With the help of birds, we are making our contribution to environmental history. The Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences is a partner in an European Union research project directed by the University of Stavanger, which examines how one can become an environmentally aware citizen.

What do local bird-watches say about changes in our climate and values connected with the environment? The project that raised this question has received three years of support from the European Unionʼs Horizon 2020 programme, for a closer study of so-called green citizen awareness.

The project, entitled EnviroCitizen (Citizen Science for Environmental Citizenship: Backyard Birding and the Potential for Cultivating Green Engagement) unites seven partners from Europeʼs scientific institutions. It is planned to study how activities related to bird-watching and bird-counting can increase environmental awareness, thereby encouraging an environment-conserving way of thinking

According to project leader Finn Arne Jørgensen the annual pan-European garden bird count is an event that encourages people to record all the bird species they have encountered in their gardens over a single weekend. This kind of research on citizens, often referred to as citizen science has in its way become a standard model for scientific projects, in which ordinary people participate in the collection of data.

Importance of environmental humanities is on the rise

Finn Arne Jørgensen is professor of environmental history at the University of Stavanger. Together with Professor Dolly Jørgensen (UiS), he runs The Greenhouse, one of Europe’s leading groups for research into the environmental humanities. Up till now research on climate and the environment has belonged to the realm of the natural sciences, but it is more and more clear that research in the humanities is also making a contribution to the better understanding of these questions.

As it seeks solutions to problems related to the environment and climate, environmental humanities combines theories and methods from various research areas and disciplines. It is an up-and-coming research field.  Partners to the University of Stavangerʼs partners in the current project are researchers from Sweden, Holland, Rumania, Spain, Cyprus, and Estonia.

The project extends from 1 April 2020 until the end of 2023, with the cooperation of the ornithology societies of the partner countries. At the initiative of senior researcher Ulrike Plath, the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences has already been involved in research on topics of environmental humanities for several years. The Under and Tuglas Literature Centre is represented in the project by Elle-Mari Talivee, whose research topics have brought together literature, the environment and ornithology. She is a member of Birdlife Estonia.

Elle-Mari Talivee thinks that the project has a wonderful name in English: “I really wish I could translate it into Estonian as “rohekodanik” (green citizen), but it would probably sound like an alien from outer space. On the other hand, a lifestyle that takes the environment into account is the concern of people who look to the future, and maybe such a translation carries something of this meaning. If the coronavirus had not closed down the world for a while, we would all have been discussing these questions in Stavanger, and visited the bird-watching towers there; now we have had to limit ourselves to online discussions. For me the background for these conversations has been the view of the Tuglasʼs garden from my now quite lonely work desk, and I am keeping a Summer Garden Bird Diary about the birds I see from the window. Indeed, this is what citizen science is about.”

 

Effect on environmental awareness

While many research studies carried out with the help of citizens focus on the extent and quality of scientific results, the goal of this project is to study how doing citizen science influences peopleʼs environmental awareness.

The project team is working out a multilingual education programme to be used in the schools and at public events of the partner states, in order to popularise already-existing participation in bird-counting activities, which in turn facilitates being active as an environmentally-aware member of society. The programme is based on environmental research from humanitiesʼ and social sciences perspectives.

“Birds can be found everywhere in Europe. Everyone has some connection to them. In this project we use the birds around our homes to talk about environmental change and values,” says project leader Finn Arne Jørgensen.

 

Read the projectʼs blog here:

Connecting with and through birds