Crowdsourcing Phenology: Marsham’s Indications of Spring
Although there is perhaps a tendency to think that crowdsourcing data collection initiatives are a recent innovation, the practice of citizen science dates back to some of the earliest known recordings of natural and human-made phenomena. In a recent report by the BBC on the signs of spring ‘shifting’ in trees, the pioneering crowdsourcing work of English naturalist Robert Marsham, best known for his Indications of Spring, was acknowledged. Marsham’s interest was in what became known as phenology, the study of the periodic cycles of natural phenomena. His indications of those cycles, 27 altogether, included recordings of the first leafing of a number of trees such as elm, rowan, and oak, the first hearing of birds such as the cuckoo, swallow and nightingale, and the first croaks of certain amphibians. Marsham’s family continued with his observations after his death in 1797, providing almost 200 years of seasonal observations.
Today the same phenological surveys are supported through the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar survey, a resource for volunteers to record the signs of the changing seasons where they live. A number of live tracking maps are available, which allow visitors to the site to select a species, a year, a particular event such as a first flowering, and plot the results. I chose snowdrops, one of the signature flowers of spring in many parts of Europe. As of the 25 February there had been 487 recorded sightings of snowdrops this year.
Although the spatial data are not available to download, summaries of the seasonal results are available as PDFs.