Open Air Laboratories (OPAL)
Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) was a UK-wide citizen science initiative founded and led by Imperial College London (2007 – 2019) enabling people to get hands-on with nature while contributing to important scientific research. OPAL designed a suite of field and desk-based activities suitable for all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and in particular launched a series of national ecological surveys. These activities were designed to increase understanding of the natural environment through data collection covering wildlife and habitat conditions.
Each survey consisted of an easy-to-follow set of instructions, a workbook to record results and species identification guides/keys. Partner organisations collaborated in the design, delivery and adaptation of these surveys. The surveys are now closed for data entry. However, you can still use the surveys to investigate the health of the environment in your local area.
Bug Count – Record bugs in any area and look out for the six species quest bugs in particular.
Soil and Earthworm Survey – Earthworms are extremely important and play a vital role in recycling plant nutrients and aerating the soil. By taking part in this survey you’ll help improve your knowledge of earthworms and the soils they live in – something we know surprisingly little about.
Air Survey – We can learn much about air quality from the species that live nearby. The air survey studies lichens found on trees and also looks for tar spot fungus on sycamore leaves. Both can tell us a great deal about local air quality.
Biodiversity Survey – Survey 3 metre sections of hedgerow and count invertebrate and specific plant species present. April to November
Tree Health Survey – Record common native tree pests and diseases between May and September.
Water Survey – The Water Survey is an exciting experiment that everyone can take part in. Learn about water health by looking at freshwater invertebrates, water clarity and PH levels.
BIG Hedgehog map – The BIG Hedgehog map helps us understand where hedgehogs are in the UK and where they are missing. Submit sightings online of hedgehogs whether they are live, dead or roadkill. Hedgehog Street is a partnership between the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.
No training needed/Beginner
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
Big Garden Birdwatch – Record the highest number of each species of bird seen in one hour. This can be done in a garden or at the park. This is an annual survey from RSPB and is only carried out on one weekend in January. Results are submitted online only but you can download a help sheet to use while recording and then upload findings online.
No training needed/Download help sheet (or use a notebook), pen/Beginner
Shorewatch – Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) collates sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises, collectively know as cetaceans, from around the UK. In Scotland, Shorewatch has a network of trained volunteers who watch out for whales and dolphins from specific sites around the Scottish coastline. Members of the public can also record casual sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises around the UK.
Online and hard copy record forms
Nature’s Calendar – Record the signs of the changing seasons near you, from leaf buds bursting to birds arriving and blackberries ripening. Take part in Nature’s Calendar and help scientists to monitor the effects of climate change on wildlife.
No training needed/Beginner
Ancient Tree Inventory – Help protect our valuable tree heritage. Let the Woodland Trust know if you see any ancient or old trees and put them on the map. There are already more than 180,000 trees listed but there are thousands more to add.
No training needed/Download help sheet (or use a notebook), pen/Beginner
Marine Conservation Society (MCS)
Wildlife surveys – MCS wants to hear about the wildlife you spot at the coast and at sea, especially marine turtles and jellyfish in UK and Irish waters. It also runs the Big Seaweed Search with the Natural History Museum.
No training needed/notebook, pen
Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS)
SMASS – For centuries, whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals have regularly stranded around the coasts of the UK. The underlying causes of these stranding events are not always clear and the role that human activity may play in either directly or indirectly causing single or mass strandings remains controversial.
The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) is part of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), and is funded by the Scottish and Westminster governments. The project aims to provide a systematic and coordinated approach to the surveillance of Scotland’s marine species by collating, analysing and reporting data of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), seals, marine turtles and basking sharks that strand on the Scottish coastline.
To report a sighting for LIVE strandings – call 24 hours a day, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765546, or SSPCA Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999.
To report DEAD strandings – phone/text 07979 245893 or email: email@example.com
Galaxy Studies – The aim of Galaxy Zoo is for the public to study the shape and form of the galaxies photographed by the Hubble telescope and to classify them.
No training needed/All online/Beginner
British Geological Survey (BGS)
British Geological Survey – The BGS website has surveys that the public can input their data into; including App based mobile surveys and historic photograph requests.
No training needed – Online instructions/Simple recording and reporting tool/Beginner
Marine Biological Association of the UK
Sealife Survey – Record sightings of marine life. Recordings are uploaded online although login is needed. Records are sent to the NBN Gateway and a recording guide is available.
No training needed/Notebook, pen etc/Beginner
Bumblebee Conservation Trust
BeeWalk – Help monitor long-term changes in bumblebee populations. A familiarity with the common garden species is required. Establish a 1-2km transect along your favourite walk where you are likely to see bumblebees and then survey this once per month between March and October. Guidelines are made available once you register your interest.
Camera, recording sheet, GPS, pen etc/Beginner
Bee Watch – Schools specific bumblebee survey. If you love digital photography and wish to learn more about bumblebees then please upload your bumblebee photos to BeeWatch. Share some basic information about the photo such as the date and location and in return we will teach you how to identify bumblebees yourself through an interactive tool. An expert will then send you feedback with the correct identification and some interesting information about that particular species. BeeWatch allows us to gather more valuable information about the distribution of our 24 species of bumblebee.
No training needed/Camera, notebook, pen/Beginner
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
Bird surveys – The BTO has a number of surveys which people can contribute information to, including Garden BirdWatch.
National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS)
NARRS – The NARRS scheme brings existing surveys for our rarer species together with volunteer-based surveys to collect data on more widespread amphibians and reptiles. There is growing concern that even our widespread species are in national decline.
Bat Conservation Trust (BCT)
National Bat Monitoring Programme – Bat numbers in the UK have declined dramatically over the last century. You can help to monitor the UK’s bats by taking part in BCT’s surveys and observing these fascinating mammals in your local area. By monitoring bats we can discover how they are faring and the factors that are important for their survival. The National Bat Monitoring Programme has been running since 1996, and gives BCT and government, the information needed to help inform bat conservation.
Seasearch – If you’re a recreational diver or snorkeller looking for a new challenge, Seasearch offers an exciting way to learn about marine life while doing your bit to protect and restore our ocean. By collecting information about the habitats, plants and animals that you see underwater, you’ll be helping us track the health of our marine environments. The project is led by the Marine Conservation Society with support from our coordinators and partner organisations and data is required from sites all around Britain and Ireland.
Training courses will teach you everything you need to become a volunteer.
The Met Office – WOW
Weather Observations Website (WOW) – Recording rainfall and other meteorological phenomena around you. Either record your weather on the go through your smart phone or set your home/work/school up as an observation site recording rain, weather type, temperature and any other conditions you wish. Then see your reports alongside hundreds of others in your area.
No training needed/Simple online recording process/Beginner
Bug Surveys – Take part in a wide variety of insect surveys – there should be something for everyone.
No training needed but worth contacting Buglife for advice and information on training courses available/Simple online recording process and ID Sheets/Beginner
Butterfly recording – Various butterfly and moth surveys – Lots of recording and monitoring of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) to get involved with, so find a survey that suits you.
No training needed/Simple online recording process and ID sheets/Beginner
iSpot – Not a survey but iSpot provides peer to peer review of photographs and description of specimens seen in the field. Gives rapid ID for unknown species and builds up your ability and knowledge to confidently spot things yourself. Mobile App is also available to turn your mobile phone into a tool for accessing information on the go.
Online instructions/Simple ID and recording tool/Beginner
iRecord – Not a survey but iRecord provides a way of uploading multiple photographs and details of specimens seen in the field. Mobile App also available turns your mobile phone into a tool for recording on the go.
Online instructions/Simple ID and recording tool/Comfortable
SCAPE – SCAPE works with the public to research, investigate, interpret and promote the archaeology of Scotland’s coast. It aims to save information about Scotland’s archaeological sites before they are lost to erosion. The website gives details of its current projects and opportunities to get involved in recording sites.
Scottish Wildlife Trust
Wildlife recording – You can help the Scottish Wildlife Trust better understand the wildlife on its reserves by noting down any sightings of unusual, protected or local interest species, or by listing all the species you see when visiting a reserve. Even records of common species can be useful.
Online instructions/Simple recording and reporting tool/Beginner
Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI)
The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative – A 5-year partnership project which works with local organisations and volunteers to control invasive non-native species along riversides in Northern Scotland, for the benefit of our native wildlife and communities. SISI records sightings of six key species – American mink, Giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, American skunk cabbage and White butterbur.
For any other species that are non-native in Scotland you can report them via the the non-native species reporting form on Scotland’s Environment website.
Sightings to SSSI and Scotland’s Environment are also automatically forwarded to the National Biodiversity Network
Grey squirrel sightings can be reported to Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (below).
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels
Squirrel sightings – Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project that is working to ensure red squirrels continue to be a part of Scotland’s special native wildlife. With the help of partners, landowners and local volunteers, the project is monitoring squirrel numbers across Scotland. You can report sightings online of squirrels – both red and grey.
British Dragonfly Society
DragonflyWatch – Help the British Dragonfly Society by searching for dragonflies and submitting records of dragonflies and damselflies.
Online instructions and training provided by volunteer groups/Simple recording and reporting tool/Beginner
National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS)
National Plant Monitoring Scheme – This scheme aims to survey plant species across different habitats in the UK. The data collected from the survey allow us to look at the abundance and diversity of plants and help us to understand the health of different habitats. This is a scientific survey, so you will be randomly allocated a convenient 1km square to visit. The visit involves recording plant ‘indicator species’ in plots. Within your 1km square you will record around 5 plots in semi-natural habitats.
Different levels of participation ensure that all who are keen can participate: you do not have to be an experienced botanist.
Wild Knowledge – This is not a survey but provides information on how to turn your mobile phone into a tool for accessing information on the go.
No training needed, online instructions/Simple recording tool/Beginner
Fidra – The Great Nurdle Hunt
The Great Nurdle Hunt – Nurdles are plastic pellets used in the plastic making industry. Search your local beach to help see how far they are spreading in our environment. Fidra is an environmental charity working to reduce plastic waste and chemical pollution in our seas, on our beaches and in the wider environment.
Online instructions/Simple recording tool and pot for collecting nurdles/Beginner
Natural History Museum (NHM)
Community science projects – The NHM invites you to actively contribute to its scientific research. At any time it has a number of surveys you can take part in, and you don’t need special skills or training as the Museum will tell you everything you need to know to get involved.
Big Microplastic Survey
Big Microplastic Survey – The Big Microplastic Survey is a collaborative citizen science project being undertaken by UK registered charity, Just One Ocean and the University of Portsmouth. The project began in July 2018 and numerous individuals and organisations from around the world have joined the programme. The Big Microplastic Survey has been designed as a global citizen science project that anyone can participate in. It gathers scientific data and information about the microplastics problem from around the world and is aimed at individuals and organisations that have access to the coast, rivers and lakes and want to get involved.
The Wildlife Trusts – Shoresearch
Shoresearch – Shoresearch is The Wildlife Trusts’ national citizen science survey of the intertidal shore, the exciting world of extremes where the sea meets the land. It’s a great way to explore your local coast, learn more about the wildlife found there and add to our understanding of this important habitat.
Volunteers are trained to identify and record the wildlife on shores across the UK. The data collected by this project helps experts to monitor our fragile sea life and better understand the effects of pollution, climate change and invasive alien species.
The Rock Pool Project
Rock pool surveys – The Rock Pool Project provides several surveys to discover and record marine wildlife.
Surveys are available for different levels: Beginner/Intermediate/Experienced
What makes viruses tick?
Tick map sightings – What makes viruses tick? is a project involving TCV and the Brennan Lab at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. The project aims to raise awareness of ticks and tick-borne diseases in Scotland. You can report tick sighting and bitings online using the project’s Tick Map.
UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS)
UKPoMS – Pollinating insects play a vital role in our environment, ensuring that many of our crops and wild plants are able to set seed and produce fruit. We need to know how pollinator populations are changing, and with the help of volunteer recorders, PoMS is gathering data on a wide range of flower-visiting insects. There are different activities to get involved in.
Badger sightings – Scottish Badgers encourage the public to record their badger sightings, whether in your garden or dead at the side of the road, which all help in learning about their populations and distributions.
Sett survey – Scottish Badgers needs help to find out what’s happening to Scotland’s badger population. Over the next 3 years the charity needs volunteers to survey 1,000 1km squares, previously surveyed during 2006-2009. The aim is to find out whether the number of badger setts in Scotland is stable, increasing or declining. Training in survey techniques begins in September 2022 and comprise a half-day online session followed by a day out in the field at one of several locations in the Scotland. If you’re interested please email morag with your name, most importantly location, and if you have any badger knowledge.
TCV Deadwood Survey
Deadwood Survey – Deadwood is an important micro habitat for birds, mammals, fungi, plants, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Find out what life your local deadwood is supporting.
TCV HogWatch Scotland
Hedgehog sightings – When did you last see a hedgehog in Scotland? Hedgehog sightings are vital to the TCV HogWatch Scotland project. It is important to track hedgehog populations across Scotland and pass these on to the national databases so we can create a picture of hedgehog health in the UK. If you have recently seen a hedgehog or have one visit your garden please let us know.