Monday, 18 July 2011

Café Connect 8 – Sunday 10th July, Eskdalemuir

Day 8 and its just a short drive from New Galloway to Eskdalemuir for the next instalment of Café Connect.

Eskdalemuir has one big claim to fame: its home to the first Tibetan Buddhist temple in the West… The Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre.

Our hosts for the evening, the Upper Eskdale Develeopment Group (UEDG), coordinated a petition, ultimately convincing the council to sell the Old School (or ‘Hub’) to the community last year… for the bargain price of £1! The UEDG are now busy making plans and writing funding proposals to redevelop and extend the Hub.

At the venue (the Hub, not the temple!) we saw a great turnout (16 people) as the UEDG rallied around, fully supporting Café Connect.

Dr Advaith Siddharthan’s (dot.rural Natural Resource Conservation and Computing Science Associate Investigator) talk, entitled ‘Citizen Science: Conservation research is in your hands’, began with a light introduction to the world of citizen science (‘Citizen’ referring to the element of democracy and participation).

Advaith named GalaxyZoo as a popular example of a well-established citizen science project, utilising crowd sourcing.

He went on to point out that the history of Computing Science mirrors that of Citizen Science, spanning Distributed Computing to Brain Sourcing/Human Computation (the technology behind e-Science).

It seems that the field of Natural Resource Conservation has a long history of public participation, e.g. the activities of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Advaith’s talk described dot.rural’s Digital Conservation project, involving the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust's Bee Watch, asking:
- How can we motivate people to engage with Bumble Bee conservation?
- How do we sustain this motivation? Through user-specific feedback, online games, creating online communities etc.
- Is such a project scalable?

Advaith’s interactive ‘identify the Bumble Bee’ exercise sparked some lively comments: “Its great just to know there are so many different types!”.

I couldn’t help wondering why I, and the rest of the University’s Public Engagement with Science Unit, haven’t been more actively involved in this project – the fit seems obvious. Also, I now have a plan to unlock some Partnership Resource funding and launch a schools competition around Bumble Bee conservation!

A summary of the lively discussions that followed the talk…
- The ‘hooks’ for motivating people are, essentially, communicating and understanding the life-changing impact of not acting and not conserving species, “getting people early on in life”, and communicating the final research outputs back to the public(s).
- Tales of being involved in AuroraWatch – a system, which alerts members, enables sharing of photographs, and (crucially) feeds back to users after recent activity – and their successful, personal and community-building approach: “The more we engage with them, the more they engage with us”.
- Awareness of the current Bugs in Gardens Dumfries and Galloway project whereby members of the public are encouraged to record the bugs they find in their gardens.
- The wildlife recording exhibition about to open at the Tullie House Museum, Cumbria – “an old fashioned type of engagement”.
- The need for people to not just collect data, but also, to ask questions! i.e. the Wild About Britain forum - an online community of over 40,000 members.
- Awareness of the Woodland Trust’s management schemes.
- The role of narrative and art in getting children involved in conservation; “don’t think of this as a science”, “perhaps its part of the wider learning experience”, tying in with Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. In which case, who’s responsibility is this? Is there a need for a whole new cohort to deliver such engagement?
- Apply the methods and techniques young children use when engaging with each other, virtually, to motivating people to do conservation and citizen science.
- Queries over “where the science in citizen science is”.
- Questions surrounding image-recognition technology: Although not the goal of citizen science, if a computer can recognise an image of a bee, or a bird, automatically, where’s the need for an enthusiastic and engaged public?

Big thanks to Jock Miller, Nancy Chinnery and the rest of the team for the fanstatic hosting (and cakes!)…

It was unfortunate that the Eskdalemuir champion, Nick Jennings (Chairman, UEDG), was unable to make it due to illness. Nick did a great job in the run up to Café Connect, spreading the word. As it turns out, his marketing strategy was superbly targeted, with a whole bunch of enthusiastic and professional ecologists in the audience!

Some members of tonight’s audience included…
- Teresa (Statistical Ecologist) and Mustafa from the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre (find them on Facebook here).
- Fiona Russell (Ph.D. researcher at Glasgow University) working in the field of Eco-Criticism and Eco-Poetry!
- Chris Miles (Scottish Natural Heritage Area Manager for Dumfries and Galloway).
- Tim (Woodland Sites Manager, the Borders Forest Trust).

On the road back to the B&B in Langholm – with a novel alternative to wifi (wireless Internet signal from the mains Earth!) – we managed to dodge two birds, a hare and a fox… unfortunately, we couldn’t miss the final obstacle; a barn owl, frozen in the headlights. If only we had some of these


1 comment:

  1. Sound like a great session and I'm sorry I was too unwell to attend. We'd certainly like to be involved in any future events - Nick Jennings Project Development Manager UEDG (not Chairman anymore)