One aim of EuMon is to identify time and cost effective methods for implementing monitoring schemes on biodiversity and to standardise such schemes across Europe. It is essential to draw on the unpaid contribution of large numbers of amateur naturalists in countries across the European Community in order to assess the abundance, distribution and conservation status of species and habitat types. Successful biodiversity programs often depend heavily on public participation and awareness. Support from amateur naturalists plays a key role in biodiversity monitoring activities in Europe. Participation of amateurs in monitoring networks can bring benefits to professional scientists by increasing amounts of available data and its spatial dimensions. Scientists can also benefit by being brought into contact with local knowledge. Participation further provides an opportunity to advance the relationships that scientists have with their constituencies or audiences, including those who might eventually become volunteers, particularly young people.
Research on the development of reliable and achievable monitoring methods that integrate amateur volunteers is therefore obliged to ask questions about the viability, integration and longevity of participatory monitoring networks (PMN) from which the benefits of collaboration might emerge. We identify PMNs as monitoring networks that involve the collaboration of a range of ‘nature specialists’ including conservationists, professional biologists and amateur naturalists.
Thus far little has been known about the geographical range and degree of species coverage by PMNs across Europe. The EuMon WP1 survey is a first attempt to map the extent of PMNs and their significance in European countries. The objective of the survey is to chart, as far as possible, the location and profile of biodiversity-related organisations across Europe that uses volunteers. Thus, while this survey is not fully representative, it is a necessary first step to address the information gap, which must be filled prior to any developments towards a common framework linking PMNs across Europe.
To assist our team in locating PMNs we divided Europe, including old and new member states, into four regions (a) Scandinavian and the Baltic countries, (b) Northwest Europe, (c) South and Southeast Europe, and (d) Central and Eastern Europe. Each of the WP1 partners was responsible for surveying one region and various sources were used to identify possible PMNs, including the internet, reports and grey literature. A cover letter explaining the aim of the project and a questionnaire was then sent to those organisations involved in biodiversity monitoring with several follow-up emails and/or telephone calls if an answer was not received. The questionnaire was designed to elicit information about the organisation and history of the PMN, the role of amateurs, their motivations to participate, the use to which their contribution is put, their means of recruitment, and the relationship between amateurs and professionals.
Out of a total of 2,865 questionnaires sent out, we received 327 completed ones from biodiversity related organisations. Response was particularly low from Northwest and South and Southeast Europe (3% and15% response rate, respectively) although in countries like Finland and Norway several questionnaires were returned by umbrella organisations covering up to 30 further organisations. Nevertheless, the data we have reveals some key insights into the role of volunteers within these organisations.
Twenty-eight countries responded to the questionnaire survey, with most countries providing information on 10 or fewer organisations (Figure 01). Netherlands, Romania and Germany provided information on 10-20 organisations, Poland on 27 and the UK on 82 organisations. Overall, 247 organisation provided information on their age. Although small numbers started in the 19th century or in the first half of the 20th century, there was an obvious growth in the numbers of organisations starting after 1950 and 47% of organisations began during the 1990s (Figure 02). Linked to this, most organisations (73%) had carried out biodiversity monitoring for no more than 20 years (Figure 10). Organisations varied greatly in the numbers of public members involved, around 10% having fewer than 25 members whilst just under 20% had over 10,000 (Figure 06).
Organisations monitored various aspects of biodiversity – categorised as either ‘species’ or ‘habitats’. The most commonly monitored species were birds, followed by mammals, plants and insects (Figure 08), and the most commonly monitored habitats were forests, followed by scrub and grassland, and freshwaters (Figure 09).
The vast majority of organisations collaborated in monitoring activities with other organisations (Figure 11). A similar proportion also supplied their monitoring data to other organisations (Figure 12), primarily to National NGOs and National Government Organisations but also to a range of other users (Figure 13).
The work of volunteers appeared extremely important to these organisations and, of those that replied, around 80% used volunteers to assist in their work (Figure 16). Of these, most were unpaid with only around a third of organisations giving any form of financial support to its volunteers (Figure 23).
Most organisations (60%, Figure 19) reported that they did not have enough volunteers for their biodiversity monitoring, commonly citing too few volunteers available, a lack or resources/time, or of trained or qualified people as reasons for this (Figure 20). When recruiting volunteers, most organisations used word of mouth, articles in the print media, or held open days, workshops and activity days (Figure 22).
Respondents offered a wide range of motivational factors as reasons why people might volunteer and many organisations considered that volunteers were motivated by several of these (Figure 21). The most commonly cited motivations for volunteering were an interest and love of nature and a concern for the environment coupled with a willingness to help in its protection.
The amount of formal training amongst volunteers varied considerably (Figure 24). Around a quarter of organisations considered that fewer than 25% of their volunteers had some formal environmental training whilst around one third considered that at least half their volunteers were so trained. Data received from volunteers were usually (80% of cases) validated by the organisation (Figure 26), mostly by having experts check the information provided (Figure 27).
On the other hand, most organisations also offered training to their volunteers (Figure 25), most commonly in the form of workshops and courses or fieldtrips. Finally, this two-way relationship between organisations and its volunteers was also apparent in the finding that the vast majority of organisations (90%) also gave feedback to their volunteers.