Take the City Nature Challenge – how the UK recording community can get involved

29th April 2021

By Victoria Burton and Benjamin Town

Victoria Burton is Project Officer in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum, London. She is co-ordinator for City Nature Challenge 2021: London.

Benjamin Town is Community Officer for GiGL – London's Local Record Centre. Ben works with students, recorders and members of the public interested in making use of GiGL’s environmental data.

What is City Nature Challenge?

City Nature Challenge is an annual global celebration of urban nature, aiming to connect people in cities to local nature, build online and in-person communities and collect urban biodiversity data for use in scientific research, land management, and conservation. This year fourteen UK cities are taking part among over 400 around the world.

City Nature Challenge takes place in two parts: between 30 April and 3 May 2021, participants are asked to find and photograph nature near them (within Government guidelines), anywhere in the UK. Between 4-9 May there is time for uploading photographs to the iNaturalist website or app and identifying observations. Results are announced for each city and collectively on the 10 May.

Why iNaturalist?

 iNaturalist is the recording app and website of choice in the USA - where City Nature Challenge started - and allows cities across the world to easily collate and compare numbers of observations. Another advantage is that iNaturalist is that it is easy to use for complete beginners. There is no need to know the name of an organism - the user can take a photograph of anything they see and upload it for people around the world to help identify. iNaturalist can be a gateway for those with no experience at all in species identification and recording, some might become future biological recorders.

The Natural History Museum, London has co-ordinated City Nature Challenge: London for four years, it’s a fit to our mission of connecting people to nature, helping to create advocates for the planet and contributing to urban biodiversity research. We and other city organisers work with our Local Record Centres to ensure that the higher quality City Nature Challenge data is transferred to UK data repositories.

Your Local Environmental record centre

The City Nature Challenge and it’s use of iNaturalist is a brilliant way to introduce people into the world of recording. Easy to use apps help overcome any obstacles for newcomers into a pastime that can be daunting initially. As well as an enjoyable and interesting way to view nature, recording also helps Local Environmental record centres (LERCs) to fulfil our role. Records from the City Nature Challenge recorded via the iNaturalist app will contribute to local knowledge and feed back to your LERC. Each LERC goes through a process of quality control via the iNaturalist app as well as through our own verification process, this helps to ensure that any record submitted can be used with the confidence of its accuracy.

Once your records make their way to the LERC they are used for a variety of different uses and help influence local decisions, feed into atlases and can be used for larger projects such as reintroduction and habitat conservation. By participating in the City Nature Challenge your records will be used in these processes and your LERC will benefit from a surge of new data. By supporting projects like the City Nature Challenge and sharing the benefits of recording apps such as iNaturalist we can also introduce recording to a new audience and in doing so broaden our knowledge of our local environment.

How to get involved

Make observations on iNaturalist (30 April – 3 May)

Everyone is welcome to take part in City Nature Challenge, whether you are living in a one of the cities taking part or not – all observations made during the City Nature Challenge weekend will appear in the UK iNaturalist project. Simply see it, snap it, share it.

Lend your identification skills (30 April – 9 May)

Adding or confirming identifications on iNaturalist helps improve data quality and engages beginners and newcomers by helping them learn more about nature on their doorstep. Here are some tips for taking part:

- From the 30 April this link will take you straight to observations that need identifying for City Nature Challenge 2021: UK - you can also use the filters to just display the groups you are interested in.

- Identify to whatever level you are confident to, even adding a low-level identification such as Plantae or Insecta is useful as it allows records to be found by users filtering those groups.

- If you have time, adding comments to an observation explaining the key characters that lead to the identification is a great way to help beginners learn.

Use the data

iNaturalist observations that meet certain data quality checks are automatically transferred to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) weekly, and these data can be downloaded and cited from here. Most users will still want to check the data against their own data quality criteria! If you have the time and inclination there are links back to the iNaturalist record where identifications can be amended. Alternatively, you can download data directly from iNaturalist using the iNaturalist export page. Sam Rice has also created a tool to help download in a format that is easy to upload to iRecord.  If you are using other people’s data and/or photographs make sure you comply with the license they have been shared with, for example some data may have restrictions on commercial uses.

For more information:

Details, educational resources, and ideas for activities for City Nature Challenge can be found at: www.citynaturechallenge.org.uk and www.citynaturechallenge.org. Or follow #CityNatureChallengeLondon, #CNCUK and #CityNatureChallenge for news from London, the UK, and cities around the world.

City Nature Challenge: London is being led by the Natural History Museum, London in partnership with the Royal Parks, University College London, the Field Studies Council, the Linnean Society, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Social Farms and Gardens and London Environmental Educators Forum.

City Nature Challenge: UK is supported by The Natural History Consortium – a charitable collaboration of 14 partners engaging people with the natural world

City Nature Challenge is led by The California Academy of Sciences and Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.