Conservation Through Citizen Science

Himanshu Choudhery

Worldwide, the field of biological conservation has been increasingly seeing the involvement of people of all ages. From amateur wildlife explorers to the more experienced ones, everyone is actively contributing to the conservation of biodiversity. This active participation and collaboration of the general public with professionals in scientific research is known as citizen science. Around the 1950s, citizen science was first used by Fred Urquhart when he and his volunteers tagged monarch butterflies to study their wintering locations in Michoacán, Mexico (Yang et al., 2019). From that time onwards to the present era, citizen science has considerably evolved, especially with the help of newer forms of technology. Today, people can easily share and access citizen science data from any part of the world through various online platforms. City dwellers are increasingly engaging in activities like watching and identifying birds, butterflies, insects and trees, and taking a liking to nature through hobbies such as nature photography and recording animal sounds. In this blog article, I will be talking about how bird watching as a hobby which is not only helping people cope up with the stress of urban life, but also how this hobby is aiding in the conservation of avifauna.

Despite having a hectic work schedule all through the week, many enthusiastic bird watchers have managed to set aside time for bird watching during weekends and holidays as it is a fun, relaxing and an easily accessible activity for people across all age groups. However, through birdwatching, they are not only close to nature but are also contributing valuable information on avifauna and helping in the scientific understanding of birds. This is possible because of online citizen science data platforms which allow birders to upload information of bird sightings and pictures on their websites. eBird is one such platform where any person can conveniently upload checklists, sound recordings and photographs of birds. This information is freely available and anybody around the globe can access it. Platforms like eBird also summarize large data sets and provide graphical representations, geographical coordinates and distribution maps of bird species. All this open-access information is of great value to students, researchers and conservationists who are working for the conservation of avifauna. 

Recently, an assessment of Indian birds, the first of its kind, was published in the State of India’s Birds Report 2020. This report was a combined effort of various organisations and individuals who have been submitting their checklists over the past several years. According to the report, around 10 million observations of 867 bird species have been documented by 15,500 birdwatchers on eBird. The report has also highlighted that around 48 per cent of species are increasing or are likely to be stable in the long run, while approximately 79 per cent have seen a decline in the last five years. This report is testament to the tremendous effort of common citizens towards the conservation of Indian bird species.

Apart from exploring bird sanctuaries and protected areas, birders around the country are also exploring other undiscovered areas. For instance, I have seen several birders from Delhi who travel to the peri-urban areas of the city for bird watching. Although these peri-urban areas have several wetlands and natural patches which attract different species of birds, they are unprotected and vulnerable to degradation due to increasing anthropogenic pressure. In recent times, citizen science data has helped in attracting the attention of government agencies and non-governmental organisations towards the protection and upkeep of these landscapes. This is evident in government initiatives such as the introduction of a new ten-year plan specifically designed for the protection of Indian bird species.

Having seen the success of citizen science data in the protection and conservation of avifauna, encouraging further participation of citizens will continue to remain crucial. Government agencies should frequently collaborate with scientific institutions to arrange more events where the importance of bird monitoring and data collection can be communicated to amateur birders. Further, basic birding equipment like binoculars and point-and-shoot cameras and bird identification books should be readily available at a nominal fee or for free, especially for those people who want to actively participate in birding but cannot due to logistical or financial constraints.

Reference

Yang D, Wan HY, Huang TK, Liu J (2019) The Role of Citizen Science in Conservation under the Telecoupling Framework. Sustainability: 1-17.

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