City Nature Challenge

Have you been out on a walk over lockdown and heard a bird singing its heart out, or spotted a butterfly fluttering around amongst the wildflowers, and wished you could name it? Well, this weekend we’ve got a challenge for you that could help you do just that. What’s more, you may contribute vital data towards conservation projects at the same time. All you need is your mobile phone.

Thankfully, spring is once again upon us and, after a very difficult winter, many of us are appreciating the longer, warmer days and the emerging wildlife. Spring is a time of fresh starts, hope and new beginnings, which are even more welcome than usual after such a strange twelve months.

I’ve noticed that, with so many of our normal leisure activities restricted, people are walking more than ever before. Instead of going to the pub or the cinema, we are meeting our friends and family outdoors to get a dose of nature - or just to ‘get our steps in’. I hope that this will be a lockdown habit that will stay with us as restrictions start to ease. Not only will your liver and wallet thank you for less time down the pub, your physical and mental health will also be boosted by regular time in nature.

Walking is also an easy way to enjoy wildlife. Even living close to the city, I have had some amazing wildlife encounters over the past 12 months on my daily walks. On my local patch, all within a mile from my home in Bedminster, I have seen kestrels hovering at eye level, badgers nervously poking their heads out from cover, families of roe deer dashing through the woods, skylarks pouring out their continuous beautiful song from the clouds, slowworms basking in warm patches of sun, adorable spring bunnies, the cyan blur of a kingfisher, and woodpeckers drumming from the tree-tops. I have even enjoyed watching a barn owl hunting! Having the time to explore my local patch has allowed me to find the wildlife wonders on my doorstep.

“What’s this one?” a friend asked me on a walk a couple of weeks ago.

Working for the Wildlife Trust and being a known fan of nature, a lot of my friends assume I know the names of all the beasts and plants that we might stumble upon. I bent down to look at the pretty yellow wildflower that my friend had discovered. However, I am not great at identifying plants - I prefer birds to bushes, and feathers to ferns. This particular flower looked similar to a dandelion, but I had no idea what it was. To help find out, I got out my phone, loaded up an app called ‘iNaturalist’, quickly took a photo of the flower, and uploaded it to the app. Within a few seconds, I learned this was Colts-foot (Tussilago farfara). I was also treated to loads of information about the flower. It turns out the name ‘tussilago’ is derived from the Latin ‘tussis’, meaning ‘cough’. That’s because plant was previously used in traditional medicine to treat respiratory problems before it was discovered it could lead to liver damage. Within just a few moments I had identified the plant and was learning about it and discussing traditional medicine with my friend.

iNaturalist is one of my favourite apps because not only does it allow me to identify and learn more about the natural world, it also encourages me to turn my walks into actual wildlife observations that can further contribute to understanding of the wildlife around us. The app can turn anyone into an ecologist and naturalist, helping us learn where our wildlife is and how we can best look after it.

The upcoming City Nature Challenge, taking place between Friday 30th April and Monday 3rd May, is a global citizen science project where people are encouraged to get out and use iNaturalist to record as much wildlife as possible over the long weekend. 5 years ago the challenge began as a competition between Los Angeles and California but it has since grown into a truly global event. In fact, over 400 cities are expected to take part in 2021. Bristol and Bath are no exception – they’ll be competing as one region for the 4th time this year, and we would like as many people as possible to get involved.

Luckily, it couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is download the completely free iNaturalist app - which is available for both iPhone and Android - and take photos of whatever plants or animals you come across on your adventures. The software in the app will try to identify what you have found and upload it as a wildlife observation. If the app cannot recognise the species, it will give it a guess and other users can comment on your observation and suggest what they think it could be. All the observations and data gathered is then shared with the Global biodiversity facility and can be used by scientific studies, local governments, park departments, ecologist, conservation charities and will be used to help us understand more about our local wildlife. This information is crucial for the management of conservation efforts, planning and development.

This will be my 4th year volunteering and taking part in the City Nature Challenge, and I love it. I grew up playing pokemon red version on my gameboy colour, and I often like to describe iNaturalist as transforming your phone into a pokedex. My identification skills have been vastly improved because of the app, especially with plants and wildflowers. Getting that instant confirmation on what I think a plant is really helps improve my knowledge quickly. I also enjoy the community of the challenge.  It’s such a great opportunity to interact with other nature lovers in my region.

If those weren’t enough reasons to take part, here’s another: it could improve your health. The ‘five ways to well-being’ as stated on the NHS website include taking notice of your surroundings, getting outside, connecting with and giving to others, and learning new things. Proven to be powerful tools in the boosting of mental health, they also happen to be essential elements of taking part in the City Nature Challenge.

So, there’s only one question left to ask: how many species will you find over the weekend? Let us know what you find by using the hashtags #CityNatureChallenge and #CNCUK21 and tag us in your photos!

Get involved today