The collaboration between scientists and volunteers (ordinary citizens) has the potential to expand the scope of research and enhance the ability to collect scientific data. Interested members of the public can contribute in obtaining valuable information while learning about the plant and animal life in their local communities.
Citizen science is an innovative approach to conducting research in the protected areas and elsewhere. Citizen science involves the public in elements of the research process, providing valuable scientific insights and a unique educational experience for participants. Galicica National Park applies Citizen Science Approach in conducting its monitoring activities, to preserve natural and cultural values and provide enjoyment and education for visitors while at the same time acquiring quality information on the state of the values. Citizen science is expected to bring numerous future active projects and provide additional information about science in Galicica NP.
This citizen science pilot activity was realized in North Macedonia through the EU-funded project “Improving Capacities for Natura 2000 and CITES” and co-financed by PONT. It was inspired from experiences from EU countries, where Citizen Science is a modern state-of-the-art research approach, especially in protected areas like national parks. The activity was implemented in collaboration between the project team and employees of Galicica NP.
A total of 6 workshops and field trips were held, with a total of 50 volunteers recruited. The volunteers were selected through a questionnaire that was administered at the beginning of the process. They were trained in using mobile applications and identifying selected Natura 2000 species in the field. For this purpose, a manual about 13 selected species was prepared. 27 observations of these species were made, with the most common species found being Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanii).
Exciting observations were the Balkan chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) which hasn’t been observed in Galicica NP for years and one specimen of a Slider turtle (Trachemys sp.) which is an allochtonous invasive species on lake Ohrid and a significant threat to European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis). All observations were validated by National Park staff. Some validated observations were uploaded to iNaturalist.
All activities were promoted on different social media pages and on the homepage of Galicica NP. The volunteers and the project team communicated through a Viber group and email.
The activity was evaluated by the team and also by the volunteers with an online questionnaire and in a workshop. The feedback from volunteers was very positive and their recommendations are included in this report.
A profile for the most promising type of volunteers was developed, which is active hikers from the region between 20 and 40 years.
Galicica National Park’s journey in environmental education has emerged as a shining example of visionary leadership and dedication, achieving unprecedented success within a short time span. What began as an endeavour to introduce the rich natural and cultural values of the National Park to volunteers, expanded into an ambitious integration in the Natura 2000 project and a ground-breaking Citizen Science program.
At the heart of the Citizen Science program lies the transformative power of community engagement fused with advanced research methodologies. The program’s inception, spearheaded by the adept team of Public Institution Galicica National Park and under the astute guidance of the Natura 2000 project leader, Daniel Bogner, showcased impeccable planning and execution.
The tangible achievements of this initiative are undeniable when we compare the expected outcomes against the realized results:
- While the target was to recruit 12 volunteers, the project saw an overwhelming response with 50 volunteers joining, 35 of whom displayed commendable enthusiasm and dedication. This engagement can be seen vividly in the active Viber group where participants and the Galicica NP team frequently interact.
- The project anticipated 10 observations of key species. In contrast, the enthusiastic volunteers made and documented a staggering 31 observations, drawing data from platforms like the iNaturalist application and the dedicated Viber group.
- Aiming to raise awareness about Citizen Science, Natura 2000 species, and Galicica NP, the project not only achieved its goal but surpassed it. With 17 volunteers consistently active in every workshop and another 18 participating in half of the sessions, the heightened engagement is palpable. This engagement is further reflected in participation metrics and feedback from evaluation questionnaires.
- The Citizen Science initiative was envisioned as a potential tool for Galicica National Park. The outcomes, however, have cemented its position as an invaluable asset. The project has been instrumental in collecting critical data, fostering widespread education about the park and its crowd species, forging a network of stakeholders committed to the park’s welfare, and enhancing the visitor experience. These impacts are underscored by feedback from evaluation questionnaires, observations contributing to the park’s betterment, and an overwhelmingly positive media response across various social platforms.
The project, launched in October 2022, is more than just a chronicle of achievements. It optimizes the potential of collaborative efforts, visionary planning, and community engagement. As Galicica National Park embarks on its future endeavours, the monumental success of the Citizen Science initiative serves as both an inspiration and a clarion call to institutions worldwide. It underscores the power of collective determination, urging us to envision a future where conservation is not just an institutional effort but a community-driven mission. Thus, it is only a little to say that these types of activities are more than needed, and that Galicica National Park, given its capacity and desire to contribute to the nature protection is willing and ready to start and finish many other such endowers.
According to the experiences of the one-year pilot activity, it is recommended to continue with this activity and to make the following improvements:
- The network of volunteers should be extended. Currently there are about 20 active observers, and the goal should be to increase this number next year to 30.
- Several field trips with experts for birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and plants should be organized to train the volunteers on identification of species and to increase their motivation and curiosity.
- A training on mobile application like iNaturalist and PlantNet should be organized.
- The number of selected Natura 2000 species should be extended and about 7-10 species should be added and an additional manual should be produced.
- The promotion of the activities on social networks should be improved.
- Some highly motivated and already experienced volunteers should be trained as mentors for new volunteers.
By Angela Taseska
Public Institution Galicica National Park