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Guest blog – Citizen Science by Olaf Lipor

Olaf Lipor is a well-known Scandinavian naturalist with a long track record of engagement in citizen science projects. His previous Guest Blog here, about a year ago, was on the subject of a Fat Tax.

Olaf is not yet found on Twitter.

Citizen Science by Olaf Lipor

These are exciting times for us wildlife lovers, with new technology at our fingertips we are able to participate in all sorts of citizen science type projects, contributing real data to the people that matter. I would like to share with you one such new and exciting project that will be launched soon.

We are often told that Britain’s Nightingales are in decline, but do we really know this for sure? The RSPB’s website states that there are 6,700 males, but that figure sounds suspiciously rounded to me, I would bet that no one has actually been out and physically counted 6,700 birds, in my humble opinion, that figure is just a guess.

But, we now have an opportunity to get very accurate information for the Nightingale population in one area in a new trial citizen science project that Defra will be launching soon. It is expected that this method will be extrapolated out countrywide so that we will soon have an accurate number when it comes to counting these songsters.

Lodge Hill in Kent is, apparently, the best place in Britain for Nightingales. But how do we know this for sure? We need an accurate way of actually physically counting the birds. The government own the site and because of the supposed number of Nightingales breeding on it they have had to adapt their plan to build houses on it. In a conciliatory move, showing this governments green credentials to the full, they have now changed their plans to only build houses around the site and not actually on it.

We should all applaud this decision. It is good news for the house developers, good news for the Nightingales and it gives us a great opportunity to count exactly how many Nightingales are actually there. We are a nation of cat lovers, and these magnificent animals not only provide solace for our own miserable existence, they also provide a wonderful tool for measuring wildlife diversity. How many times have I chuckled to myself when, because of my cats wonderful ability to kill wildlife, I have discovered I actually had Dormouse living near to my house, or rare bats, not to mention countless bird species I didn’t even know were there.

Defra estimate that there will be 500 cats in the new housing development around Lodge Hill and they will be launching an incentive based scheme with the new house owners (can’t go into detail, but it does involve a pet food manufacturer!) to get them to use their cats to solve the question of just how many Nightingales are present on the site. Like all good ideas it is so simple. All the owners have to do is count the number of dead nightingales brought back to them by their delightful feline predators and at the end of the summer a crack team of Defra analysts will count them up and, hey presto, we will finally have a figure for the number of Nightingales at Lodge Hill. No more rounding up, no more ‘guestimates’, just pure and simple science.

The real beauty is that this survey can be repeated every year afterwards and if it shows that the Nightingales are indeed declining, then the developers will be justified in their quest to develop the site as it will be scientifically proven that actually the Nightingales aren’t overly bothered about using it. Citizen science at its best.

BIOGRAPHY

Olaf Lipor grew up in northern Lapland, where he extensively studied the hallucinogenic effects of various fungi species.  Olaf has been involved in many pioneering natural history studies and is the author of many books including the famous ‘Nest Building Techniques of the Common Cuckoo’ and ‘The Hibernation Strategies of the House Martin’.

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