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Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

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8 Citizen science in action – the growth of citizen science

The number of citizen science initiatives has grown rapidly around the world over the years. Factors contributing to this increase include people becoming more aware of opportunities by which they can get involved in science, as well as a realisation and an appreciation in the scientific community that members of the public are a useful resource, volunteering their time and many useful skills.

However, other resources are needed to support citizen science. Recognising this as a public need, while acknowledging the role the public can play, various national public funding bodies, research funders and policy makers are creating opportunities for the public to engage with science on different scales, including citizen science. For example, the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) has supported the Open Air Laboratories [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (OPAL) network.

This UK-wide citizen science initiative that has enabled anyone to get hands-on with nature, whatever their age, background or level of ability, facilitated by a group of partners (including The Open University) and other institutions.

Through various types of grants, funders have also been challenging researchers to deliver scientific research incorporating the public, allocating funding for delivering impact cases and strands such as public engagement and informal science learning. Citizen science is being supported by this allocation of resources. For example, in 2017-18 the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the UK funded the first stage of a Engaging Environments programme which included a national scoping project to create a vision for citizen science and public engagement with environmental research (see Opening up Science for all! project).

In April 2019 this programme was expanded with further NERC funding of £1.3 million over three years, to engage the UK public on big issues in environmental science. Another example is Observatree, an initiative which focusses on monitoring tree health, aimed to protect the UK’s trees, woods and forests from pests and diseases through surveillance and monitoring carried out by a team of volunteer citizen scientists.

While internationally LEARN CitSci is a collaborative initiative (including The Natural History Museum and The Open University in the UK) that seeks to answer how citizen science can be used to educate, enable and empower youth in science, supported by The Wellcome Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the US National Science Foundation via a Science Learning+ grant. Meanwhile, in Europe a citizen science green paper was published in 2013.

Meanwhile, in Europe a citizen science green paper was published in 2013, and European Commission policy directives have included citizen science as one of five strategic areas with funding allocated to support initiatives through the ‘Science With and For Society (SwafS)’ strand of the Horizon 2020 programme. This includes significant awards such as the EU-Citizen Science project, which is creating a hub for knowledge sharing, coordination, and action.