Archive by Author | Lucy Robinson

Final task for ALL Orchid Observers volunteers…

We are so grateful for your contributions to the project and have one last, very important task for you. We need all Orchid Observers participants to complete a short survey about your level of experience at plant identification and online transcription/classification before taking part, to understand how knowledge and information was shared amongst volunteers within the project. We’d be really grateful if you would spare 10 minutes to complete the survey by 31st July 2016.

It is part of our ongoing research into citizen science as a tool for scientific research but also for skills development and knowledge exchange. Orchid Observers was a new and innovative type of project combining outdoor recording and online transcription activities – it was the first of its kind. We hoped to attract both amateur naturalists who previously recorded plants or other wildlife outdoors, and also online volunteers who are experienced at classifying and transcribing data online. We, and our funders the Arts and Humanities Research Council, want to understand whether and how these two ‘types’ of citizen scientists took part and interacted within Orchid Observers.

We would be enormously grateful if you would take part in the survey. Your answers will be analysed anonymously, but as a thank you for your time you can enter a prize draw to win a wall print of the 2010 Wildlife Photographer of the Year image Orchid in a flush of garlic or a copy of Orchids of Britain and Ireland: A Field and Site Guide by Harrap and Harrap.

Last chance to work on Orchid Observers

The Orchid Observers project is closing at the end of July (so if you can help us out with the last few classifications then you have just two weeks left!). We’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the volunteers who photographed orchids, identified photos online or transcribed and classified our museum specimens. Your time, expertise and enthusiasm is really valued by the team.

Thanks so much for your time,

The Orchid Observers Team

Orchid Observers: the results so far…

The Orchid Observers project is closing at the end of July (so if you can help us out with the last few classifications then you have just two weeks left!). We’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the volunteers who photographed orchids, identified photos online or transcribed and classified our museum specimens. Your time, expertise and enthusiasm is really valued, so thanks for being part of the Orchid Observers team.

Smiley orchid thank you

The project had two main research questions:

Firstly, the climate science research: Are orchid flowering times being affected by climate change?

Secondly, the social science research: How do volunteers interact and share ideas and knowledge with one another, within a project that combines both outdoor and online activities?

The second question was of particular interest to our funders, the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We are asking all Orchid Observers volunteers to answer a short survey to help us address the second question, so keep an eye out for that coming soon.

Here I’ll update you on the science research outcomes and how we are analysing the data you’ve collected.

With your help, the photos of orchids taken in 2015 have been identified and combined with the classifications and transcriptions you made from the historical museum specimens. This is a fantastic achievement and means that we can now start to analyse the dataset as a whole, exploring how flowering times for the 29 orchid species included in the project vary in relation to key climate variables. It is an extremely exciting stage of the project for us, as we begin to see what the data analysis will reveal!

Results at a glance

  • Over 2000 volunteers taking part
  • More than 1800 new observations of wild orchids
  • Around 200 new locations, where particular species of orchid hadn’t been recorded before
  • 50,948 classifications on the Orchid Observers online platform
  • Orchid photographs taken all over the UK, from the Shetland Islands in the far North, to the Isles of Scilly in the far Southwest.

New locations for rare orchids

Orchid Observers volunteers photographed the Green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) and White helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium) in several previously unknown locations. These orchids are classified as ‘near threatened’ and ‘vulnerable’ to extinction in the UK respectively, so discovering new populations is really encouraging. We look forward to working with colleagues at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) to double-check and then further explore these valuable finds! It just goes to show that even well-studied groups like orchids can still surprise us and citizen scientists can make exciting new discoveries.

White Helleborine, GarethKnass

White helleborine, photographed in a car park by an Orchid Observers volunteer


Understanding flowering times of UK orchids

The wide geographical spread of observations is vital to the climate change research question. Geographical variation in flowering time may be expected, and a wide spread of data allows us to factor this in when analysing the results.

distribution map.png

Orchids were photographed all over the UK!

We are about to start the full analysis of the data, but an initial scoping study has been completed for one species, the Green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio). This analysis combined the flowering time data extracted from historical Museum specimens with recent biological records from the BSBI’s database and the 2015 Orchid Observers field observations. Initial results show that the median date of last year’s flowering was at least 10 days earlier than that shown in the museum data (which mainly covers the years 1830 to 1970). We can also see that peak flowering time for this species advances by just over four days for every 1 degree Celsius rise in mean February to April temperature.

Green winged box plot cropped

The yellow box represents flowering dates of Green-winged orchids in the museum’s collections, and the red box represents flowering dates of the same species but from the photographs taken in 2015. It shows a shift of at least 10 days in median flowering date.

Initial indications are that different orchid species may differ significantly in their response to climate change, something that we look forward to investigating in more detail. These preliminary results should of course be treated with care, however, they are certainly very promising!

 Do you know your Common twayblade from your Lesser twayblade?

We asked Orchid Observers volunteers to identify the photographs uploaded to the site. But we know orchids can be a tricky group to identify, and lots of people might not be familiar with the different species. We made a handy ID guide to help, and we know some volunteers are expert botanists, but we wanted to find out how accurate the identifications were to ensure they were research quality. The great news is, the majority of them were!

We took a sub-sample of 163 images and checked whether the identification the Orchid Observers volunteers gave was correct (more than one person looked at each photo, and sometimes you agreed with one another’s identifications and sometimes you disagreed!). 19 of the 29 species of orchids have quite distinctive features, and for these the ID accuracy was close to 100% – great news! As we anticipated, a couple of trickier species groups such as the spotted-orchids and marsh-orchids (Dactylorhiza species) and the fragrant-orchids (Gymnadenia species) presented problems as they hybridise easily, so can have features that are a blend of two different species. Even so, between 70% and 90% of identifications were correct, and for a couple, even the orchid experts couldn’t agree!

We also asked you to record the flowering stage (in bud, in flower etc). In the test sample, all of the flowering stage tags were correct across all species.

Museum collections online

The museum is still quite new to crowdsourcing projects, so it’s great for us to get an understanding of how difficult a task we can challenge you guys with! Here you’ve proven that you’re absolutely up to the task of identifying some pretty difficult organisms and transcribing hard-to-read handwriting, so watch this space for more projects!

We are currently working with the Notes from Nature project on the Zooniverse to develop new projects to transcribe more of our museum collections. We have over 80 million specimens in all, so there’s plenty to be getting on with!  The Museum is committed to making its collections and the information they hold more accessible, for science and environmental research, but also for everyone to enjoy. We look forward to working with you on this in future!

What happens next?

We are currently in the process of ‘getting to know’ the data that you have helped to gather and classify, including learning about any biases within the dataset. For example, there are far more observations for some species than others, something that we will need to factor into our analyses. This will be completed by the end of the summer, when our statistician Angela will begin the full data analysis. We hope to write the results up for publication in a scientific journal early next year, and of course we’ll give regular updates here as well. Once we know how the orchids are responding to changes in our climate, we can then consider what this means in ecological and conservation terms

We will also make the data gathered through this project freely available to others, making best use of the data for research and conservation. Photographic records of orchids in 2015 will be shared with the BSBI and the National Biodiversity Network, and the collections data will be available on the Museum’s Data Portal where you can see all our digitised collections and their associated information.

Thanks again for your contribution to the project. With very best wishes from the Orchid Observers team.

Orchid Observers Team

The Orchid Observers team, from left to right: Jade Lauren Cawthray, Jim O’Donnell (Zooniverse web developer) Lucy Robinson, Mark Spencer, John Tweddle, Kath Castillo, Chris Raper and Fred Rumsey


A very busy month!

Written by Mike Waller

The last month has been very busy one for the Orchid Observers team. In between filming, field recording and running the now flourishing website, we’ve been showcasing the project to the public with our debut publicity events at Lyme Regis Fossil Festival followed by Big Nature Day at the Natural History Museum. Both were opportunities to engage members of the public with the project, its importance in the wider study of biological responses to climate change, and how their contributions will expand and enrich the project’s research.

lyme NHM stand

Over 30 museum staff and volunteers head to Lyme Regis every year for the Fossil Festival

To draw in the unsuspecting, we erected a 50 inch plasma-screen TV with a rolling slideshow of Fred, Chris and my finest and most colourful orchid images from across the country. We then lavishly adorned our tables with a selection of some of our oldest orchid specimens from deep within the Museum’s herbarium – some dating back to the 1850s! To aid with any queries, we also propped up a variety of UK orchid guides to show the breadth of orchid diversity on our shores. This, alongside our endless reservoir of passion and enthusiasm, resulted in some really enlightening and inspiring conversations.

Mike at LymeOur Orchid Observers display at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival ran over three days from May 1st -3rd giving us a good period of time to engage a wide range of people from all over the country. This was key as it broadened our ability to spread the message of the project to areas that are less frequently recorded by observers. In order to gain a clear understanding of the orchid response to climate change, we need to be getting data from all corners of the country and so this was a real boost.
We had countless inquires about where to find orchids both close to Lyme Regis and near to people’s homes – I was able to help with the latter with my reasonable knowledge of the key orchid sites in most counties. However, we were all amazed by the sheer quantity of people who were already well aware of their local orchid populations and even conduct their own flowering counts! It seems many have a particular affection for ‘their’ local Bee orchids.


The beautiful sea of Green-winged orchids on Stonebarrow Hill

Thanks to Chris we also managed to squeeze in a spot of observing ourselves! During the afternoon on Friday, Kath, Chris and I drove out to look for Green-winged orchids 10 minutes from Lyme on the National Trust’s reserve of Stonebarrow Hill. What greeted us was a purple haze of Green-winged orchids in a huge variety of colour forms carpeting two ancient hay meadows. Kath was largely overcome by the experience as it has been a long-held ambition for her to see Green-winged orchids; the sight was indeed a true spectacle.


A beautiful white variety of the Green-winged orchid

Just a few weeks after that, Big Nature Day took place on the 23rd of May here at the Museum with Fred and Mark also getting stuck in this time. Like Lyme, we were able to speak to plenty of keen members of the public with a good proportion of families showing interest. Our lovely colourful project cards seemed to be very popular with the children! Hopefully they’ll be inspired to go out and take some pictures.


The Orchid Observers stand at Big Nature Day

In the coming months, we’re looking to expand our publicity efforts and attend more wildlife-orientated events elsewhere in the UK so look out for us!

BND orchid teamFrom left to right, Kath Castillo, Fred Rumsey, Mark Spencer and me (Mike Waller)

Join us at Big Nature Day on Saturday 23rd May

The beautiful sunny weather we’ve had over the past week or two has been fantastic for orchids and we’ve had lots of great photographs uploaded to the site. You can view and classify the uploaded photos by clicking on Identify. Great weather also makes for fabulous public events and we’ve been attending or organising a number of events where the Orchid Observers team have been talking about the project and encouraging people to get involved.

On the first bank holiday weekend in May we attended the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival (more about that in a later post) and yesterday was the third International Fascination of Plants Day where we showcased botanical specimens and projects all over the Natural History Museum.

This Saturday 23rd May is one of our biggest events of the year – Big Nature Day.


Big Nature Day is a celebration of the diversity of life in the UK and we have 40 different nature groups and wildlife recording schemes coming to the Museum to showcase their work and talk about the groups of organisms they study. In marquees in the Museum’s Darwin Centre courtyard and Wildlife Garden, groups will have stands and activities suitable for families and it’s a great opportunity for nature-loving adults to meet like-minded people. It’s the Museum’s annual celebration of the variety of nature, in recognition of the UN International Day of Biological Diversity.

The event is free to attend, so come along and meet naturalists from across the UK. The Orchid Observers team will be there with a display of orchids from the museum’s collections, so you can see some of the specimens you’ve been working on and find out more about the project.

We hope to see some of you there!

Event details:

  • Natural History Museum, London
  • Saturday 23rd May 2015
  • 11:00 – 17:00
  • Free

Get orchid spotting this weekend!

Mike Waller is one of five new  trainees working at the Natural History Museum’s Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. As part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme, Mike is working alongside the Orchid Observers team to build his experience in developing and delivering citizen science projects. His passion lies in botany and ornithology with a particular specialism in European orchids, so this is a match made in heaven! Read more about Mike on the Museum’s news blog.

Mike in field

Mike photographing an orchid 

Here Mike describes in a bit more detail what’s involved in the Orchid Observers project…

A new and exciting citizen science project began last week – Orchid Observers. This research project, in partnership with Oxford University’s Zooniverse platform, aims to examine the flowering times of British orchids in relation to climate change. In order to achieve this, we are inviting the amateur naturalist and professional botanical community, alongside nature loving citizens from across the country, to help us collect and sort orchid data.

We want you to go out in the field and photograph any of 29 selected UK orchid species (the ID guide tells you which we’re studying) and upload your images on the Orchid Observers website. Flowering times from each of your records will then be collated and compared with the extensive Museum herbarium collection, and data from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), totaling a 180 year time series of orchid records.

Pyramidal orchid

The Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) adds a splash of colour to the alkaline grasslands of high summer. Keep an eye out for it in June and July.

The primary aim is to further our understanding of the impacts of climate change on the UK’s flora using orchids as a model group. The extensive dataset that you will be contributing to will tell us how different species of orchids are responding to changes in temperature and rainfall across the UK.

Field work: We are asking observers, like you, to record orchids by simply photographing the flower spike and uploading the image to this website, with a location and a date. An instruction sheet explains how to take the best photos for this research project, and to aid you with identifying the orchids, we have painstakingly produced a beautiful ID guide complete with images, descriptions and distribution maps.

Online work: We have over 10,000 herbarium orchid specimens (pressed plants) collected from around the UK stretching back nearly two centuries. In order to calculate any change in flowering times, we need you to help us sort through images of our herbarium sheets and copy across key handwritten or typewritten information such as species, location and flowering stage into text boxes. This makes the data searchable and easy to use for a wide variety of research purposes.

If you would like to get involved with the project either online, or in the field, then simply visit the homepage and follow the links to Transcribe, Identify or Upload photos. The orchid season runs from April until the end of September so the first species are starting to flower right now – time to get your camera out! We’ve already had around 70 photographs submitted in just the first few days!

screenshot 30-04-2015

Screenshot of one of the photos that has already been uploaded to Orchid Observers

Welcome to Orchid Observers!

We’re really excited to be launching this new project today – it’s the culmination of many months of hard work and planning for the team here at the Natural History Museum in London and for our colleagues at the Zooniverse.

Orchid Observers brings together photography, biological recording and the online analysis of museum specimens to better understand the effects that climate change is having on orchids in the UK. More on the research question and how this fits into wider Museum climate change research will come in later blog posts.

For now, grab your camera and head outdoors to look for the early-purple orchid. It’s the first orchid species to flower and should be coming into flower right now.

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Early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula) Copyright Mike Waller / Natural History Museum

The great thing about orchids (aside from their stunning colours and beautifully ornate flowers!) is that new species will be coming into flower every few weeks between now and September. We’ll be writing more about our study species and highlighting which orchids are about to flower in future blog posts so keep checking back over the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading and we hope you like the project!