If a picture paints a thousand words, then a map…

Posted on August 4, 2021

Over the past 3 weeks, we have been supporting Butterfly Conservation with their Big Butterfly Count – the biggest butterfly project of its kind in the world. 

Having already reached 100,000 counts and over 1 million records, it’s set to become the most successful Count ever. Now is a great time to delve into the behind-the-scenes work that makes collecting and working with this much data possible.

The Data 

We built Butterfly Conservation both a website and app to enable citizen scientists to send in their sightings. But all this data has to be stored safely somewhere.  And it needs to be easy to work with when it gets there too.  That’s where Coreo, our spatial data collection platform comes in.

Behind the scenes, Coreo gives the Butterfly Conservation scientists access to every record in an interactive interface.  Each record can be viewed on a map, checked, corrected if needed, verified (given a flag to indicate it’s been checked) and exported for use elsewhere. 

Coreo's Records Explorer

Once the team at Butterfly Conservation have received this data, they are able to assess many things, including: 

  • Total numbers of butterflies 
  • How number of butterflies varies by day, week and more importantly year on year
  • Species that are doing well
  • Species that are struggling
  • Where the species are located in the UK including seeing if ranges are moving due to e.g. climate change.

As butterflies are indicator species, this data enables scientists to gain an insight into the health of the environment as a whole. 

Coreo allows all of this data to be collected, managed and easily analysed.  But another large part of the story is the public view of the data, in the shape of the ‘Sightings map’.

The Map

If you’ve taken part in the Big Butterfly Count this year then you would have seen the interactive map that is being used to show where in the UK the counts have taken place and just what’s been seen. 

Big Butterfly Count Map

It might not be immediately obvious but a lot of work goes into creating maps of this kind.  The key challenge is to be able to show a map that’s completely up-to-date when the data is changing constantly.  For example, every time you submit a record, the map data that was there when you sent the record is old news. It all gets deleted and a new version is created.  This means that the number of records being shown is always up-to-date, in real time. And when you have hundreds of records coming in, almost simultaneously, this is quite a trick. 

For our mapping we wanted to use a system that offered great features like the ability to cluster data and style the map easily to suit Butterfly Conservation’s brand.  So we chose Mapbox, who provide best in class tools for creating custom styled maps, which are ideal for citizen science projects. 

Further info

Find out more about how software has supported Butterfly Conservation on this project here. 

If you’d like to find out more about how Natural Apptitude could support your citizen science project, get in touch with us today via hello@natural-apptitude.co.uk.

In the meantime, click here to find out more about our other projects.