Citizen science is a great way to contribute to scientific discovery while also getting outside, and is lockdown- and little one- friendly! Volunteers with simple tools (usually an identification sheet provided on the website for each project, a notebook, and a pen) help scientists understand what species of plants and animals are present when all through the UK. St. Andrews is also a great location, because many citizen science projects take place on beaches or along the coast, and we have miles of beautiful coastline to enjoy and record! Some particularly St. Andrews-friendly projects include:
The Great Nurdle Hunt:
Wait, what? Nurdles are the little plastic pellets used in the manufacture of plastic products, and increasingly, they are escaping factories and ending up on the UK’s beaches. The Great Nurdle Hunt encourages people to go to a beach, choose a location on the beach and an amount of time, and record how many nurdles they find. Their website provides a nurdle Identification guide and an online form to submit how long you searched, where on the beach you searched, how many people were with you, and how many nurdles you found. Have no fear — a finding of zero nurdles is still helpful! So if you go out to East Sands on a particularly clear day and find zero nurdles, The Great Nurdle Hunt still wants to know!
The Great Nurdle Hunt doesn’t encourage the collecting of nurdles, as they can absorb pollutants from the ocean. So this citizen science project is an eyeballs-only operation!
If you want to take part, their website is here.
The Big Seaweed Search
This one is a great project to do with wee ones, because no matter which beach you choose or when you go, there will be seaweed. It does require a tiny bit more prep, though. On The Big Seaweed Search website, under How to Take Part, there is a Big Seaweed Search guide that you’ll want to either print out or have on your phone for identification purposes. From there, go down to a beach, pick a plot to survey (a five-meter wide strip running from the shore to the sea), and take a picture of your plot. Then get counting! Once you’re done, your results can be submitted on the same site.
For the citizen scientists out there with a little experience identifying birds, or anyone willing to spend some time with an identification sheet, BirdTrack is a collaboration between the British Trust for Ornithology, the RSPB, and several other bird-minded organizations. Head out to a site, record what species you see, and when you come back, make an account and input a little information about yourself, the location you were birdwatching, and what birds you saw. As a bonus, your findings will be saved to your account, so if you decide to go birdwatching again, you’ll be able to compare them with what you see the next time!
Have fun science-ing!
Jane Yarnell is a first-year Sustainable Development student at St. Andrews. She is originally from California, and chose St. Andrews in part because she wanted to keep living near the ocean. Her goal for this lockdown is to get better at drawing watercolor portraits and maybe reach the end of West Sands Beach someday.