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Brighton and Sussex universities go head to head in City Nature Challenge 2021

Brighton’s two universities have added a competition to their participation in a major annual global challenge to boost ecological engagement worldwide.

Dr Rachel White and Dr Maureen Berg will lead the University’s participation for the Brighton & Eastern Downs area in the City Nature Challenge (CNC), taking place between 30 April and 3 May.

Adding friendly rivalry this year, Brighton students and staff can vie with those at University of Sussex in a range of categories, such as most observations, most species or best sighting.
For students at Brighton, there’s also a chance to win £50 prizes in each category. These come courtesy of the Belong at Brighton Extra fund, who have also provided £500 to the University’s Ecological Society (EcoSoc) for equipment to help a wider community of students get involved in the CNC, and beyond. Items include hand lenses, field ID guides, and wildlife camera traps – which will be deployed around the city during CNC.

The CNC global citizen science event was established by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and California Academy of Sciences in 2016, bringing cities and regions worldwide together to record as many local species as possible over four days, using the free iNaturalist app.
While last year’s event brought together 244 cities and 41,000 participants, with 815,000 observations of around 32,000 species, this year’s CNC has expanded to include over 400 cities across six continents.

CNC aims to encourage communities to look more closely at their environment, boost wellbeing and mental health, and raise awareness of sustainability and the impact of climate change. In Sussex, this year’s CNC builds on the success of 2020’s Living Coast exploration by expanding the area of coverage to an 800 km2 area from the River Arun to Eastbourne, including the South Downs National Park. Last year’s event saw 1880 observations of flora and fauna along the area’s ‘Living Coast’, and recorded nearly 600 species.

Rachel White said: “We’re encouraging everyone to take part – young and old, experienced naturalists and curious beginners. We’re aiming to collect as many wildlife observations as possible to showcase the diversity of this region – land, freshwater, coastal and marine! You can search your garden, local park, beach or nature reserve. Your iNaturalist recordings will help conservation efforts, while connecting communities with the nature on their doorsteps.”

Ella Scott, President of the University’s Ecological Society, said: “We are raising excitement about the City Nature Challenge through talks and identification tips, as well as organising a ‘natural treasure hunt’ for people to search for things like sycamore seeds or Lesser celandine. We have also been discussing issues like ‘plant blindness’ [ignoring the importance of different plant species] to not only promote care for animals but advocate the importance of plants!

“As for the Sussex-Brighton competition, we have always shared brilliant collaborations with students and staff at Sussex – but who doesn’t like friendly competition to encourage more observations!”

For Sussex, Dr Christopher Sandom – Senior Lecturer in Biology in the School of Life Sciences – said: “The City Nature Challenge is a fantastic opportunity to get outside into nature and take the time to notice the plants, animals, and other species around you. It’s about stopping to have a poke around in a garden, park, wild patch, hedgerow, nature reserve or anywhere really to see and record what you find living there!”

“I’m really looking forward to the Sussex v Brighton University campus bioblitz sub-competition during the City Nature Challenge this year. Who can find the most species? Who will get the most people out looking? What will be the most exciting discovery? It’s going to be great!”

The Brighton & Eastern Downs region is one of 14 areas taking part in the UK – recording local wildlife, while also helping people engage more closely with nature as the country emerges from lockdown. Once each region has submitted its observations via the iNaturalist app, they will be identified by experts, before global results are announced on 10 May.

Download the app and get involved.

Stephanie Thomson • April 20, 2021

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