Public Domain

Would your London park or group like to join City Nature Challenge 2019?

City Nature Challenge is coming round again. This year, it'll be from Friday 26th to Monday 29th April.

City Nature Challenge is a friendly competition among cities to submit records of wildlife. There are three categories in which a city can win: the number of observations made, the number of different species found and the number of citizens taking part. Last year we helped run an enjoyable event in Hyde Park, London. (This being Britain, we were very unlucky with the weather and it rained most of the day, meaning that not very many people wanted to join the many wildlife walks and pond dipping that had been arranged, but we still got a few people interested and certainly learned a lot.) This year, we'll be having another event in Hyde Park, on Sunday 28th April. As soon as we've got one, we'll have a web page up about it, as will London's Natural History Museum.

The image below shows the observations taken around Hyde Park during City Nature Challenge 2018:

But we don't just want to run a top-down big event. UCL ExCiteS is all about bottom-up, grassroots citizen science. So we'd really like to encourage small groups across London to run their own City Nature Challenge event if they'd like to - and we'd like to help you a bit.

To participate in City Nature Challenge, all you have to do is download the iNaturalist app, and take some pictures of wildlife within London between 26th and 29th April. (You may also see a project in iNaturalist called City Nature Challenge London 2019, which you can join, but we're checking whether this is necessary - we don't think it is. You also don't need to submit your observations through this project; you can just submit them to the app as normal.)

So you can see that running an event for City Nature Challenge could be extremely simple. For example, if you are a "Friends Of" park group, wildlife or gardening club, or anywhere that takes people out of doors, you could try any of the following:

  • Mentioning City Nature Challenge in a newsletter or social media;
  • Having a poster in your park;
  • Holding a stall or stand in your park alongside some information about what to look for and how to use the iNaturalist app;
  • Having a birdwatching session or wildlife walk;
  • Making it part of a regular activity you do such as gardening or pond dipping - while your guests or volunteers are there, tell them about iNaturalist and take some pictures;
  • Hold a talk about urban wildlife and/or citizen science.
    Any of these could be done just spontaneously, or with your local group of guests or volunteers, or even school or nursery groups. People will only need a phone (and certainly not necessarily everyone in the group). Any photo, or sound recording, or any plant or animal or fungus that is there naturally will count towards the total. (Sadly, cultivated plants, such as flowerbeds, will not be counted.)

Last year we e-mailed approximately 65 parks across London to invite them to participate in some way, offering them support such as training on use of the iNaturalist app, or access to more information and publicity materials. We didn't get a big response, because we didn't know in enough advance what was happening (this is a very easy mistake to make the first time you plan an event). This year, because we were able to start e-mailing people in January, a lot of parks have replied and said they would like to take part. Most of them would like some more guidance on what to do, or publicity materials - from posters to instructions to potential social media posts - to use. We hear you, and we're working on producing these as soon as possible!

However, if you run a London group that goes outdoors and would be interested in taking part, and we have not yet yet e-mailed you, please get in touch. You can do this via the contact form or by e-mailing Alice. Alice has already gone to visit a few London parks to suggest activities, and will also be running a training session on iNaturalist in early March. We won't be able to fund any events, but we'll certainly be able to e-mail you leaflets and posters as soon as they're ready, and make some suggestions and possibly some more visits if that's what you need.

Finally, we've also been asked by some of the more sophisticated park wildlife groups if this is a rigorous scientific activity. The answer is no - we won't use quadrats or do a proper numerical census. It will simply be a snapshot of what people see that day. But we might still see some unexpected results from city to city - any unexpected types of wildlife, or what people notice versus what they don't - and it will definitely be a major public engagement activity. iNaturalist is intuitive and fun to use, there is a friendly community of people on it who help identify each other's images, and it's a great way to get more people into citizen science and wildlife recording - and learning and caring more about the biodiversity of our cities.

You can read a great deal more about City Nature Challenge here, and iNaturalist here.