WHEN IN ROME: BioBlitz partners across Europe get together for the first time

In November I was thrilled to take part in the first face-to-face meeting of the BioBlitz Working Group with the European Citizen Science Association. Supported by the Doing It Together Science programme (DITOS), this was the first opportunity for BioBlitz organisers from across Europe to get together and share experiences, ideas and plans for the future as part of the first Italian Citizen Science Conference.

Winding through grand Roman streets on a crisp morning in November, I indulged in some birdwatching on the way from my hotel, spotting a Hooded Crow perched above the Roma Termini, its handsome grey cloak setting it apart from its all black British cousins. Distracted by the birdlife, I did find myself wandering off track before eventually navigating my way to join the buzz of activity in the wood panelled, literature lined halls of Sapienza University of Rome.

A frenzy of enthusiastic introductions and a couple of strong Italian espressos later and we got straight into discussions. Having coordinated BioBlitz activity in the UK for a few years I was asked to open the “lightning talks” round, sharing the methods and best practice we have developed through the National BioBlitz Network before launching into perspectives from across Europe.

  • Patricia Tiago – (Biodiversity4All, Portugal): shared her experiences targeting audiences in communities where recording is not part of the existing wildlife culture
  • Jack Sewell (Marine Biological Association, UK): flew the flag for Marine habitats and the particular practicalities of BioBlitzing the oceans and coasts
  • Andrea Sforzi (Maremma Natural History Museum, Italy): brought insights from his experience BioBlitzing in a region of low human population but high biodiversity interest in wild Tuscany

With a buzz of energy in the room that was amplified through a break for discussion another round of espressos this introduction led nicely into a round of parallel workshops: one of which I had been tasked with facilitating. Finding our designated discussion space occupied by some intensely working researchers, our group took advantage of the weather to create our own mini Roman Forum on the University lawn.

WHAT MAKES A BIOBLITZ SUCCESSFUL?

For this workshop we were tasked with balancing the many needs and outputs we want from a BioBlitz for Data, People and Nature. BioBlitz has often been characterised as a compromise between outcomes for research and outcomes for engagement but the group quickly broke down this dichotomy.

Examining the question in terms of ‘Measures of Success’ we established that there are several  potential stakeholders in BioBlitz activity, each with different priority outcomes.

Researchers may prioritise specific data outcomes and training for their students whilst funders may be more concerned with the headline numbers of people involved and species discovered. The event organisers might be looking to create an entry point for people to take part in deeper citizen science activities, meanwhile, participants and volunteers might measure success based on an enjoyable experience.

We established that a successful BioBlitz is one that meets its own criteria for success, based on the mixture of needs and priorities of the stakeholders involved. It is then a case of distributing your resources (time, money, expertise) in the most effective way to deliver those priorities. Get that balance right and instead of a compromise between research and engagement, you can achieve a win-win!

STARLING SHOW STOPPER

After some great active discussion we were all ready to tuck in to a beautiful lunch spread before returning to another round of lightening talks and workshops.

  • Janice Ansine (Open University, UK): showcased iSpot, one of our favourite online tools for learning and engagement
  • Lucy Robinson (Natural History Museum London, UK) – exploring where BioBlitz fits in the evolving story of citizen science and the democratisation of discovery
  • Jaume Piera (Institut de Ciències del Mar, Spain) – tackling the spatial scales of data and the bottleneck of validation and verification of records
  • Kyle Copas (Global Biodiversity Information Facility – GBIF, international) – showcased the value of internationally open data with genuine research outputs

As the sun sank and we came back together for a final roundup discussion, a high pitched chattering drew our attention to the windows as the sky over the University botanic gardens turned black with millions of murmerating starlings, coming into roost. An amazing end to a great day only to be followed by an evening of the most amazing local food an forging some new friendships over a carafe (or two) of Frascati.

KEY OUTPUTS FOR DEVELOPMENT

Some things we decided we could do –

  • An Europe wide library of case studies showcasing the amazing research, people and stories that emerge through BioBlitz activity
  • Framework for a grassroots approach to research through BioBlitz
  • Locally generated Youtube tutorials – engaging people with how to record and protect local wildlife with minimal impact
  • Wikipedia page impartially detailing the pros and cons of different recording apps and platforms

 

NEW FUN FACT: Triplya bioblitz is a species of nematode worm named after the event where the species was first discovered by scientists in New Zealand.

 

A SPOT OF SITE SEEING

#wheninRome