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Citizen Science for Environmental Citizenship: Backyard Birding and the Potential for Cultivating Green Engagement

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EnviroCitizen (Citizen Science for Environmental Citizenship: Backyard Birding and the Potential for Cultivating Green Engagement)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-03-31

While many projects have stressed the scientific quality of citizen science activities, there has been less inquiry into the ‘citizen’ part of the phrase ‘citizen science’. The EnviroCitizen project, which started 1 April 2020, proposes that the social capacity potential of citizen science extends to the very roots of what it means to be a citizen of the planet. The project brings together seven partners in Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Netherlands, Romania, Spain, & Cyprus to uncover the processes by which citizen scientists working in environmental-based activities can strengthen their environmental citizenship. We seek to understand the ways in which citizen science involvement has been & could be in the future used to cultivate environmental citizenship, which encompasses new ways of thinking & acting in all aspects of life to promote environmental sustainability.

The project studies the relationship between citizen science activities & environmental citizenship by focusing on bird watching & bird counting activities. The project aims to (1) assess the evolution of citizen involvement in citizen science birding activities; (2) evaluate how citizens learn about & enact environmental citizenship through their citizen science birding activities; & (3) develop innovative community interventions designed to complement existing citizen science birding programs in order to cultivate environmental citizenship in the future. Our goal is to create new knowledge & community interventions in six different languages & cultures across Europe through an ambitious multi-language school-based educational program & public engagement events to both increase participation in existing bird counting activities & raise environmental citizenship as a deliberate outcome of involvement in these activities. EnviroCitizen collaborates with ornithology non-profit organizations as supporting external groups in the project in order to facilitate the research tasks as well as uptake & impact of the project’s intervention deliverables.
Year 1 of EnviroCitizen was dedicated to Work Package 1 (WP1), “Birding Baselines” involving three partners: University of Stavanger (UiS), Cyprus Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CYCERE) & Radboud University (RU). The goal is to assess the evolution of citizen involvement in citizen science birding activities, to: historically contextualize citizens’ ideals, scientific practices & ideas of nature involved in bird counts; & to create a European baseline dataset for use in the development of model programs in WP3.

The lead beneficiary of WP1, CYCERE, prepared a detailed work plan for WP1 (D1.1) that refined & summarized the work for this WP. WP1 developed resources that support the work of WP2 & WP3.

UiS undertook Task 1.1 “Foundations of Bird Counting Activities”. This involves researching the development of lay citizen-involved bird counting activities, including bird watches & bird-ringing. It includes the historical development of garden/backyard bird count programs around the world & the historical development of organizations & standards Europe-wide for counting & recording birds. Individual countries have had national bird ringing centers for more than a century, but EURing, a pan-European organization, was only established in the 1960s to set European standards & enable communication & exchange between national initiatives. We examine how that standardization process took place & the role of amateurs in setting & carrying out standardized work. The research analyzed online & physical resources about birding historically in Norway, Great Britain the USA, Romania, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France & Finland in the period 1800-2020, especially women’s & amateurs’ roles in bird protection & citizen science since the 1880s. D1.2 based on this task, is a historical report on the emergence of citizen science activities in European amateur ornithology & a deep case study of bird ringing & citizen engagement in a local context.

CYCERE was responsible for Task 1.2 “Inclusion & Becoming Birding Citizens,” which aimed to historically contextualize the citizen ideals, scientific practices & ideas of nature involved in bird counts. This included developing tools to evaluate environmental-, ecology-, & nature-based Citizen Science (CS) initiatives. The team created: an overview of current & emerging models & practices defining citizens’ participation in CS & Environmental Citizenship (EC) initiatives; mapped existing frameworks of management & definitions for inclusion/exclusion in CS initiatives; identified barriers and facilitators of citizen involvement in CS initiatives; & created a multi-layered database for modelling & evaluating forms of CS & EC, & to construct a matrix/typology of citizen science. The baseline dataset outlines the evolution of typologies that characterize & define CS. Identification of baseline trends in CS sheds light on the evolution of these typologies & enables the development of new programs around that data promoting EC.

RU led Task 1.3 “Historical volunteer mapping,” which developed a profile of historical & current participants in terms of characteristics such as demographics & motivations in Netherlands bird counting projects to provide a detailed case study for comparison to the general trends identified in Tasks 1.1 & 1.2. One component is a historical study of birding & bird ringing, to investigate the historical development of (organized) research & protection of birds by volunteers & to interpret historically the different types of voluntary bird researchers based on their motivation & aims. The RU team paid special attention to the gender aspects of participation.
Although this reporting period only covers work done by UiS, RU, & CYCERE, the other project partners participated in the launch meeting & the WP1 summary meeting. Several of the WP2 & WP3 partners began initial networking & institutional work that will be vital to the project in future. For example, SLU has acquired institutional co-funding that allowed them to hire a 24-month postdoc rather than a 12-month researcher; both UEx & UiS got institutionally funded PhD positions that will be affiliated with the project.
The preliminary results promise to move beyond the state of the art. A systematic literature review included most of the participation & environmental citizenship related typologies of citizen science (CS) which CYCERE examined in 119 articles aligned to EnviroCitizen. Current CS initiatives clearly present several weaknesses, & future endeavors in the field should take into consideration various elements affecting citizens’ participation. A peer reviewed publication by the UiS team presents similar policy recommendations for conservation science projects. By the end of the project, we aim to provide results that will be of use for deeper understanding of citizens’ rights, responsibilities & engagement on the environment, but also for developing new knowledge & innovation within on-going CS initiatives. Participants in CS initiatives will be able to enhance democratization of science by incorporating socio-political & socio-cultural actions, promoting in this way citizens’ awareness, scientific literacy, & nature conservation.
Screenshot of project partners at EnviroCitizen launch meeting, 2 April 2020