Identifying synergies between citizen science and Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) in the Cairngorms National Park

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Geography


Since the 1980s, a network of hundreds of ecological study sites emerged across the globe. These sites are part of a network of long-term ecosystem (or ecological) research sites (LTER for short). Since the early 2000s, some of these sites became part of the larger-scale Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) platforms, which are made up of multiple LTER sites and undertake research at a scale that is relevant to many of the major social and environmental interactions of interest. The purpose of the network is to understand environmental change over time, with the long-term and place-based research allowing for site-based study/exploration and monitoring. The science that is emerging is contributing to international assessments, such as the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), as well as regional, national and international policies.

While there are few reports detailing the presence and use of citizen science within LTER/LTSER science, there is a lack of frameworks and methodologies to support researchers who work in LTER/LTSER sites on the use of citizen science. Considering the UK is one of the leading countries in the development and utilisation of citizen science, and in particular the integration of citizen science into strategic plans such as those of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, this project aims to start building the knowledge base necessary for integrating citizen science into LTER sites and LTSER platforms.

The project focuses on the Cairngorms LTSER platform as a testbed for examining the potential links between citizen science and ongoing LTSER research. This will be done through a study of existing citizen science (including biological recording) at the location, and an examination of the data and information that is recorded. The next element of the study will involve a workshop involving engagement with relevant stakeholders including scientists, local authorities, tourism business community, environmental charities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), local residents, and visitors. The aim here is to examine their awareness and use of citizen science. We will use the workshop to examine the integration of citizen science within LTER/LTSER research, which will include experiential activities during which the participants will take part in a variety of citizen science activities followed by discussions of these experiences. On the basis of these activities, a short report will be produced, suggesting where and how the integration of citizen science and LTER in the UK should progress.

Technical Summary

This short project is aimed at carrying out a stakeholder workshop within the Cairngorms LTSER platform in which focus group discussions and the opportunity to trial several citizen science activities will allow the project team to answer key questions exploring how citizen science could be used for 1) collecting data relevant to rewilding research, 2) community engagement, 3) awareness-raising, and 4) environmental stewardship. In preparation for the workshop, a preliminary study will provide an analysis of the citizen science potential for LTSER platforms in general, and for the Cairngorms LTSER platform specifically. Following the workshop, a report will be compiled summarising the key findings of the preliminary study, the outcomes of the workshop and core research questions and challenges suitable for the next stage of activities that will move this foundation level research forward.

Planned Impact

The main impact of this project will be through the interaction with stakeholders - including scientists from diverse communities, local authority managers, commercial businesses, local residents, environmental charities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). This is a very short, and highly restricted resourced project. The expectation is that knowledge about various aspects of citizen science will be shared with stakeholders through material that has been already prepared and in particular a short analysis that is accessible and summarises the latest research. In addition, the previous research in the area has highlighted hotelier interest in CS initiatives both as a source of local biodiversity knowledge and activities for their clients during their stay in the area.


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Description Citizen science is a powerful tool for monitoring natural resource use: active involvement of citizens in monitoring activities can yield a powerful additional data source and improve dialogue between citizens and researchers and therefore trust and support in monitoring activities and outcomes. Recognising the value of citizen science to environmental research, the purpose of this project was to build the knowledge base necessary to develop a citizen science program to support long-term environmental monitoring. We used the Cairngorms Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) platform as a testbed for examining the potential synergies between citizen science and upland change research. We carried out two online workshops with members of the local citizen science and upland change research community in May and June 2020 in which we aimed to: 1) better understand the critical knowledge gaps in upland change research in the Cairngorms and co-create citizen science activities to address these knowledge gaps, and 2) document the design challenges for a citizen science activity within the Cairngorms.
Workshop participants identified a number of variables that would be of interest for monitoring upland change using citizen science, but two of particular note were the need for monitoring habitat/ land-use change, and people's attitudes towards the changing landscape and land management practices, as well as health and wellbeing in the changing landscapes. While there were a great number of design considerations that are needed in order to capture robust data to inform decision-making, it was recognised that a citizen science approach for addressing these knowledge gaps offers a great opportunity alongside the detailed long-term monitoring conducted within the LTSER platform to capture temporally and spatially broad data that might be otherwise unfeasible, while simultaneously raising local awareness of the drivers of change, and creating local support for the research agenda within the park.
Participants also identified that gamekeepers and land managers have had relatively little involvement in local citizen science and would be target groups for involving in new activities. Their involvement would be important not only for accessing new knowledge on habitat/ land-use change but to provide a forum in which they can have a dialogue with researchers and decision-makers in helping to shape the research agenda within the park.
Workshop participants were also keen to see an effort to partner with local projects and initiatives to maximise re-use of existing methodologies, where applicable, and data sharing e.g. using the National Biodiversity Network.
In order to progress the outcomes of the workshops, a 'road-map' was created for the next stage of the project, this would involve: 1) a detailed stakeholder mapping exercise to identify the broader community, their level of interest in the research focus of upland change, and their expertise/ contribution to the project, 2) a review of the literature to identify multi-disciplinary opportunities for overcoming some of the methodological/ survey design knowledge gaps as presented in the workshop, 3) using existing projects, to trial a range of interventions that test these approaches for enhancing the sustainability of citizen science within the Cairngorms.
Exploitation Route A report is provided that can be accessed and used. An application for further funding was developed.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment

Description Online workshop with stakeholders in the Cairngorms 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A workshop to discuss citizen science issues in the Cairngorms and identify common interests and goals
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020