Sometimes we don’t realize that we are citizen scientists until someone tells us that we actually are. I was about 12-14 years old when I stepped into the world of people-powered research – I was observing bees on a regular basis.
I used to spend my school summer vacations with my grandparents in the countryside. My grandfather used to have many beehives, seven or nine. They were placed in a small area surrounding our country house and terrifying all the neighbours. I was also scared of those small creatures living in the colourful constructions – their bite could easily spoil my day. However, I found bees very cute, fluffy and hard-working. Moreover, there was something almost hypnotising in watching their daily routine – how they were departing from the hives, carrying pollen on their tiny legs or landing on the hives’ stands. I was also lucky because I had an opportunity to assist my grandfather in his small bee-garden – to open the hive covers or take out frames with honey. Every day, every year, except winter time when bees went into hibernation, we were observing the bees, their activity, their behaviour. Everything was noted, thoroughly described, measured, and even reported to the local union of beekeepers and some other institutions. Probably, the union analysed all the data and sent the summary to the national union of beekeepers but I don’t remember the details now. I just loved watching the bees and having them in my life. It was a very unique and very personal experience that I cherished because it made me be closer to nature and helped later to better understand the scientific process.
I assisted my grandfather because of the curiosity and desire to be involved in something mysterious, as I thought, and I understand now that the observations we did in our small bee-garden actually contributed to something bigger, helped to better understand the lovely yellow-black creatures and map the areas where one could find a certain type of honey. Thanks to my current research project on citizen science at Umea University, I see that the benefits of bee watchers to conservation and science as well as to participants themselves are increasingly recognized and valued. Citizen science programs mobilise people to contribute to scientific research. Scientific data gathered by communities gives concerned people, decision-makers or scientists access to more information than what they can gather on their own. Also, citizen scientists themselves can gain knowledge on insects and their population distributions, seasonal cycles. And that’s true – time has passed but I remember very well some facts about bees and flowers pollen that affect the taste of honey.
Looking back, I wish I had had more opportunities for science engagement, and citizen science particularly, as a kid. Knowing how many citizen science related web-platforms and mobile apps are available now, I’m truly happy for children, their parents, teachers and researchers. Thanks to the development of technology, we can learn so much about the world around us in a never-ending mode.
So, look up for a citizen science app and go outside – watch bees, beetles, ants, birds, whatever. Explore the world around you! Have a look at some citizen science platforms and projects:
- Bikalender – a citizen science project for beekeepers in Sweden
- ArtPortalen – a website for observations of Sweden’s plants, animals and fungi
- Naturens kalender – the Swedish National Phenology Network, a collaboration between universities, governmental agencies, and volunteers
- SciStarter – a citizen science project directory and knowledge hub
- Zoouniverse – a citizen science web portal
- iNaturalist – a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists
- eBird – an online database of bird observations