Column: The power of citizen science

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Walking through a thick carpet of bluebells in an ancient woodland is a real treat for the senses; the feel of dappled sunlight coming through the tree canopy, the cheerfully raucous birdsong, the glorious sight of the flowers, all jewel tones of blue and green, with that amazing scent.

Our bluebells are an indicator species, suggesting that a wood has been there for a very long time indeed; seeing out both World Wars, the Industrial Revolution, and the English Civil War.

Ancient woodlands support more wildlife than any other terrestrial habitat in the UK, but they also face challenges, such as the threat of habitat destruction due to development, and the risks posed by a changing climate.

Our wild bluebells – the true bluebells – are also at risk from hybridisation with non-native varieties. Hybridisation permanently changes the genetic makeup of our native species, and the hybrids are aggressive; they can wipe out colonies of British bluebells. If this happens, our springtime show will become less vibrant; non-native bluebells are not so delicate, they are paler in colour with blue pollen, and they don’t have a scent.

However, the plight of our iconic British bluebells is a far from a hopeless case thanks to the power of citizen scientists.

Who are these citizen scientists? Well, they are people like you. Collectively, the single pieces of information sent in by hundreds of normal people while they are doing everyday things amounts to a huge data set that scientists can use to discover the true state of a subject.

It’s thanks to people like you we are building up a true picture of the bluebell situation in South Yorkshire. From the records sent in by citizen scientists we are able to map the spread of non-native species and discover where our native bluebells are thriving. This means we will be able to target our work much more effectively and protect our true bluebells for future generations to enjoy.

For your best chance of seeing bluebells at their best head out to an ancient woodland before the end of May.

Moss Valley Woodlands, Greno Woods and Wyming Brook are just a few of our nature reserves where you can find them. And while you are treating yourself to an idyllic wander through the woods you can help to protect them just by taking a picture and sending in a few details to the True Bluebells project at www.wildsheffield.com/bluebells. It’s not rocket science. It’s citizen science!

Vsit www.wildsheffield.com/bluebells