Digital Conservation: Birds, Blogs and Volunteers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Inst of Biological and Environmental Sci

Abstract

Governments and NGOs worldwide devote considerable efforts to wildlife conservation. Building public support for such initiatives often involves web-based approaches, which facilitate bringing the natural world closer to people. Web-based approaches can be particularly effective for, often harder to reach, younger audiences. Our Natural Language Generation (NLG) research has investigated the use of automatically generated narratives for communicating complex data to audiences. We developed an exciting new website using NLG to bring up-to-date information about wild animals in their natural environment to both nature and technology enthusiasts. We believe this work pioneers communication of nature conservation through new media.

For Blogging Birds to become a conservation tool, however, it is required to create an actual following. We propose the following three activities and give indicative budget implications in brackets.
1. Working with the RSPB to learn how best to reach large audiences.
2. Engaging with user communities, thereby exposing target audiences with our current website and variations thereof to capture what dimensions are most important to actual users.
3. Building in new functionality based on the above two activities, most likely including social media and several ways in which users can interact with the tool and its users.

Planned Impact

We have developed ground-breaking technology that helps to tell real-time stories of Scotland's satellite-tagged red kites without any human input. Raw location data from satellite tags are supplemented with environmental data which are automatically analysed to detect patterns; these are ecologically interpreted and directly converted into a blog using Natural Language Generation routines. This automated blogging system is the first of its kind and enables large amounts of data to be instantly converted into readable text. Simply by flying around with a tag on its back, a red kite is allowing a computer to write the story of its life - through weekly blogs about how and why it explores the landscape around it.

The Blogging Birds site (http://redkite.abdn.ac.uk) is developed within the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub at the University of Aberdeen, through collaboration between computer scientists and ecologists working in partnership with conservationists at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Our launch of the very first version of 'Blogging Birds' on 22 August 2013 clearly caught the attention of the press; this was helped by a feature article in 'The Conversation' viewed more than 16,000 times. Extensive articles appeared in widely read magazines such as 'Wired', E&T and PopSci, as well as in newspapers (e.g. Telegraph, Scotsman, Irish Times) and on radio (BBC Radio Scotland live and Out of Doors - 7 min). The Chronicle of Higher Education (circulated to all US academics) wrote an in-depth piece highlighting the technology angle of this innovation. New Scientist wrote a glowing column and AOL made a 1 minute video clip professionally bringing out the essence of Blogging birds (see http://redkite.abdn.ac.uk/press.html for all named sources). This large-scaled press activity led to unprecedented dot.rural twitter activity: more than 1.3 million retweets. Blogging Birds was portrayed as 'fascinating', highly innovative' and 'impressive', and supported by readers' comments. The principle of this innovation took society 'by storm' and generated a huge amount of interest in both the principle of 'birds telling their own story', the reintroduction of this species and the underlying technology. Indeed, our NLG blogs are among the first to inform and inspire a general (rather than a specialist) audience and seemed to have done so with reasonable success. The technology magazine 'Wired' complimented that, when "Reading through the blogs, they flow extremely naturally, seem very erudite and even formulate questions relating to activity of the birds".

Scrutinising the Google Analytics of our website, over 5000 people have visited Blogging Birds from all around the world. Among the top of all NLG sites in terms of use Blogging Birds has provided many people with an encounter of this frontier technology. Importantly, we also managed to attract a following: several hundred people visit the site regularly (>10x in the 6 weeks since launch). It is this aspect which has our particular interest. For Blogging Birds to become a 'new conservation tool' with a wider regular following the site should not only be attractive and dynamic but also interactive, allowing users to engage and contribute material to enhance the blogs. This will create a more engaged community of users who are keen to 'follow' the lives of these charismatic red kites over time.
 
Description We were able to communicate creatively, by means of a video, the principle of Natural Language created blogging, thereby unfolding a novel way of communicating nature conservation ideas using state-of-the-art computing science technology.
Exploitation Route The research partner may wish to advertise the products made (one is still in progress).
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment

 
Description Work still in progress - outputs not finished; we are still in the process of completing two educational videos portraying the use of Natural Language in nature conservation.
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Engaging the UK public with the big issues of environmental science
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Public Engagement Pilot 2016_094 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 03/2017
 
Description Blogging Birds - Species Reintroduction. Collaboration with RSPB 
Organisation Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Aberdeen research team consisted of René van der Wal, Kapila Ponnamperuma, Advaith Siddharthan, Chris Mellish, Annie Robinson, Danny Hepinstall. Telemetric data from the tagged red kite is enriched with contextual information about terrain and weather.The data were then analysed through computer routines to identify home ranges and movement patterns. Using Natural Language Generation blogs are automatically generated that describe and explain the behaviour of the red kite.
Collaborator Contribution RSPB provided data from the solar powered satellite tags that they attached to the reintroduced red kites. This allowed us to monitor how the red kites reclaim the landscape. RSPB provided staff input and expertise and helped with the development of many ideas.
Impact For all outcomes see relevant sections of the form
Start Year 2011
 
Description Collaboration with Bumblebee Conservation Trust to develop an effective online photo submission and feedback system to map the distribution of UK bumblebees 
Organisation Bumble Bee Conservation Trust
Country Unknown 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Research team consisting of René van der Wal, Advaith Siddharthan, Nirwan Sharma and Annie Robinson and colleagues at BBCT have led to the development of an online UK citizen science project called BeeWatch. Before involvement of dot.rural BeeWatch run by the BBCT had 350 photo submissions of bumblebees. The development on an online system where the public can submit photos, identify them using an online key and receive feedback by Natural Language Generation (NLG) has resulted in the submission of more than 10, 500 verified photo records. Automatically generated formative feedback (NLG) helps volunteers stay motivated and also improve their skills. For further scaling up of the system bayesian consensus statistical models solicit independent identifications from other volunteers to verify records. BeeWatch colloboration is still ongoing post the end of dot.rural.
Collaborator Contribution Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) are partners that dot.rural have worked alongside to develop BeeWatch. They have had academic input and contribute staff time and expertise to identify the bumblebee photos that are submitted.
Impact See publications and outcomes sections for full listing of outputs
Start Year 2011
 
Description Earthwatch 
Organisation Earthwatch Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Developed with Earthwatch a PhD project "Being good neighbours - Understanding the social dimensions of wildlife-friendly gardening and its impact on urban wildlife", half of which is funded by Earthwatch (and the other half by Aberdeen University)
Collaborator Contribution Developed with Earthwatch a PhD project "Being good neighbours - Understanding the social dimensions of wildlife-friendly gardening and its impact on urban wildlife", half of which is funded by Earthwatch (and the other half by Aberdeen University)
Impact in progress
Start Year 2018
 
Description RSPB Inverness 
Organisation Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Development of a web portal that displays locations of satellite tagged golden eagles; and an automated blog that communicates about the eagles'journeys through the landscape.
Collaborator Contribution Guidance on the development of the web portal
Impact web portal
Start Year 2014
 
Description Academics help NGOs get up to speed with digital tech 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact See news article - the journalist contacted us following the launch of our Ambio Special edition on Digital Conservation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.dw.com/en/academics-help-ngos-get-up-to-speed-with-digital-tech/a-19052232
 
Description British Ecological Society Ghent Belgium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Talk at BES conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Connecting to the Crowd conference talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Connecting with the Crowd conference (Automated feedback in citizen science for data, engagement and positive environmental action)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Seminar Durham University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Seminar at Durham UNiversity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Seminar University of St. Andrews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited seminar at UoSt. Andrews
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017