Research Summary

The rise of BioBlitz: Evaluating a popular event format for public engagement and wildlife recording in the United Kingdom

Evaluating the potential of BioBlitz citizen science to promote environmental behavior

Applied Environmental Education & Communication

Citizen science is the collection of scientific data by the public. Researchers with time or financial constraints can implement on citizen science to encourage naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts to collect scientific data. People from varying backgrounds with little to no scientific experience can benefit from time outdoors while collecting pertinent information about the local environment. Citizen science events can range from informal to formal education settings. BioBlitz is a program started in the United States that has expanded to the United Kingdom. It provides participants with an opportunity to engage with nature and develop pro-environmental behaviors. However, little is known about why people participate in these programs and the potential learning opportunities associated with citizen science. This study explored why people participate in BioBlitz citizen science projects, the type of opportunities the program presents, if participation influences people to change their environmental attitudes, and how data collection contributes to national scientific datasets in the U.K.

The Bristol Natural History Consortium (BNHC) and Open Air Laboratories project (OPAL) created the National BioBlitz program to identify as many plant, animal, and fungal species as possible within a set space and time. A popular program in 2012 included the Garden BioBlitz, in which members surveyed their own backyards for various species and collected data. Ensuring valid data through citizen science is often impossible, meaning statistical analysis could generate invalid and/or biased results. Therefore, this study sought to address the type of data from BioBlitz programs that contribute to national datasets.

The authors conducted their research in 2013 throughout the U.K. First, 33 BioBlitz event organizers completed online surveys that provided feedback about events. In addition, the researchers encouraged organizers to disseminate questionnaires to their respective program’s visitors. The questionnaires contained a mixture of close-ended and open-ended questions, including asking respondents to share their favorite part of the event. In 2013, 11 events collected visitor data regarding the BioBlitz program. After each event, the organizer sent the survey responses to the researchers. The data were analyzed using statistics.

This study determined that BioBlitz programs engaged people from varying ages and that attendants participate for a variety of reasons. Both adults (aged 16-65+ years) and children (aged 5-16 years) indicated that they enjoyed their experience, but preferred different activities within the program. For adults, the most preferred activity included interacting with specialists about wildlife and learning about species. The most popular response among children involved direct contact with nature, such as butterfly catching. In addition, 90% of survey respondents stated that they learned something new during their event. Participants cited that they learned species identification, wildlife surveying techniques, and land management strategies. All of the respondents indicated they would apply what they learned, share the information with friends, and plan to attend more events.

The researchers also identified changes in participation rates and in the number of events held between 2010 and 2013. Despite an increase in the number of BioBlitz programs offered annually, attendance was highest in 2010 when the program first launched. However, 2013 had the second highest number of participants, indicating that attendance may be increasing annually. The BioBlitz events attracted a wide range of age groups, with the greatest number of participants (30%) being children aged between 5-10 years old. Most of the adult visitors were either working or retired, and two-thirds of the surveyed adults indicated they were concerned about environmental conservation and wanted to learn how to help. The programs were unable to reach a diverse background during this time frame; 94% of the participants in the study identified as white.

The study was unable to link which BioBlitz data were included in the national datasets. The authors hypothesize that the lack of a central database that records BioBlitz data collection prevents them from knowing if the data are valid and useable.

The researchers identified several limitations associated with this study. First, the authors relied on the event organizers to disseminate questionnaires, which may have impacted results if the organizers did not randomly distribute surveys. Second, the researchers were not able to compare BioBlitz programs to determine if one event was more effective at data collection than others. Third, the researchers did not conduct follow-up surveys to estimate how BioBlitz impacted behavioral change over time; the results from this study are dependent on what participants indicated they would do in the future. Lastly, this study only focused on BioBlitz participants in the U.K.; practitioners should use caution when generalizing the results to other countries.

The authors recommend creating BioBlitz activities and designing advertising to ensure the targeted audience will be interested. In addition, the authors encourage practitioners to implement diversity and inclusion by engaging people of varying demographics. While the program is helpful in collection of biological data, the authors recommend implementing evaluation for each event, which would allow event organizers to assess individual event outcomes and how each event contributed to the U.K. scientific dataset.

The Bottom Line

Citizen science provides people with the opportunity to help collect scientific data, engage with nature, and develop pro-environmental behaviors. A popular program called BioBlitz has participants identify animal, plant, and fungal species within a set time and space. This study evaluated BioBlitz events during 2013 in the U.K. to determine participant demographics and how the program may impact environmental attitudes among participants. The researchers used questionnaires to collect data from participants who collectively attended 13 BioBlitz events. The results demonstrated that the program attracts people from many different age groups but not diverse ethnicities. Both adult and child participants indicated that they learned new skills; however, adults preferred interacting with specialists while children emphasized direct contact with nature. The authors recommend that practitioners plan and market BioBlitz activities according to their targeted audience. In addition, they suggest incorporating evaluation, which would allow organizers to assess outcomes of individual events and how citizen science contributes to the scientific dataset in the U.K.