, Volume 148, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 77-124
Date: 10 Nov 2007

Citizens, science and bird conservation

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Abstract

Collaborative research by networks of amateurs has had a major role in ornithology and conservation science and will continue to do so. It has been important in establishing the facts of migration, systematically recording distribution, providing insights into habitat requirements and recording variation in numbers, productivity and survival, thus allowing detailed demographic analyses. The availability of these data has allowed conservation work to be focussed on priority species, habitats and sites and enabled refined monitoring and research programmes aimed at providing the understanding necessary for sound conservation management and for evidence-based government policy. The success of such work depends on the independence of the science from those advocating particular policies in order to ensure that the science is unbiased. Wetland birds are surveyed in much of the world. Most countries also have a ringing scheme. Other forms of collaborative ornithology are strong in North America, Australia and Australasia, more patchily distributed in Asia (but with strong growth in some countries) and even patchier in Africa and South America. Such work is most successful where there is a strong partnership between the amateurs and the professional, based on their complementary roles. The participation of large numbers of volunteers not only enables work to be done that would otherwise be impossible but also facilitates democratic participation in the decisions made by society and builds social capital. The recruitment to and subsequent retention of people in the research networks are important skills. Surveys must be organized in ways that take into account the motives of the participants. It is useful to assess the skills of potential participants and, rather than rejecting those thought not to have adequate skills, to provide training. Special attention needs to be paid to ensuring that instructions are clear, that methods are standardized and that data are gathered in a form that is easily processed. Providing for the continuity of long-term projects is essential. There are advantages to having just one organization running most of the work in each country. Various sorts of organizations are possible: societies governed by their (amateur) members but employing professional staff to organize the work seem to be a particularly successful model. Independence from government and from conservation organizations is desirable.

Communicated by F. Bairlein.