We have collated a selection of ideas, links and suggestions – from small things you can do from your sofa, to joining scientists from around the world in finding solutions – there is something for everyone. Opportunities abound and we hope this list encourages you to take that first step.
If you love photography, then your first stop should be the Wildflower Hour, which takes place every Sunday, 8-9pm, where people share photographs of wild plants spotted flowering across Britain and Ireland during the previous week using the hashtag #wildflowerhour. Each week there is a new challenge and the aim is to flood the internet with photos of beautiful wildflowers every Sunday.
Try taking your photography to the next level by trying your hand at photographing flowers in ultraviolet light to reveal the secret messages plants send to their insect pollinators. Gardens can be an important refuge for wildlife if a constant supply of nectar from wildflowers is at hand. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) have launched a new project called the Garden Wildflower Hunt which asks you to record the wildflowers (not ornamental plants) growing in your garden.
Plants growing in gardens frequently ‘escape’ into the surrounding areas and become naturalised, like Green Alkanet in the photo above, a well–known garden escapee. Another BSBI project, Plant Alert, aims to discover which horticultural plants have the potential to become invasive and problematic in future. You can report those ornamental plants growing in your garden that are becoming difficult to control. If you are interested in learning to identify native plants, there is a host of different resources to help, from traditional ID charts like the wonderful introductory FSC charts, to much more advanced field guides.
If you would like to try out a plant ID app (like a Shazam for nature), PlantNet, Seek and PlantSnap are some of the many available. But be careful! Although they are useful for beginners to give a good shortcut to the approximate identification when out on a walk in the countryside, to be sure of the ID, one still needs to validate it with a traditional flora. You can read a very insightful review of some popular plant ID apps here.
For those wanting to take their plant ID to the next level, there is a fantastic online course called Identiplant. Although this is a distance learning course, you will need to get out into the field to examine plants in their natural environment on your hands and knees with a hand lens. The course does cost, but you can get a reduced rate if you volunteer for plant recording organisations or undertake surveys for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. Join an army of other citizens passionate about science, by recording the wildlife near you. Biological recording is just like a non-virtual Pokémon hunt, but where the finds can actually help conservation efforts.
Read this lovely blog to find out what it’s all about, or watch this short video. Charles Darwin himself was an avid amateur naturalist who developed his ideas through careful observation and recording of the wildlife around him. Put your wildflower recording skills into action by joining a global citizen science project called iNaturalist with over 35 million observations so far. When you upload pictures it generates an ID using a machine learning algorithm, which can be surprisingly accurate. It’s not only for plants, but other wildlife too. iSpot is another platform to explore.
Perhaps you would prefer hunting for ancient trees? Well the Ancient Tree Hunt is just for you then. For an endless selection of recording schemes which could become addictive if you are not careful, look no further than the National Biodiversity Network website. If heading outdoors to spot and record your wildlife sounds like too much work, why not contribute to a global citizen science project from the comfort of your sofa.
Fancy helping herbarium curators transcribe labels from plants collected from around the world, hundreds of years ago and then dried and stored in the New York Botanic Garden herbarium? Then this is the perfect project for you.
If you’d prefer to stick to collections held by British museums and universities, then the herbaria@home site will keep you out of trouble. If that does not excite you, don’t stop there, the “from your sofa citizen science” options are endless on Zooniverse.
If you love to watch the seasons change, then Nature’s Calendar is for you. Here you can not only view an interactive map of the annual timing of different events, like the first flowering snowdrops or bluebells across the UK, but you can also help scientists understand the impacts of climate change by recording these events in your own garden. If you want to get out and about in Cambridge, why not help the City Council map all the trees in Cambridge? There are about 240,000 trees to choose from and your efforts will contribute to helping the council manage our urban trees. Urban trees are a vital part of the fabric of any city, helping to prevent flooding, absorbing pollution, providing shade and habitat, absorbing carbon and contributing to our wellbeing.
Want to combine your plant saving activities with a spot of exercise outdoors, why not join a conservation work party at a local nature reserve near you?
For those academically inclined, why not sign up for some of the many free online courses about plants available? This one really gets you to understand what it means to be a plant.
If you are keen to learn how to preserve the world’s ecosystems, why not enroll on this course. The Open University has also developed this wonderful course to introduce you to Citizen Science and Biodiversity.
Springer is also making hundreds of textbooks free at the moment, so if you are interested in learning about plant ecology in great depth, or a variety of other topics for that matter, this is for you.
For those passionate about wildlife gardening, there are so many resources out there that it can be a little overwhelming. If you are just getting started, have a look at these top ten tips to give you inspiration.
For some lovely detailed guides for specific projects in the Garden, explore the Wild About Gardens pages produced by a collaboration between the RHS and Wildlife Trusts. For a more scientific take on the subject look no further than the Wildlife Garden Forum website.
Plantlife is a British conservation charity working nationally and internationally to conserve threatened wild plants and fungi. They have a number of interesting campaigns that you can get involved with.
From No Mow May and Every Flower Counts, which encourages gardeners to not mow parts of their lawn in May, and then to count the number of wildflowers (essential for producing nectar for pollinators) popping up by the end of the month; to the Great British Wildflower Hunt. There is something for everyone in the family to get involved in.
There is a lot of research going into determining which garden plants are best for pollinators and you can join in the effort by contributing to a project called Blooms for Bees to help discover which flowers are bumblebee favourites.
To determine how bee friendly your garden already is, you can use this lovely tool produced by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. The latest scientific results from studies undertaken by the RHS looking at which types of plants attract the most insects can be explored here. It turns out British native species are best (no real surprise), but closely followed by ornamental plants from the northern hemisphere.When you look to buy native wildflowers and other plants for your garden, consider using a company like Habitat Aid that ensures the plants are grown sustainably and gives back a percentage of their profits to small nature conservation charities. Speaking about buying things, are you aware of which of your products contain wild plant ingredients? To ensure the wild plants used in your products were collected and traded sustainably, look for the FairWild logo. You can also visit the Why Go Wild site and watch a lovely video all about it.