Top 10 wildlife studies and surveys to get involved with

Learn new skills and help scientists make conservation plans by taking part in a wildife survey; the more people that provide data, the more valuable the research

Published: May 2nd, 2014 at 11:27 am


Soil and worms

There are 26 types of earthworms in Britain, but surprisingly little is known about them or how they adapt to environmental change.

This fascinating survey uses mustard and vinegar to discover the properties in your soil and the worms that live in it – and it’ll be worth getting grubby for. OPAL surveys, like this one, are great resources that come with clear activity guides designed by the Field Studies Council.

Cetaceans and sea birds

Recent surveys have confirmed a breeding population of 150-200 white-beaked dolphins in Lyme Bay – the most southern in Europe. But what are their needs? Cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises and whales) are pressured by fisheries, military activity, pollution and climate change, so surveys can better inform conservation decisions. Experienced spotters can become off-shore surveyors on board freight ships and ferries. Occasionally volunteers are also needed for on-shore surveys – training in cetacean and seabird identification is available.

Reptiles and amphibians

Common frogs are widespread across the UK but the natterjack toad is found at only 50 breeding sites. Plenty more research into these populations is needed, so whether you’ve seen a toad in your garden, a snake in the grass or a frog in the drain, submit a record to ARGUK and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s record pool.


Any decline in small mammals will impact on the predators – such as barn owls, kestrels and pine martens – that feed on them, but little is known about their populations. The Mammal Society run four surveys to choose from, (once you’ve registered online with a postcode), including harvest mouse nest monitoring and searching for signs of field voles. You could also try your own footprint tunnel survey – buy or make your own tunnel complete with ink pad and paper, and see what’s been making tracks in your garden. uk/surveys

Nature’s Calendar

Phenology – the recording of seasonal events – can help show the impact of climate change on wildlife. The first UK records date back to 1684 and this survey aims to make current UK data compatible with historic and international records. The data is used to assess how wildlife responds to temperature change, and whether there is evidence of any adaptation.

Big Butterfly Count

Butterflies react quickly to change so are excellent biodiversity indicators. After several wet summers the question for 2013 was whether populations could recover. Thankfully, hot weather resulted in a butterfly boom, although meadow browns, ringlets, marbled whites, and six-spot burnet moths declined, despite doing surprisingly well in wet 2012. This Buttefly Conservation survey only takes 15 minutes – find a sunny spot and count all the butterflies and day-flying moths you see using the butterfly ID chart provided.

The Breeding Bird Survey

For this survey, you’ll be asked to identify all the birds you see or hear during a morning walk across a given 1km square. So you should be able to identify common birds and their calls to take part, but training courses and a free CD of bird calls are available if you need to improve your skills.

Tree health

We all know how important trees are; they support wildlife, capture and store CO2, provide timber, help regulate flooding and soil erosion. Yet in recent years the number of pests and diseases attacking them has increased, leading to a decline in tree health. Citizen research is vital to help reduce the spread of disease. This survey, set up by OPAL, Forest Research, and the Forest Environment Research Agency, has a focus on ash, oak and horse chestnut. Want to know how to measure the height of a tree easily? Download a survey guide.

Glow Worms

Glow worm numbers have plummeted over the past 50 years but they are still recorded across Britain, favouring open land. This survey aims to build a clearer picture – give them a hand by recording any sightings on the website.

Wildflowers Count

Common wildflowers are often overlooked when rarer species are studied, but they are important indicators of change. For this survey, you’ll be sent a pack including an ID card of 99 species and allocated a nearby 1km square. If you’re already a specialist, you can sign up to be a ‘super surveyor’.




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