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Why Nature Is Counting On You To Count It

Leanne Dempsey
By Leanne Dempsey

With wildlife numbers in worrying decline, and everything from Green Belt to greenfield at risk of development, nature is counting on us now more than ever to count its presence.

Banded demoiselle | Becca Nelson

A new Environment Act arrived last year (2021), featuring mandatory biodiversity net gain. This is the idea that certain sites must leave nature in a better state than before. Nature needs a gain. The State of Nature Report 2019 declared that 41% of UK species experienced abundant decline over the 50-year period of monitoring. This was a report stemming from not one organisation, but many groups counting wildlife.

With all those organisations counting birds, bees, and beyond, you might think nature is covered. Not so: with thousands of species on our doorsteps, wildlife charities have their work cut out. Fields, streets, populations go uncounted due to the sheer scale of the task. Although biodiversity net gain is still a legal work in progress, one thing is already clear. To gain nature, we need to know what is already there and what needs protection.

White wagtail on heather
White wagtail on heather | Becca Nelson

So how do you start counting nature? Many people enter the world of citizen science – where amateur volunteers report sightings – by partaking in a national survey. Free examples include RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, The Big Butterfly Count, or BirdTrack. The Big Butterfly Count is a one-off scheme, while BirdTrack is an ad-hoc scheme where you can submit sightings any time.

But wait, what if you do not know what bird just twittered in the park? Beginners are welcome! Lancashire Environmental Records Network (LERN), for example, encourages beginners to start recording local sightings via iNaturalist (screenshot left). Using either the website or app, you add the location and, ideally, some photographs of your plantlife or wildlife sighting. No need to know what you found: the app suggests species based on its database, while the iNaturalist community contributes identifications to records.

Once you add a record, say, of that Red Admiral butterfly fluttering past your bus stop, what happens to the information? Whether you recorded it on the Big Butterfly Count or iNaturalist, these national schemes all link into the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). The NBN public atlas brings everyone’s efforts together. It allows researchers to monitor species and organisations like CPRE to check a site’s recorded biodiversity.

What if you record it incorrectly – will it matter? It is all fine. Records enter the NBN atlas usually after a small delay for verification. iNaturalist connects with iRecord, where specialist recorders verify sightings like hoverflies and ladybirds, then analyse that year’s numbers. Certain species are common in misidentification, so the networks allow for mistakes. It is true that expert recorders are vital for those rare or difficult-to-spot species, but amateurs can offer just as much. Nature is not just a rare beetle in a reserve. It is the nature you think is common or local. It is the greenfinch in your garden!

Birdwatching | Becca Nelson

Without public volunteers entering these numbers, organisations would never have known that greenfinches were under threat, or why they were. Without your help, we would not know what nature lives in and around local sites. All it takes is one record on iNaturalist. One red campion, or one song thrush. Make nature count.


BTO. (2022). BirdTrack. Available at: Accessed: 20 June 2022.

Butterfly Conservation. (2022). The Big Butterfly Count. Available at: Accessed: 20 June 2022.

iNaturalist Network. (2022). iNaturalist: A Community for Naturalists. Available at: Accessed: 20 June 2022.

Lancashire County Council. (2022). LERN – Lancashire Environmental Records Network. Available at: Accessed: 20 June 2022.

National Biodiversity Network. (2022). NBN Atlas. Available at: Accessed: 20 June 2022.

RSPB. (2022). The Big Garden Birdwatch 2022: The Results. Available at: Accessed: 20 June 2022.

State of Nature Partnership. (2019). State of Nature Report 2019. Available at: Accessed: 20 June 2022.


butterfly landed on finger
Ringlet butterfly Becca Nelson