Long-term monitoring is not innovative and is never going to result in spin-off businesses, but it is still the best way of observing human impact on the environment. The use of trained personnel to take outdoor measurements is being called into question, however.
The UK Countryside Survey, for example, relies on experienced botanists to go out in all weathers to find out how habitats and species are changing. Their ability to recognize a particular species of grass among other vegetation, for instance, cannot be replaced by technology. In my view, expert volunteers (citizen scientists) who are willing to monitor particular ecological environments or species are no substitute, because their botanical expertise does not usually focus on the commonplace and the widespread.
Doing the same observations in the same way and at the same places no longer seems to light up potential funders. If they underrate the valuable expertise of fieldworkers and field botanists, we stand to lose one of the most highly regarded ecological monitoring programmes in Europe and the world.
Nature 556, 309 (2018)
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not reflect the view of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.