The monitoring of insects is a priority to underpin and inform ongoing conservation action to address biodiversity loss and climate change.

UKCEH scientists Helen Roy, Michael Pocock and David Roy, with Angeliki F Martinou from The Cyprus Institute and Joint Services Health Unit and Victoria Werenkraut of INIBIOMA, Argentina, explain the application of citizen science for monitoring insects and emerging approaches using digital technologies in a commentary appearing in One Earth’s April 2024 issue.

Large-scale and long-term citizen science datasets are an important tool for monitoring insects, providing evidence of the dramatic and ongoing declines in species globally which are primarily caused by climate change, land and sea-use change, invasive alien species, pollution and over exploitation of natural resources.

This unprecedented deterioration of the biosphere has profound consequences for insects, who play many important roles within ecosystems including pollination and decomposition. 

Novel monitoring techniques

Quantifying the trends, understanding the causes of decline and evaluating the impacts of measures to conserve insects requires accessible and robust information. This is challenging because of gaps in openly available global datasets, particularly in tropical ecosystems that are the most species-rich regions of the world.

Solutions include the implementation of novel monitoring techniques across the world, including citizen science. There are various forms of citizen science, ranging from volunteers purely contributing to data collection to differing levels of involvement in project design or analysis alongside scientists.

Lead author Professor Helen Roy from UKCEH and the University of Exeter, comments: “Citizen science is a powerful tool that can engage local communities, encourage active learning about the environment and increase scientific knowledge.

"It is exciting to see the scope and reach of citizen science expanding as more people around the world get involved. Connecting people and nature, citizen science has the potential to increase our understanding of currently under-represented taxa and regions.”

The power of new technologies

Over the last decade there has been an expansion in the deployment of technologies for insect monitoring, and some of these advances have transformed the opportunities for citizen science initiatives on insects. For example, smartphone apps and online tools ensure records can be made and shared more easily. Artificial intelligence may support people with identifying species. More powerful computer systems are improving species maps and biodiversity models to inform policy and conservation decision-making.

Flower-Insect Time Counts have been designed to be adaptable to any local situation, and already been developed in western and eastern Europe and in countries in the Caribbean and South America, in collaboration with local stakeholders. 

Early warnings and rapid responses

Preventing the introduction of alien species into new regions is the most effective way to manage biological invasions but when this fails, rapid control is critical. Early warning and rapid response of invasive alien species depends in part on the commitment of citizen scientists to report their observations of species of concern.

In the UK the citizen science initiative, Asian Hornet Watch, receives thousands of reports from citizen scientists. Confirmed sightings enable rapid action and have so far led to the eradication of the Asian hornet in the UK. 

There is a rapidly expanding interest in citizen science to collect data across the globe on insect abundances, biodiversity and geographic distribution, and the value of information and data from such initiatives is increasingly recognised within policy and research. Importantly, there are benefits for participants that come from connecting with nature and contributing to measures to safeguard biodiversity. 

Priorities for action

Priorities to enable the expansion of citizen science globally include: 

  • ensuring adequate and sustained funding for citizen science and biodiversity monitoring 
  • establishing networks to share information and collaborate 
  • providing appropriate ways for volunteers to participate, build community and receive feedback, as an example social media or WhatsApp can be particularly effective for gathering records in some countries and contexts.
  • building capacity in the use of emerging technologies, such as computer vision, through regional and international networks, so it can support citizen science through increased data quality, enhanced opportunities for learning and more rapid feedback to participants. 
  • openly sharing innovations, infrastructures and datasets including on-line databases and recording platforms. 

Read the full One Earth commentary here

Further information

Find out more about UKCEH citizen science initiatives:


Community ecology, invasion biology, entomology, biological recording, science communication

Career summary:

2019 -               Ecologist (Individual Merit (IMP) Scientist and Group Leader, NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

  • 2022 to date: Individual Merit Scientist
  • 2010 to date: Head of the Biological Records Centre
  • 2007 to 2008: Coordinator of the EU FP6 project, Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe (DAISIE)
  • 2002 to date: Leading the CEH contribution to the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme
  • 1999-2004: Research on farm-scale effects of herbicide-tolerant GM crops
  • 1998-2001: Research on ecology of urban ecosystems
  • 2011-present: Ecologist, CEH
  • 2009-2012: NERC Research Fellow
  • 2003-2009: Research Associate, University of Bristol
  • 2002: Research Assistant, University of Leeds
  • 1997-2001: PhD, University of York