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Engagement with Wildlife via Open-Source Technology: Citizen Naturewatch

Research in the wild

Funded by: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

RCA Principal Investigator: Dr Rob Phillips 

Collaborators: Goldsmiths University of London, BBC 

The natural environment is changing rapidly and human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors. The Interaction Research Studio Goldsmiths has collaborated with Design Products researchers at the RCA – and were featured on the internationally renowned BBC Springwatch programme established to build links with wildlife engagement. With collaborators, they are working to develop bespoke, open-source computational devices to collect content about UK wildlife as a way to build new relationships and engagement between people, nature and technology. 

The work builds on previous RCA research in maker culture, makerspaces and citizen science. The RCA principal investigator Dr Rob Phillips previously created the Bee Lab which combined technology with open design to enhance the practice of beekeeping. He made it easier for beekeepers to care for their own bees while also pooling their data on a nationwide basis: personal benefit combined with collective good. 

The new project, Citizen Naturewatch, involves research in the wild, with devices undergoing extended use outdoors. The devices allow experts, community groups and the wider public to capture information about wildlife in ways that are engaging and relevant to scientific and social concerns.

The series of devices, including a build-it-yourself camera trap and RFID reading “bird freeder”, are resourceful, inexpensive, and easy for a wide range of users and makers to build and modify. 

This RCA research is addressing two topical challenges together – public engagement with environmental science and wildlife, and public involvement in digital making. Together with partners at Goldsmiths, University of London, the RCA is moving digital making from a specialist ‘geek’ activity to a mainstream audience. Through the projects’ endeavours a wide variety of younger and older participants are engaging with the latest technologies and with the changing environment around them.

Find out more

Project website     

My Naturewatch on Twitter 

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