These days it seems that the majority of us carry around some kind of mobile phone. A large number of these phones are of the ‘smart phone’ variety, with the ability to take photos, downloads apps and check your email as well as making a phone call. Recently I have become aware that there are more apps being developed to aid in the recording of plants and wildlife directly from your phone. The recent launch of the Ladybird Survey app has confirmed to me the use of these apps in the field. With a few taps I am able to take a photo of a ladybird, use a basic key to work out the species, or search if I already know, record the number, location, habitat and add a note to create a record. The app uses the phones built-in GPS locator to determine your location, or you can add co-ordinates or a location manually. This is a massive help, especially if like me you happened to casually see a ladybird on the way home and don’t carry a GPS with you everywhere you go. The records are then used to help monitor populations of ladybirds across the UK. The ease of uploading records from your phone is sure to attract those people who want to upload casual records when they are out and about as well as those hardened recorders that actively sample habitats.
The ladybird app is just one of many that are appearing to enable people to easily record what they see when they are out and about. Others include Plant Tracker (recorder for invasive and non-native plant species) , Leaf Watch (record conker trees attacked by a non-native moth) and the Bee Friend Your Garden app(record the number and type of insect visiting bushes and flowers in your garden). All of these apps are FREE and great to play around with when out and about or back home in the garden. Having these tools at your fingertips to upload records quickly and easily could increase the number of records coming in for a variety of species. It is encouraged that recordings are accompanied by a picture which will allow your record to be verified by one of the many scientists ‘behind the scenes’.
These apps may not directly help the recording of the smaller or more difficult species but I think the potential is there for people to catch the bug (excuse the pun) for recording or even just being more aware of the environment and insects around them. With all that has been happening recently concerning the use of neonicotinoids and the decline of bees and other pollinators, any increase in biological records is definitely a bonus. Other than the apps there are some other great resources for viewing the data you have uploaded. iRecord is run by the Biological Records Centre and allows you to manage and share your wildlife records. Records from apps such as the ladybird survey app are uploaded here, and you can compare your results with others or even just look at a species distribution across the country. Another great resource is iSpot which gives some great help with identifications of species you might be stuck on and has a forum for discussions on identification, sharing video clips and asking questions.
Technology may be a frustration for some or a nuisance for others but in terms of biological recording and getting help for identifications, I think its use by the casual and serious wildlife recorder a like is certainly overall beneficial. Even the most seasoned recorder needs a little help now and again or just a second opinion and technology in the form of apps and websites can certainly help provide this resource. I hope that there will be a new generation of scientists that will look back and say ‘it all started when I downloaded this app…’ and that we maybe can use this serge in having a camera, GPS, and the internet with us wherever we go to the wildlife’s advantage. The more records, the more we can understand species distributions and where we need to focus conservation efforts.