Record urban nature for the City Nature Challenge this weekend!


Guest blog by Victoria Burton. Victoria is Interim Project Coordinator at the Natural History Museum, London and is coordinating the City Nature Challenge 2020: London. In past years Victoria could be found digging up earthworms in London’s Hyde Park at previous City Nature Challenge BioBlitz events. 





What is the City Nature Challenge?

The City Nature Challenge began in 2016 as a competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles to record the most wildlife and spread across the USA in 2017. Run by the Citizen/Community Science teams at the California Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, the City Nature Challenge is an annual four-day BioBlitz-style competition at the end of April. The goals of the City Nature Challenge are to connect people in urban areas to their local nature, build online and in-person communities around local data and collect urban biodiversity data available to use for science, management, and conservation.

 The Challenge went global in 2018 with 68 cities around the world taking part, including London, Plymouth, Bristol and Bath in the UK. In 2019 more than 150 cities participated, with over 35,000 people making almost one million observations of nature in the four days of the Challenge. In previous years City Nature Challenge partners have organised BioBlitzes in urban parks to engage people with nature and collect data on urban biodiversity. The coronavirus pandemic has meant this is now not possible for many cities but with some modifications City Nature Challenge 2020 is still happening!


A bug hunt in Hyde Park during City Nature Challenge 2019: London © Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London


City Nature Challenge 2020

This year’s City Nature Challenge is no longer a competition. Instead, we want to embrace the collaborative aspect of sharing observations online with a digital community. In these challenging times, being outdoors and connecting with nature is a safe and responsible way to cope with stress. City Nature Challenge allows people to come together and collaborate around the world, participating in whatever ways they can, to document the biodiversity of our planet. 

How to get involved 

The City Nature Challenge takes place in two parts: with observations made and shared 24 - 27 April, and observations uploaded and identified 28 April  - 3 May. Collective results will be announced 4 May.

All you need to get started is:a smartphone with the FREE iNaturalist app downloaded, or a camera to take photos of what you see and upload to the website later.

Find nature: between 24 and 27 April 2020, within Government guidelines, explore nature in and around your home.

Take a picture: of wild plants, animals, fungi, or other organisms that you find. If they are not wild, for example domestic animals or planted flowers, please mark them as captive/cultivated.

Share your observations: record what you find by uploading a picture (with location) onto the iNaturalist app or website: Set your location visibility to 'obscured' if you do not want your exact location recorded. You must upload your observations onto iNaturalist by the end of the day (23.59) on Monday 27 April to count towards the City Nature Challenge.

Volunteer your identification skills: between 24 April - 3 May, add identifications to observations on the iNaturalist app or website to improve data quality. You must add identifications to iNaturalist by the end of the day (23.59) on Sunday 3 May to count towards the City Nature Challenge.

Follow the action: You can join the City Nature Challenge 2020 project page on iNaturalist to see how many wildlife observations have been recorded across the UK. Follow #CityNatureChallenge or #CNCUK on social media for news from the UK and cities around the world. Results will be revealed on the 4th May 2020. 

Why iNaturalist? 

There are other ways to submit biological records in the UK so you may be asking why the City Nature Challenge uses iNaturalist. This is partly because iNaturalist is the recording app and website of choice in the USA - where City Nature Challenge started - and allows cities across the world to easily collate and compare numbers of observations. Another advantage is that iNaturalist is easy to use for complete beginners. There is no need to know the name of an organism - the user can take a photograph of anything they see and upload it for people around the world to help identify. iNaturalist uses computer vision to ‘learn’ what a photograph is more likely to be and offer identification suggestions to users. This can cause difficulties - as mentioned earlier iNaturalist is used most in the USA which means it can offer incorrect identifications, but it does mean that the more UK photographs and correct identifications are added to iNaturalist, the better it will become at offering suggestions. Although you don’t need to upload a photograph to add an observation on iNaturalist (you can also add sounds and upload lists) it does mean the community will be unable to confirm your records unless they know you personally. This unfortunately makes iNaturalist less suitable for bird lists and for organisms which need microscopic examination. 

Where does the data go? 

There are challenges connecting up iNaturalist to the UK’s existing data repositories. A trial last year passed data that met certain criteria from iNaturalist to iRecord but this is currently on hold pending further development. This doesn’t mean the data is not used however - UK City Nature Challenge cities work with their local records centre to transfer data from iNaturalist. Species-level identifications which meet certain data quality tests are transferred to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) on a weekly basis and, depending on the licence chosen by the iNaturalist user, most data is available for anyone to export from the iNaturalist export page

I like to think of iNaturalist as a gateway for those with no experience at all in species identification and recording. Some may only use it to find out what the “strange insect they have never seen before” but in doing so they will discover there are whole communities collecting data for use in science and conservation, for some it may even be the first step towards becoming a biological recorder. 

This year I am City Nature Challenge participants to target four species for the London Species Search. These species are the focus of current research or interest to biological recording societies and each communicates specific examples of how biological records are used.

Some ideas for you to take part in the City Nature Challenge

       Do a mini BioBlitz in your garden

       No access to green-space? Hunt for spiders and other invertebrates in your home

       Short on time? Just take and upload a couple of wildlife photographs, it all adds up!

       Are you a moth trapper? Upload photographs and identify your catches to improve the iNaturalist computer vision for this group

       Confirm or add identifications on iNaturalist to improve data quality and engage newcomers

 However you are able to participate, and the challenges you are facing this year as a result of COVID-19, I hope you will help make City Nature Challenge 2020 the UK’s biggest yet! 

For more information: 

City Nature Challenge: London is being led by the Natural History Museum, London in partnership with the Royal Parks, University College London, the Field Studies Council, the Linnean Society, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and London Environmental Educators Forum.

City Nature Challenge: UK is led by the Bristol Natural History Consortium. 

City Nature Challenge is led by The California Academy of Sciences and Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.