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Dorset Wildlife Trust’s new citizen science project

PUBLISHED: 10:11 18 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:11 18 February 2016

A family day out exploring Kingcombe nature reserve (Photo by Katharine Davies)

A family day out exploring Kingcombe nature reserve (Photo by Katharine Davies)

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When did you last see a hedgehog or hear a robin sing? Dorset Wildlife Trust would like the public to answer these questions and more in their new citizen science project

In 2015 Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) started a citizen science project ‘Species of the Month’. We asked the public to let us know when they saw a certain species for each month of the year. Not only did the sightings start flooding in, but so did anecdotes about your wildlife experiences, with many sharing their delight about a regular or occasional wildlife visitor in a local patch.

DWT’s Great Heath Community Conservation Officer, Katie Wilkinson, is running the Species of the Month project for DWT: “Recording and looking for rare and common wildlife both nationally and locally really helps conservationists monitor declines in wildlife populations. Something that’s in abundance in 2015 might not be in 2020, and these records could help identify trends to understand why this has happened, so we can all try to protect it in the future.”

With over 40 nature reserves across Dorset it’s impossible for DWT to keep an eye on everything, which is where keen-eyed members of the public can help. “Wildlife won’t stay in nature reserves,” says Katie. “It can come into gardens and local green spaces. That is why we are asking people to ‘look’ for wildlife – even if they are in an urban area they can see some interesting wildlife.”

And never has there be a better time to introduce youngsters to wildlife. In a recent YouGov poll, out of 1,082 children, 60% had never seen a peacock butterfly, 53% had never seen a flock of starlings, and 37% had never seen a hedgehog in the UK. “Getting the next generation excited about wildlife is a big part of our work,” adds Katie.

So if you’re thinking: ‘I can’t tell a pigeon from a wigeon’, there are plenty of ways we can help you start your wildlife journey. Each month DWT publishes information about its chosen species on the website dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk listing locations, identifying features, and pictures. You can also send us photos of your sightings on our Facebook page where you can ask experts about wildlife you’d like to know more about, not just the species of the month.

“Wildlife friendly gardening is another great way to do something practical,” says Katie. “The more you provide for wildlife, such as bird food or a home for hedgehogs, the more you will see as they come and take advantage of your offerings.” 


Top 5 species of the month in 2015

• January - Robin (354 records) - Recently voted as the UK’s favourite national bird, sightings of robins have increased since 2014, up by three places in the top ten birds recorded as part of the BTO’s Garden Bird Watch, where 88.73% of gardens in Dorset recorded them.

• April - Brimstone Butterfly (169 records) - These common butterflies are one of the first signs of spring, and can be found in a variety of habitats, including gardens, woodlands and the wider countryside. In spring they feed on daffodils and primroses and later in the year on purple flowers like thistle and teasel.

• June - House Sparrow (711 records) - Living in colonies, house sparrows often nest in buildings or holes in walls. Over the last 30 years their numbers have declined in England by 77% so it’s great to see so many records for them in Dorset. Help increase their numbers by putting up sparrow nest boxes to attract them into your garden.

• July - Slow Worm (237 records) - Slow worms are legless lizards and like to hide underneath things such as compost heaps, wood and piles of vegetation. Though they are wide spread, they are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

• September - Hedgehogs (230 records) - We’ve heard a lot about the decline of hedgehogs, so we were delighted to get such a positive number of sightings in Dorset. We also heard some great stories about people creating wildlife friendly gardens for hedgehogs, which is very encouraging. 


Species of the Month 2016

We’re starting 2016 with the Fox in January, and Blackbird in February. To get involved with this project simply visit dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife to submit your sightings and share your stories. 


What is a citizen science project?

This type of project asks non-scientists to contribute observations which can help with scientific research such as observing or counting wildlife in your back garden or further afield. It includes projects like the Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count, local Bioblitz events, Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar and the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch. 


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