DECIDE: Delivering Enhanced Biodiversity Information with Adaptive Citizen Science and Intelligent Digital Engagements

Lead Research Organisation: UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Department Name: Biodiversity (Wallingford)

Abstract

Biodiversity is under increasing pressure, with consequent impacts on the benefits people gain from nature. This means that it is vital to include biodiversity in our decision-making and for this we need high quality, fine-resolution, spatial biodiversity information. With this information we can better value nature, and this can be done formally through a process called 'natural capital' assessment, such as by government agencies or local economic partnerships. We also need this information to develop better plans for protecting nature, undertaking ecological restoration to develop resilient ecological networks, and make good decisions about infrastructure development (to achieve net biodiversity gain, as is the ambition in Defra's 25 Year Environment Plan). Much of our existing biodiversity information comes from volunteer-collected species records (a process often called 'citizen science'). However, in many cases, people record where and when they want - leading to large spatial unevenness in recording, both at a national scale and at a local scale. The people and organisations who need to use biodiversity information don't simply require more records: they require better information. This requires us to construct good biodiversity models generated from the available data, communicate these models well, and preferentially target effort to add records from times and places that optimally improve the model outputs. This project seeks to achieve all of this by addressing three important questions. Firstly, can we enhance existing biodiversity information through near real-time, fine resolution, species distribution models? Secondly, can we make biodiversity information more accessible and useful to end users through data flows and automated data communication? Thirdly, can we encourage adaptive sampling behaviour in recorders, by using intelligent digital engagements, so that they re-deploy a portion of their effort to optimally improve biodiversity models? Our team is expertly placed to address these questions because we are a multidisciplinary team (environmental, computer, social and data scientists), and we will use a service design approach that actively engages data users (from national to local levels) and biodiversity recorders alongside the research team. In this project we will produce fine-resolution distribution models for about 1000 insect species across the UK (in this study focusing on butterflies, moths and grasshoppers) using earth observation sensor data, and a data lab (an online analysis platform) to automatically update outputs as new data are available. It is important to communicate these results and their uncertainty so, in collaboration, with data end users we will develop interactive and automatically-generated visualisations and text to do this effectively. We will also develop ways of assessing when and where new data will be most valuable in improving the model outputs. This, when combined with constraints (such as land access or people's recording preferences) will be communicated to recorders as bespoke recommendations via a web app. This will be developed for recording butterflies and grasshoppers (a sunny day activity), and recording moths (supported by our provision of portable, low cost light traps). We will engage recorders through established recording projects across the UK, including with partners in London (many people, but relatively few biodiversity data) and North and East Yorkshire (fewer people, and a wide variety of land uses). Throughout this project our work flows will be implemented in an data lab, so they will be flexible for use with any species and indeed could be adapted for any environmental data. The outcome of this project will be a process for enhancing biodiversity information that can be incorporated into existing recording projects and data streams, so that the outputs will be accessible and useful, for the benefit of nature and people.

Planned Impact

Our project seeks to deliver improved biodiversity information for end users. At this stage of delivery the outputs will be fine-resolution species distribution models for c. 1000 species of insect. The information will be comprehensive because it will be based on model outputs, and will be fine-resolution (expected to be 100m resolution). Model outputs include uncertainty, so we will invest in automated data communication to ensure they are communicated effectively.

Data users in government agencies, local authorities, conservation NGOs and business-relevant organisations (such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, utility companies and major land owners) are a primary group of stakeholders that will benefit from our project. We will engage with representatives from these organisations through our co-design process to ensure that our outputs meet their needs. Currently, data users have information on species records at the 1-10km resolution, which is useful for large-scale strategic needs. Data users can also commission site-based surveys to meet specific operational needs. However, there are a range of needs for data that need to be met through comprehensive fine-scale biodiversity information, as will be delivered through this project. Natural capital assessments are being developed at local to regional scales (as well as nationally), and planning policies (in England, but with equivalents in other countries) need to deliver net biodiversity gain and coherent ecological networks. Our delivery of accessible, high quality information supports the vital inclusion of biodiversity in these plans.

Some of the local users (e.g. from local economic partnerships or local councils) will not be as familiar with biodiversity model outputs as users in national government agencies, so communication of results and their uncertainty needs to be effective (through visualization and text) and, with models being updated in near real time, the communication needs to be automated. We will work with data users through our co-design process to ensure that these needs are met. We will also make our outputs available via a data lab, to enable easy access to outputs, without users requiring a large data infrastructure. In our project, we have chosen to work in two target regions with project partners to focus our engagement with local data users. Our project partners already have good networks in these regions and we will link to local economic partnerships, councils, agencies and businesses who have need for biodiversity data.

A second group of stakeholders who will benefit are citizen science recorders. Many tens of thousands of people voluntarily provide biological records each year in the UK providing millions of pounds worth of contributions. Our development of Adaptive Citizen Science through Intelligent Digital Engagements will enable their volunteer resource to used more effectively and intentionally, and by providing better feedback, aligned with their motivations, will support an even more engaged citizen science base, better able to support the increasing demands for high quality biodiversity information.

Our approach of using adaptive sampling to provide bespoke recommendations to citizen science recorders in order to target their effort to the times and places that will be most informative is novel and has only been considered in a couple of other projects in the world. This will be the first large-scale test of this approach and so our increased understanding of the motivations of citizen science recorders, combined with evaluation of their response to recommendations from adaptive sampling will benefit others designing and running citizen science projects in environmental science and beyond. In our team, we represent high profile citizen science (iSpot, iRecord and the Biological Records Centre), so we are well-placed to implement the learning and tools from this project, ensuring a good legacy of of this investment.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title The Dataset's Dream 
Description The Dataset's Dream is a curious, sorrow-full, hope-full, data-full installation by artist Bryony Benge-Abbott and poet Thomas Sharp, created in collaboration with scientists at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Poetic narrative and illuminated glass 'cocoon-caskets' guide us on a journey into the world of big data, exploring the importance of both cataloging the natural world and of touching it with our imaginations. What is lost and what is gained when we turn nature into data? 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact 200 people visited the installation. Positive feedback was received Additional funding received to support further installation and training for scientists. 
URL https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/datasets-dream
 
Description We have undertaken fine-scale, comprehensive modelling of the distribution of c.80 species of butterfly and day-flying moth.
We have modelled the uncertainty of these distributions and used these to create an interactive, web-based tool to inform recorders of the places from which their nature recording will be most informative for future use of the data for biodiversity monitoring.
This work continues to be taken forward within the current project.
Exploitation Route The principles of adaptive sampling (biodiversity recording in the places from which the records are most valuable) are rarely used within citizen science, so this has relevance internationally for monitoring under the Convention of Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
It has direct relevance to the community of citizen science naturalists in the UK in providing more informative records for biodiversity monitoring for Defra and other public and private stakeholders.
Our provision of fine-scale distribution models has relevance to local and regional decision-making for conservation and assessments of natural capital.
Sectors Environment

URL https://decide.ceh.ac.uk
 
Description Natural Capital Ecosystem Assessment
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2020 
End 03/2021
 
Description Terrestrial Surveillance Development and Analysis 2
Amount £435,667 (GBP)
Organisation Joint Nature Conservation Committee 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2023 
End 08/2027
 
Description The Dataset's Dream: training and artistic installation
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Cranfield University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2023 
End 07/2023
 
Description PhD studentship with Warwick 
Organisation University of Warwick
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Supporting a PhD studentship through the expertise from the DECIDE project
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in data visualisation
Impact Multi-disciplinary: environmental science; computing
Start Year 2023
 
Title DECIDE Tool 
Description Web app making available the DECIDE project outputs - showing places of highest recording potential for willdlife, based on the value of records for research and biodiversity monitoring. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact Use by citizen scientists to direct their provision of data for biodiversity reporting. 1700 users of the tool; 6500 visits, averaging about 4 minutes per interaction 
URL http://decide.ceh.ac.uk
 
Title MyDECIDE personalised emails about impact of wildlife recording 
Description Personalised emails sent to 850 people to provide information about the value of their wildlife recording. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact Evidence of the impact that this is associated with increases in the number of records submitted by recorders. 
 
Description BOU conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference talk for c.120 people internationally communicating the importance of findings of our project. Audience positively received the findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Co-design focus groups 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Focus groups for co-design of the web app and direction of the project - influenced critical research and design decisions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Conference talk (ECSA) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Speaking at a conference to citizen science practitioners who could use our approach in their own work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description London recorders day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to naturalist group generated lots of interest in the project and encouraged people to use the web app
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description NBN talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk to National Biodiversity Network conference which has sparked discussion and interest amongst those from government agencies tasked with influencing Defra programme delivery.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Talks to local recording groups 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talks for recording societies who use the new citizen science approach: NFBR, EA, CDE
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022,2023
 
Description Thames Valley Butterfly Conservation + South Wales Environmental Recording 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to local wildlife recording group with influence across two regions, generated interest in using our web app
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021