Keeping it simple


Communicating complex concepts like biodiversity is not always easy, and getting people involved in protecting it is an even greater challenge. Green Week looked at ways of converting awareness of the importance of nature and biodiversity into more widespread engagement to protect it.

Social media and mobile technologies don’t just affect the way we communicate, they also change the way we create communities around a common cause. A LIFE+ project, ‘Natura 2000: Connecting people with biodiversity’, showed how small gestures can mobilise people to protect biodiversity.

“You can’t value what you don’t know,” said Beatriz Sánchez Cepeda from SEO/Birdlife, coordinator of the project, underlining the importance of exposure. Successful communication on poorly understood concepts such as Natura 2000 and the EU Habitats Directive requires simplification – boiling them down to a memorable image. The project to make a European Natura 2000 Day (21 May) is a case in point.

This project launched a social media campaign calling for photos of citizens and celebrities making the shape of a butterfly with their hands, with the catchphrase ‘Because a small gesture can change the world’.

Two years on, more than 19 000 people have been snapped making the butterfly hands, the website has received more than 13 000 hits and over 3 million social network accounts have been reached. Unsurprisingly, the campaign won the first Natura 2000 ‘Citizens Award’ in May this year.

Using crowds

Citizen science is another way of engaging people to protect biodiversity. Most commonly used for gathering knowledge about a specific topic, actions can also include analysing new information and drawing conclusions.

Susanne Hecker from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity (iDIV) showed how projects like ‘Biodiversity for All’ in Portugal and the Swedish ‘LifeWatch’, which collected 40 million contributions from citizens, are producing large-scale open datasets for analysis. She also demonstrated how citizen science can be used to crowd source specific research questions, asking audiences to single out a project they would most likely participate in.

Johann Zaller from the Institute of Zoology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, showed how online communication tools are breaking down barriers in the creation of scientific knowledge.

“I’ve run several citizen science projects, but I’m going to present the bloodiest one… the ‘Road Kill’ project… which is gruesome but a reality on our roads,” he said. His team developed an app with a species chart to help citizens tag road-kill photos they send for analysis. The data provides valuable evidence for policy-makers – where to build underpasses, for example. But he also cautioned about the limitations. “Citizen science is not a cheap source of surveys. It is still science and needs good data.”


Green Week