On all of our citizen science conservation and volunteer expeditions, we give ourselves 36 hours to transform enthusiastic participants into serious citizen scientists. Our Sweden bear volunteer project is no different.
Take a handful of people from all walks of life and from all over Europe (e.g. Germany, UK, Belgium), transfer them from the assembly point to the expedition base (Mora to a fairly remote cottage in the forest), then throw them in at the deep end (background and methodology lectures, new equipment, datasheets, expedition survival and other rules) and – e voilà – as I type this, they are in the forest happily getting drizzled on, using a GPS to find a bear den in the middle of nowhere (first by car and then walking), crawling into it to measure it, collecting little presents the bear has left outside – and then doing it all over again until the day is done and they return to dinner by an open fire.
Well done all of you. Under the guidance of our scientist Andrea and a very capable new (assistant) leader, you have mastered a multitude of new gadgets and techniques in a day and a half and you have earned your new title as citizen scientists. Pat like a gazelle over rough terrain, Neil on his umpteenth expedition overcoming complications, Karin & Ulli finding their keys and feet in English with a gateau on top, Chris geared up to the nines in Swedish plaits, Evelyn dutifully keeping the compass away from the densiometer, Roland mastering the relascope and expedition leading. And they know what these things are, because they are now citizen scientists, helping Andrea with her bear research, her enthusiasm palpable, with a big, grateful smile welcoming the arrival of her new helpers. She is happy in the field, showing us her trade, and so are we.
Tomorrow, after graduation at dinner, they will venture out on their own in twos and threes – no supervision, no mollycoddling – just qualified citizen scientists going about their business in remote corners of the forest, sent there by Andrea with instructions to go find a den, a bear cluster or whatever else Andrea needs us to do.
And Sweden, oh Sweden, does the rest. The endless forests of orange, green and white, the lakes beckoning intrepid swimmers, the bogs lurking behind the trees and rocks, the picture-perfect red cottages with their white window sashes, the moose ambling through the lichen, the silent solitude, the cool wind, the presence of the bear evident all around us – if you know what to look for, the Scandinavian beauty of it all that will stay with us long after we have gone, just like the data we have collected for Andrea will stay with her. A small legacy for the bears, the project, the planet. And that, in a nutshell, is what it’s all about.