From the days of Aristotle, amateur observers have tried to piece together the workings of the natural world. Britain has an extraordinary tradition of amateur collectors or self-funded natural history scientists, such as Charles Darwin. There is little doubt that Britain does possess the most extensive network of amateur wildlife observers anywhere in the World, and that our wildlife is known better and in greater detail than anywhere else.
We tend to forget just how many people in Britain are seriously interested in the natural world, but looking at a membership of over 1 million people, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more members than all three main political parties in Britain combined.
To discover more for this Saving Species, Brett Westwood takes part in the tenth anniversary of Communicate in Bristol, a bringing together of amateurs and professionals, who this year look at whether communication between interested sectors can overcome the gap between awareness and action with their conference theme: Breaking Boundaries: The Next Ten Years for People and Nature.
Recently the term Citizen Science has evolved, to describe amateurs working with professionals at public events such as Bioblitz events which were first held in 1996 in Washington DC. These involve an intense period of biological surveying within a defined area and so Brett Westwood travels to Oxford to attend the World's first Urban Bioblitz and find out for himself what over 1000 coordinated events in one weekend hope to achieve.
But can the amateur really add to the science? Many scientific communities, such as an academic study by Jeremy Thomas (Professor of Ecology at Oxford) and colleagues acknowledged that without the input from these amateur wildlife watchers much of today's understanding of the natural world would be impossible. Brett Westwood discusses this with Dr Helen Roy who has recently been asked to review the benefit of amateur observations for the scientific community.
Listen to Saving Species
You can listen to this episode of Saving Species on BBC Radio 4 at 11:00am on Tuesday 30 October 2012. More information and a link to listen again can be found on the Radio 4 website.