BioBlitz in Bristol - engaging the public with nature

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, and as part of that, BioBlitz events will be going on across the country. Their aim is to get the public to come and help catalogue...
23 May 2010

Interview with 

Ed Drewitt, Bristol Natural History Museum


Chris -   2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and a park in the centre of Bristol may not seem the obvious place to study biodiversity.  It depends to what you're up to I suppose.  But this weekend, Blaise Park has been host to what's known as a BioBlitz which is an attempt to find and catalogue all the different types of wildlife that you might come across.  BioBlitzes are going to be happening all over the country in the next few months, so to explain more about what's coming and to hear about what they've done over the weekend, we're joined by Ed Drewitt and he's from the Bristol Natural History Consortium.  Hello, Ed.

Ed -   Hello, Chris.

Chris -   Welcome to the Naked Scientists.  Thank you for joining us.  First of all, could you tell us what actually is a BioBlitz?

Ed -   Yes.  Well a BioBlitz is basically an opportunity to bring scientific experts, naturalist Grass Rivulet Mothvolunteers and the public, schools and families together to basically see and find as many different species that are living in their area as possible.  So as you mentioned, in Bristol Blaise Castle Estate and we had lots of schools on a Friday and then families on a Saturday engaging with experts, naturalists and volunteers looking for the different trees, lichens, aquatic insects, birds, and everything else that lives out there.

Chris -   What are you hoping to get out of this?  Why do we think this is worth doing?

Ed -   Primarily really to sort of engage the public, engage people in different parts of the country - in this case, in Bristol really with what's on their door step and opening people's eyes up to what's actually there.  But also, there are some real kind of scientific outputs as well.  On the BioBlitz that we had over the last couple of days or so, we found 536 species of which two were nationally scarce and I think not really recorded before including such as the Grass Rivulet Moth for example.  And so, it's an opportunity to find out what's there and to then be able to advise the - for example the land manager for Blaise which is owned by Bristol City Council on what's there and what they can do to help some of that wildlife. 

A lot of that data then goes, or all of that data then goes to the Bristol Regional Environmental Record Centre and they then put that data into a special database which can be used by members of the public and businesses who perhaps want to then find out what's on there.  Particularly for example if there was a building application which is probably not going to happen on this particular place but might happen elsewhere in the country and so we can have a good idea of what's actually living in these places.

Chris -   So when people come along to get involved, how will they actually go out and collect the data?  Will they be given a 'pooter' - one of those pots with tubes coming out to suck things up or do they go around in little teams?  How's the data gathered?

Ed -   Well basically, we had families - you might have say, 10 people, it might be 2 or 3 Blaise Estate Woodlandsfamilies going out with a naturalist and a couple of volunteers so they might for example be going into some grassland.  So they'll take out a couple of sweep nets and some white trays, and ID charts and actually, be doing their own sweep netting and discovering what's in that grassland.  Likewise, if they're looking in a stream or a pond, they'd also will be doing that with nets and also using pooters as well to get some of the very tiny insects.  And then that information is then put into recording forms which is kind of almost like quality controlled through the naturalist who'll be putting that onto the recording form, and from there, then it gets put on to a natural database.  So it's very much about getting the public and schools hands on with nature.  So we had school children and families properly doing sweep netting and then really discovering on a small, kind of minute level, what was actually living on their step.

Chris -   And what did the scientists and naturalists who you've had involved in this, what do they make of it and are they supportive?

Ed -   Absolutely.  I think that what we found early on particularly perhaps in previous years and last year when we first sort of started this was scientists and naturalists, being particularly modest about themselves and don't always necessarily see themselves as someone who can offer loads of opportunities.  But I think now we've got the balance right of being able to enable and give the confidence to naturalists and other scientists to come forward and realise that they can feel empowered and actually take families or school groups out themselves, and actually engage people with them.  So, it's had a very positive output and I think it's really nice where I think people that have enjoyed actually transfering their knowledge and their skills onto people perhaps who wouldn't normally engage or do this sort of thing.

Chris -   And it's not just Bristol.  This is going to be scaled up or is going to be taken to other cities around the country so we'll have one coming to Cambridge, won't we?

Ed -   Absolutely.  That's right.  So Bristol has been leading on this in terms of being one of the first city to do this this year, linking in with the year of biodiversity and there's going to be lots of other ones over 15 or 16 across the country taking place.  And people can find out where they're taking place by visiting the website and as you say, you can find out where things are going to be happening close to you.  There's going to be one in Derby, there'd be one that The Natural History Museum are doing down on a coast in Devon for example.  So they're going to be happening all across the country and therefore, families, the public, scientists can all engage on a local scale.

 Chris -   And finally Ed, what do the people who come and take part, members of the public actually make of the experience?  Do they think it's just a run around in the grass with their kiddies or do they actually take away the scientific message as well?

Ed -   I think people have actually really been engaging.  When you're seeing actually getting down to the minute level and wanting to do more, and we had lots of families come back.  So we have families for example doing the dawn chorus walk and then they came back later on to perhaps do some stream sampling or doing some insect work.  So from what we can tell so far, it's been a very positive engagement with people wanting to come back and do more and hopefully continue with our Bristol Festival of Nature we've got for example in a couple of week's time in June.

Chris -   Ed, brilliant.  We'll have to leave it there, but thank you very much for joining us.

Ed -   Thank you.


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