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Citizen Science and the collection of bird data in Singapore

on 10th January 2009

Citizen Science and the Gathering of Ornithological Data in Singapore has just been published in the 2009 volume of the on-line journal of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore. You can get a PDF copy from the journal, Nature in Singapore, by clicking HERE.

The paper traces how citizen science was started by expatriate birdwatchers of the Bird Group affiliated to the Nature Society (Singapore) in the 1980s. Birdwatchers responded enthusiastically by sending in their field observations to an in-house monthly newsletter, the Singapore Avifauna. The 1987-90 issues provided useful data when ornithologist David Wells wrote his two-volumes, The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula.

However, when locals took over the leadership of the Bird Group, citizen science broke down somewhat. Limited in experience and knowledge but full of enthusiasm, the leadership slowly became elitist and exclusive when expatriate as well as the more experienced local birdwatchers left the group. The unwillingness to recruit birdwatchers more knowledgeable than themselves into the leadership led the group into a decade-long decline. The group slowly became more recreational and less scientific. The Avifauna issues dwindled as morale among the general membership plummeted and quality contributions dried up. The leadership felt besieged and restricted access of the Avifauna to Dr Wells, working from his base in the UK. In this sense citizen science failed as data collected by volunteers were not freely available.

Citizen science got a reprieve in the early 2000s when two new players came onto the scene – bird photographers and the Bird Ecology Study Group. The former was spurned when a group seek to revitilise the NSS’s Photo Group while the latter’s acceptance by the society was vigorously resisted for months. In the end, competition proved to be an excellent remedy to the complacency of the organised local birdwatchers who had monopolised birdwatching for at least a decade.

Currently, citizen science has been revitilised, with the three players slowly but surely coming together for the good of the birding fraternity, especially when there are chances of leadership changes in the near future.

YC Wee
Singapore
January 2009

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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