Nature in your Backyard – Citizen Science for Schools

Enjoy, explore and protect biodiversity

Nature conservation and the implementation of nature conservation objectives are societal concerns. Most nature conservation policies aim at protecting rare and endangered species and habitats. Common species in urban areas have not received much attention although population declines have also been observed. Wildlife gardens, parks and other green areas play an important role as refugia in intensive agricultural landscapes for several declining species which were common in traditional cultural landscapes. Interested citizens can observe wildlife in their backyards in both rural and urban areas. Biodiversity education should start in early childhood in order to engage and inspire people’s interest in nature, biodiversity and citizen science. Citizen science describes research where amateurs (in the original sense of the Latin word amator = “enthusiast”) or nonprofessional scientists report observations, measure patterns or analyse data.

This project aims to:

(i) record biodiversity by means of indicator species groups (hedgehogs, wild bees, birds and butterflies) in gardens and parks nearby partner schools. Students used innovative and experimental survey methods to monitor a set of common and easy-to-determine butterfly, wild bee and bird species. Methods and species sets were evaluated regarding their suitability for citizen science projects with schools.

(ii) analyse the relationship between garden management, landscape structure and the presence of the selected indicator species. The outcome was used to identify best practice recommendations for nature-friendly garden management.

(iii) investigate motivation and factors promoting engagement and commitment of students to biodiversity and citizen science in gardens and parks.

Our research design required a broad, interdisciplinary project design as we seek to answer a variety of natural scientific, socio-scientific and didactic research questions. Indoor and outdoor training sessions enabled teachers and students to perform surveys on garden management and to gather data on indicator species groups. Landscape structure and additional checks on data quality were performed by scientists and bachelor or master students. We engaged students of nearly all age classes and school types (primary, secondary, etc.) from Vienna and Lower Austria during all stages of the project and included ongoing feedback mechanisms to optimise the project design for a sustainable, long-term citizen science project.

Students were engaged in local public relations activities supported by the project partners (BirdLife, LANIUS, MA22, Naturschutzbund Österreich, Natur im Garten, Niederösterreichische Naturschutzakademie) to promote nature-friendly gardening in their local area. This citizen science project improved students’ knowledge on species, habitat-species relationships, and it raised awareness towards the importance of man-made habitats such as gardens and parks for biodiversity conservation at the doorstep.

This project was a Young Citizen Science pilot project.

Within the framework of the additional Citizen Science element “Hedgehogs on their way! Punks in our gardens” citizens recorded the occurrence of hedgehogs by means of installing simple hedgehog tunnels. In this way data regarding the prevalence of hedgehogs could be collected all over Austria for the first time and recommendations for hedgehog-friendly gardening can be developed.

This project has been completed.