Most of us don’t get the chance to plant trees since we don’t have sufficient garden space so when our local Alnwick Garden advertised sapling planting, it sounded like an interesting outdoor family activity.

We went along, wrapped warm against the cold on a bitter February day. As well as tree planting we discovered new ways to get families and children outdoors through citizen science projects; easy nature study projects around the UK.

In Alnwick Garden’s craft yurt the adults received details on how to plant a tree while the kids made badges and crafted family trees. I chatted with Jonathan Swift who works for OPAL (Open Air Laboratories), partnering this particular tree planting initiative.

Enjoying tasty shoots of freshly picked wild garlic, or Ramsons

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen science projects are a way for the public to get involved with scientific study for the long term benefit of the population.

They are simple and easy, free of charge surveys and studies that families, kids, groups etc can participate in around the country. They include various nature surveys and the companies usually provide participants with easy-to-follow information packs. Once completed, you report your findings for scientific analysis by the provider.

We had enormous fun growing space seeds (rocket seeds that had been on the International Space Station with Tim Peake) which was open to children throughout the UK. You can read all about the project and how we got to meet Tim here.

Citizen science projects are brilliant for kids during school holidays, for Forest Schools groups, youth groups, home educators, Scouts and Guides.

This one was provided by OPAL whose data builds a picture of our natural environment and anyone can take part at any time.

Outdoor Nature Explorers

At the gardens, we selected a Tree Health Survey pack, including a field guide, tree and ‘most unwanted’ guides and the Air Survey pack with lichen ID guide and mini magnifier.

Image of tree identification pack with measuring tape, pencil and magnifier

OPAL’s Tree Health and Air Survey packs, available online

Both surveys are done when trees are in leaf as tar spots and lichen growth indicate air quality.

Other OPAL surveys include flatworms, bugs, water, biodiversity, soil and earthworm, climate, metal, brownfield and pollination – something for everyone.

Thanks to Jonathan Swift for his inspiration. Start your citizen science project at OPAL Surveys.

Having been thoroughly inspired for summer science projects it was time to plant trees. We headed out into a snow shower but the cold didn’t deter my wildling and her friend.

They chose from a selection of native species – birch, beech, oak – and picked memorable spaces in the woods to dig in their saplings. Jonathan suggested naming the trees. Caroline choose Ivy – from a piece growing nearby – which became Io (Ivy Oak) as she loves the moons of Jupiter. See our Jupiter planet project. Her friend’s tree was Geoff! The girls love that they can visit the trees as they grow.

Caroline planting ‘Io’!!

Two cold, happy girls, two cold, happy saplings, taking root as I type.

Image of two girls standing next to saplings planted in woodland

Our ID photo of the girls with their saplings so we can return in future

Encourage your kids to go wildlife spotting without a survey participation with these suggestions in my  family wildlife spotting guide.

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More Citizen Science Projects

There are many citizen science surveys, from seed growing with the International Space Station (read more in Kids Space Odyssey) to seaweed or dragonfly watches.

Service providers, to add your citizen science or nature watch project please get in touch.