Want to be wilder? Learn more about wildlife with this brand new app
The UK’s 15 national parks have collaborated on a project so we can map and record the different species of plants and animals we see. We find out what that means for locals and visitors to the region
As the first ever national parks UK-wide citizen science project, its aim is to create a growing database which will help the parks to enhance our landscapes and support strong bio-diverse ecosystems.
The project maps and monitors wildlife in national parks but the app works anywhere from your doorstep (so people can enjoy learning about the natural world around them whether they’re walking to the local shop or hiking in the Cheviots). Take a photo of any plant, animal or insect that you find interesting (and record sounds too) but be mindful not to disturb what you are photographing. The app will then help you identify what you’ve recorded. If your species is especially rare, the online community will join in to identify it. Your record will be added to the Look Wild project to help the national park’s volunteers and staff understand more about our wildlife – and therefore look after it better.
When we ask Northumberland National Park’s volunteer officer Dave what inspired the idea for Look Wild, he says ‘in a word: lockdown. When our volunteers and the public couldn’t come to the National Parks, we wanted to develop an initiative that took volunteering for the National Parks not only to our volunteers, but to the wider public. We want to help people from all backgrounds to get up close and personal with wildlife.’
With most of the volunteering activity brought to a halt during lockdown, many of the staff at the 15 parks found themselves in the same situation. ‘The staff responsible for organising volunteering across the national parks are a collaborative bunch and regularly work together to share their experiences and best practice,’ Dave adds. ‘Exmoor National Park had a local project using the iNaturalist app, which they shared with the group and we all immediately saw an opportunity to work together and expand this into a UK-wide initiative.’
While the parks will receive more verified wildlife records to contribute to their conservation efforts locally, this is, of course, a great way to enhance nature connectedness to boost mental health too. ‘The wider benefit is to encourage more people to make a connection with nature, to look more closely, notice, and learn more about wildlife around them, and encourage more people to care and treasure the incredible natural world and the landscapes that are our national parks,’ Dave says.
With all the information you need being in your phone, Look Wild is also really accessible; you don’t need to be an expert or carry a guidebook around with you. ‘The accessibility means that anyone, no matter their level of experience, can get involved and learn more about nature,’ Dave says. ‘Personally, I’ve really improved my ID skills and confidence by using the app. Before using the app, walking with my three-year-old involved me constantly asking him to hurry up whereas now I’m the one hanging back to photograph something that’s caught my eye in the road verge.
‘I love being in the countryside. I was born and brought up in the countryside but completely took it for granted; it wasn’t until I left home and spent the next decade living, studying, and working in cities that I really started to appreciate what I was missing. A yearning to live and work in the countryside drove me to resign from my job, retraining, and volunteering so that I could achieve this aim. Like everyone else, I still get caught up in being busy and rushing around, but if you force yourself to slow down, step into a natural space, and really use all your senses, it gives me this enormous physical and emotional surge of wellbeing.’
It’s time to slow down, look, and listen more closely to the wild things around us…
Once you’ve downloaded the iNaturalist app remember to search and join the ‘National Parks UK Look Wild’ project to directly connect with the project. Find out more at nationalparks.uk/look-wild.