and nationally, and high-light where they are breaking down fast so that local factors can be identified.

If we make barriers, we shall have barriers!!! Kingfishers are still seen on the section of the River Cole in Birmingham where I first fell in love with nature. I will not allow them to vanish because we failed to rise individually and collectively to the challenges facing the U.K's unique range of wildlife and habitats, by placing obstacles in the way that aren't even there.

Join MMNN today. Together WE REALLY CAN make a difference.

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