Thursday, 13 June 2013

A day out on the farm - collecting scientific data during Open Farm Sunday

Staff and students from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) were heavily involved with the second national farm pollinator survey on 9 June 2013, which took place as part of Open Farm Sunday. Kate Titford, a student spending the summer at CEH, describes the role she played on the day and reflects on the role members of the public can play in collecting scientific data.
You don’t have to be a professional scientist to contribute to science these days. With recent reports of declines in many species across the country everyone can play their part in monitoring changes. Sunday 9 June saw the second annual pollinator surveys taking place on farms across the UK as part of Open Farm Sunday. Scientists and volunteers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) helped members of the public to count pollinators buzzing around crops, pasture and field margins rich with wild flowers.
I joined the team at Waddesdon Estate, Buckinghamshire, commandeering visitors queuing for the tractor trailer rides to take part in a survey. After a cool, cloudy start to the day the sun appeared and brought out the crowds and the insects, too. Our budding scientists ranged from little children, keen to see insects in action after learning about them at school, to mums waiting for children to return from the trailer rides and interested in discovering more about these vital creatures. On our farm we mostly surveyed grass fields and pasture, and their flowering margins whilst other farms surveyed crops as well.

Examining a farmland field margin at Waddesdon Manor during the farm
pollinator survey held during Open Farm Sunday. Photo: Heather Lowther

Tiny parasitic wasps intrigued lots of our citizen scientists. “That’s really a wasp” and “can it sting me?” were frequent comments. Miniature micro moths and beetle larvae hiding in flowers kept children busy counting to make sure none were missed.
As essential to farms as the gigantic combine harvester sharing our field, pollinators are a key part of producing our food and so monitoring numbers will give scientists a better idea about how they are faring. Thanks to all our lovely volunteers, we managed to complete more than 30 surveys giving us valuable data to add to the records from the other farms. All the results from this year will be combined with those from last year to study any changes in the pollinators surveyed.

Younger visitors were enthusiastic contributors to the pollinator survey at
Waddesdon. Photo: Heather Lowther

So, not only did all our enthusiastic volunteers (and I) enjoy a day out at the farm, they made an important contribution to science as well. Twelve-year-old Ella, who took part in the pollinator survey at Waddesdon, said, “I really enjoyed the pollinator survey it was very interesting and we found lots of good bugs and some amazing beetle larvae! I enjoyed contributing to this science research because it is very interesting to learn about pollinators and it makes you feel good to think that your survey has contributed to real science!” 
To take part in a whole variety of surveys as a citizen scientist yourself, look at the Biological Records Centre website for more information.

Kate Titford

Kate is a student at Reading University undertaking a Masters project at CEH (using data from the UK Ladybird Survey) for the summer.

Additional information

Latest results from the Pollinator Survey from the Open Farm Sunday website
More details about the farm pollinator survey from the Open Farm Sunday website

Results from the 2012 Open Farm Sunday Pollinator Survey

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