19 Sep 2011

Acclaim for OU’s “citizen scientist”, honored with national award

Professor Silvertown (r) receives his award

Professor Silvertown (r) receives his award

Open University ecological scientist – creator of the nature-lovers’ social networking site iSpot – has been given an award in recognition of this and other achievements by the British Ecological Society (BES).
Jonathan Silvertown, Professor of Ecology at the OU, was presented with the society’s Ecological Engagement Award this month, receiving an honorarium of £1,000 plus a commemorative certificate.

The annual award recognises an “exceptional contribution to facilitating the use and understanding of ecology” and was presented to Professor Silvertown at the society’s annual meeting in Sheffield.
In presenting the award Professor Charles Godfray, President of the BES, commended Professor Silvertown for his books on ecology and evolution, but paid particular tribute to his recent social engagement projects.

“Especially notable, though, has been the lead he (Professor Silvertown) has taken in 'citizen science' projects - appropriate, perhaps, for someone at the Open University - but taken to levels far, far beyond the call of duty by his enthusiasm and creativity.

“The Evolution Megalab, timed to coincide with the Darwin bicentenary, and the iSpot website, seeking to overcome the paradox that while more and more people are interested in nature and are conscious that so much of what we value is under threat, fewer and fewer people can actually identify what they see.”

He spoke of how Professor Silvertown had also taken a leading role in setting up the Ecological Continuity Trust, funded by private donations, the BES and the Esmee Fairbarin Foundation.

“ETC aims to establish a strategic network of long-term ecological experiments to help current and future generations manage environmental and climate change,” he added.

Evolution Megalab, launched in April 2009, was a mass public experiment involving thousands of members of the public from around Europe taking part in a huge evolutionary study to observe banded snails in their gardens and open spaces. The study included the contributions of more than 6,000 people in 15 European countries.

Professor Silvertown made use of new media to create iSpot which in its first two years helped 146,000 users to identify more than 725,000 observations of more than 5,000 species of plants and animals, including a species of moth never seen before in the UK or Europe, discovered by a six-year-old contributor. It gives users the chance to share material found in their local area as well as joining in discussion forums.

Speaking after the ceremony, Professor Silvertown said: “I am delighted to receive this award. It is a great honour and I am very grateful to my colleagues at the Open University who have helped achieve this.”
He has donated the £1,000 award direct to the charity the Ecological Continuity Trust.

Professor Silvertown, as the award acknowledged, began by writing text books with his highly successful Introduction to Plant Population Biology, but in recent years his writing work has reached a broader audience. His latest book is a natural history of seeds, entitled An Orchard Invisible.

“Having cut his book-writing teeth in the more conventional world (for an academic) …. recent years have seen him engage with the public with books that utilise his scientific depth and insight but also enthuse,” said Professor Godfray.

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