What is an Elfchen map?

Written by Dr Adrian Cooper

This article is presented in three parts. First, I will briefly remind readers about the citizen science group which organized the Elfchen map under review here. Second, I will explain the meaning of Elfchen and how it was brought to the attention of UK citizen science. Finally, I will explain the process through which the first Elfchen map was developed. In doing so, I will also summarise the benefits of completing an Elfchen map.

This discussion focuses on the work of Felixstowe’s Citizen Science Group (FCSG). They were founded in April 2018 with the principal aim of conducting impact analyses on the work of Felixstowe’s Community Nature Reserve. However, alongside those impact analytics, FCSG finds time to conduct additional citizen science projects. Recent examples have included various climate change data gathering activities and the re-mapping of local woodland and shore-line habitats.

FCSG learned about elfchen poems from Andrea Troncoso at an online meeting of the European Citizen Science Association. Andrea explained to the group that elfchen poems only have eleven words.

The first line of an elfchen poem is composed only of one word – an adjective.

The second line of an elfchen poem has two words – a noun with an article. Examples might include “A land”, “Our world”, “The youth” etc.

The third line of an elfchen poem has three words, being an action of the noun. Examples might include “Decline in numbers”, “Needs new stories”, “Pays its dividend” etc.

The fourth line of an elfchen poem has four words which complement the action. Examples might include “Learning from each other”, “Finding a new home”, “Collecting data with scientists” etc.

The last line of an elfchen poem has only a single word – another noun which concludes the poem. Examples might include “Innovation”, “Infinity”, “Water” etc.

Other slight variations on elfchen creations are available, but this is the one which fascinated the members of FCSG.

Re-mapping, collaboratively

Alongside Troncoso’s explanations of elfchen, FCSG has been working on re-mapping local woodland, shore-line habitats, and storm forecast maps since June 2023. In this context, re-mapping is the practice of creating new maps which contain data and information which are of interest to the citizen scientists. Re-mapping might therefore be thought of as collaborative map-making, or participatory map-making. The principal benefit of re-mapping is to encourage citizen scientists to reflect more deeply on the kinds of map they need to create to express their interests in a specific landscape and / or place. Re-mapping is also a helpful strategy for encouraging people who have never previously created maps to get involved in the process. As a consequence, new conversations about an area of woodland or sea shore become developed.

Mapping a local woodland through Elfchen

With that background in re-mapping, FCSG wanted to create a map of a local area of woodland called Abbey Grove using elfchen poems as the data which captures local people’s sense of connection with that area. That map-making process began on the evening of 21 December 2023. The finished Elfchen map of Abbey Grove began to develop around a central panel of core data about Abbey Grove. That core data drew from the Woodland Trust’s web page about Abbey Grove. The centre of the Abbey Grove Elfchen map therefore shows Abbey Grove’s location coordinates and area covered by Abbey Grove: 3.91 ha (9.66 acres). There is also a note about the early development of Abbey Grove and the main types of vegetation to be found in Abbey Grove. In the remaining five panels of the Abbey Grove Elfchen Map, there are five elfchen poems created by readers of the FCSG Facebook page. On that Facebook page, the key sentence stated that FCSG “… want to discuss the idea of an elfchen map. That is, a collection of elfchen poems which describe a group of people’s responses to a specific place or landscape.” Clear and concise explanation about the structure of an elfchen poem was also provided.

Within one hour of that first Facebook post, an FCSG member contributed the following elfchen. He had never written a poem since his schools days.


Towering branches

Embrace my imagination

Loving this green sanctuary


Less than an hour after that first poem was received, four more elfchen poems were submitted by readers of the FCSG Facebook page. So there was enough elfchen poetry to surround the core data of the habitat on the finished map.

The completed Elfchen map of Abbey Grove is shown here:

The main surprise with this process of map-making was the speed at which it took place – just under two hours after the original FCSG statement of intent to create an Elfchen Map of Abbey Grove. The second surprise arose from the emotional honesty, and variety of content in the submitted poems. Three of the poems came from people who described themselves as either from an Arts background, or from no defined academic background. The other two elfchens came from people who have studied Science to at least undergraduate standard.

This first Elfchen map of Abbey Grove therefore introduces new, locally relevant, qualitative data about the habitat. At the time of writing, 22 December 2023, the Elfchen map of Abbey Grove has inspired the Felixstowe Community Nature Reserve Artist in Residence, Charmaine McKissock, to begin sketches which will illustrate the elfchen map. In doing so, Charmaine’s creativity will introduce the Abbey Grove Elfchen map to a wider audience of local artists and others.

The main consequence of this first Elfchen map of Abbey Grove, is to realise that additional maps of this kind should be developed by FCSG, possibly at other times of the year – eg in spring, summer and autumn of 2024.

At present, it is anticipated that the FCSG Elfchen maps should be kept as separate exercises in map-making from other examples of re-mapping which FCSG plans to complete in 2024. Whether that segregation will remain as a long-term practice, is uncertain. Undeniably, it is hoped that other groups who read this feature may choose to integrate elfchen poems as data-types alongside other data, such as frequency of visits by the poets etc.

It is now hoped that other community-based conservation groups, citizen scientists and others will create new maps of favoured habitats which include elfchen poetry. In doing so, it is hoped that people who have never previously taken part in map-making will be inspired to do so. Young people in particular should be encouraged to create elfchen maps of specific areas of interest in order to stimulate fresh ways of thinking about Geography, Ecology, Literature, Science and the Arts – and the ways in which they all support each other in a comprehensive appreciation of a place or landscape.

Web design by Red Paint