A Tale of Three Cities: Behind the Scenes of City Nature Challenge UK

Which city on Earth has the most wildlife and the most nature loving citizens? Naturalists, residents and organisations from three city regions in the UK are looking to show the world how amazing our cities are, for people and nature, by joining an epic contest: to discover and record as much wildlife as possible over 4 days.

Competing with over 60 cities on five continents, Bristol & Bath, London and Plymouth are joining the race to collect as many wildlife records as possible over 27-30 April 2018. The cities are drawing on their local expertise in running BioBlitz events to try out new formats and experiment with platforms for mass public participation.

Lucy Robinson (Citizen Science Manager at Natural History Museum) said: “Although this is a competition, it has been great to be able to collaborate behind the scenes with our fellow UK competitors and other cities around the world, to build on our collective experience of engaging people with wildlife recording through BioBlitz events. With the help of the amazing community of naturalists that we have in Britain, we are hopeful that the UK will be represented high up in the rankings.”


The contest stems from the United States, where friendly rivalry between BioBlitz veterans at Los Angeles Natural History Museum and California Academy of Science in San Francisco prompted an ambitious leap in scale. Going head to head in 2016, the two partnered up to branch out nationally in 2017 with Dallas, Texas topping the table of 16 city regions across the USA.

This year the concept has gone global with 65 city regions gearing up to take each other on and see who can find the most species, collect the most records and get the most people involved over the four days.

Unlike a traditional single site BioBlitz, City Nature Challenge encourages participants to record wildlife wherever they are within a predefined city region, connecting with fellow participants online or getting together in the field to explore together. This kind of self-directed activity, without direct facilitation by an expert, has been made possible by developments in mobile recording technology and the communications that guide recording practice, especially for beginners.


With new mobile phone app technology, barriers to mass participation in biological recording have dropped considerably with huge advances in geolocated data, supported by one click photograph submission and access to a world of online ID support.

The platform being used by much of the world (less well known in the UK) is iNaturalist – a free mobile phone app that is designed with new recorders in mind, offering a simple interface with a ‘social media’ feel. iNaturalist acts as a holding pen for the data which will be harvested into the NBN Atlas via the home grown recording platform iRecord.

Matt Postles (Senior Programmes Manager at Bristol Natural History Consortium) said: “The availability of technology that allows such an easy entry point into wildlife recording is revolutionising how we can engage and empower people to take a closer look at nature on their doorstep. By casting the net wide and involving a mass public audience, we can identify and upskill those individuals who show an affinity for biological recording, helping to generate the expert naturalists of the future.”


Each city region is developing its own programme of activity, working together with our fellow European cities to evaluate the outcomes of different approaches to the contest. If you are visiting any of the three cities you can join families, schools and fellow naturalists embarking on a wildlife spotting spree in the garden, local park or walking trail by recording your findings on the iNaturalist app.

Alice Sheppard (Community Manager at UCL Extreme Citizen Science), said: “City Nature Challenge is a delightful opportunity to practice some citizen science – an increasingly popular activity in which members of the public contribute to, or in some cases begin, a project exploring the world around them.”

In Bristol and Bath you can explore the regions amazing wild spaces through an ‘open doors’ programme of public events or join one of the wildlife survey teams where our more experienced amateur naturalists will be testing their skills. Meanwhile in London you can join a giant BioBlitz event in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens or in Plymouth a plan for lots of self-directed recording activity is coming together.

Find out more and join one of the three City Nature Challenge contenders.

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