Using tech to tap into nature

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Knowing what we’re looking at helps us to appreciate that thing more deeply, and this is also true of nature. When you can tell the difference between one tree and another, or hear a bird singing and say, ‘That’s a blackbird’, it takes on more meaning. For Scouts, who spend so much time outdoors, it’s even more valuable.

And you don’t have to be an expert or lug heavy books on hikes to unlock all that the natural world has to offer. It might seem illogical to get your phone out when you’re trying to encourage young minds to tear themselves away from screens and immerse themselves in nature. But just because they’re enjoying the outdoors doesn’t mean there’s no place for technology. It could even mean they enjoy it more, and the things they learn can help towards gaining a number of badges.

Why not try some of these useful apps and websites to help young people make the most of nature when they’re in the great outdoors?

For bird spotting

The RSPB website

In 2016 the Government reported a 56% fall in the number of UK farmland birds since 1970. Wildlife charity the RSPB says this is part of a signi cant decline in the numbers of many types of bird. This page on their smartphone-friendly website will help young people to identify a bird based on information like its location, size, colour and what it was doing. This will encourage them to take notice of the world around them and is a good opportunity to teach them about the threats facing birds, like farming and loss of habitat. 

Price: free

Where to find it: go to scouts.org.uk/identifyabird or google 'RSPB bird identifier'

Might be helpful with: Cub Naturalist Activity Badge, Beaver My Outdoors Challenge Award. 

For identifying trees

Leafsnap UK app

We’ve probably all gazed up at a tree and wondered what kind it was. (Will its dead branches make good rewood s it useful for building camp gadgets?) The Natural History Museum developed a UK version of the award-winning Leafsnap app to help. Young nature lovers can identify trees by taking a photograph of a leaf on a white background. From 156 UK species, the visual recognition technology will offer a list of trees it could belong to, starting with the closest match. Using this and the additional images and information the app stores, you can con rm the species and then label them for future reference. he mini fact les offer a way to nd out more about them, too.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play or go to nhm.ac.uk/leafsnap

Might be helpful with: Cub Naturalist Activity Badge, Beaver Gardener Activity Badge, Scout Forester Activity Badge, Scout Naturalist Activity Badge, Explorer Naturalist Activity Badge.

Top tip: If you have no phone signal, the app’s Snap It! function allows you to take pictures to identify later. 

For seeking out green spaces

Nature Finder app

The Wildlife Trusts have developed this app to help people nd , nature reserves – woods, meadows, moors, heaths, lakes – where they can explore and get closer to nature. There is also information on more than 900 species of wildlife, to help with identifying and learning about everything from bugs to badgers.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play

Might be helpful with: Cub Naturalist Activity Badge, Scout Naturalist Activity Badge, Explorer Naturalist Activity Badge.

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For sharing discoveries 

iRecord website and app

Once they have successfully identi ed a species of wildlife, send your young people to the iRecord website or app, to share what they’ve found. This information is collated and checked by experts and then used to support research and to steer policy-making both locally and nationally.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play or go to brc.ac.uk/irecord/

Might be helpful with: Cub Communicator Activity Badge.

For classifying clouds

CloudSpotter app

Young people can learn their cirrus from their cumulonimbus while they are out on a walk with this app from the Cloud Appreciation Society. It stores hundreds of incredible photos and detailed descriptions of 40 different clouds and light phenomena, enabling budding cloud spotters to easily identify what they see in the sky. They can build their own cloud collection and receive Stars and Achievements, as part of a global community of cloud enthusiasts. 

The data gathered is also shared with scientists at NASA, who use it to research the role of clouds in climate change.

Price: £2.99

Where to find it: App Store. Learn more at cloudspotterapp.com.

Might be helpful with: Scout Meteorologist Activity Badge.

Did you know? ‘Meteorology’ (the study of weather) comes from the Greek word meteoros, which means ‘high in the sky’. 

For recognising birdsong

ChirpOMatic app

Is it a bird? Yes, but which one? The British Trust for Ornithology says the UK is a permanent or temporary home to 603 different species – which is why we need the Shazam of birding apps. Like the musical version, this app allows us to record a bird’s tune and then helps to identify it – extra useful if you can’t actually see the singer in question. The dawn chorus or a walk in the woods will never sound the same again.

Price: £3.99

Where to find it: App Store

Might be helpful with: Beaver My Outdoors Challenge Award, Cub Naturalist Activity Badge, Cub Animal Carer Activity Badge, Explorer Naturalist Activity Badge.

Did you know? A bird’s call and a bird’s song are not the same thing. A song has a defnite structure and rhythm. A call is much shorter, usually just one or two notes.

For finding new adventures

Go Jauntly app

Young people can discover new things about their local habitats with this free app that suggests walking routes, with maps and simple photo guides for easy navigation. There are walks in cities and in the countryside, walks on your doorstep and ones a bit further a eld, walks for dog owners and seasonal suggestions. It offers handy tips along the way, like points of interest and where to nd the nearest loo. You can save the walks you enjoy so you can do them again, and create your own routes – with descriptions and photos – to share with other people using the app, as well as family and friends.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play. Learn more at gojauntly.com.

Might be helpful with: Hikes Away Staged Activity Badge, Beaver Explore Activity Badge, Cub Local Knowledge Activity Badge, Scout Local Knowledge Activity Badge.

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For learning about endangered animals

WWF Together app

This free, award-winning app from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) introduces young animal lovers to some wildlife that they won’t see in their local park, like elephants, whales and rhinos. They can discover 16 species through interactive experiences, such as racing a jaguar or trying to outjump a snow leopard. By using 360° images, the young people can immerse themselves in 10 types of animal habitat. Plus, they can pose with an origami image of the animal to create their own unique photo, for sharing on social media and spreading the word about endangered animals.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play. To learn more, go to worldwildlife.org/together.

Might be helpful with: Beaver Global Issues Activity Badge, Beaver Photographer Activity Badge, Cub Photographer Activity Badge.

For navigating the night sky

Night Sky app (iPhone)

Sky Map app (Android)

Going on a Scout camp is the perfect time for some stargazing. These apps will help young astronomers explore the universe by putting an augmented reality planetarium in their hands. They can identify stars, constellations, planets, satellites and other celestial objects simply by holding their phones or tablets up to the sky and moving them around. They can journey to distant moons and even land on Mars to see the view from there.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store (Night Sky) or Google Play (Sky Map)

Might be helpful with: Beaver Space Activity Badge, Cub Astronomer Activity Badge.

For saving the bees

Bee Count app

Bees are an essential part of our ecosystem – they pollinate plants, including food crops. According to the organisation Sustain, a third of the food we consume relies on pollination done mainly by bees. Not to mention the delicious output from honey bees. But these insects, so familiar in the British countryside, have become less common due to industrial agriculture and climate change. In the spring, young people can use the app to take part in the Great British Bee Count to help conservationists protect bees, and use it to identify different species throughout the summer. It even makes your phone buzz like a bee when you launch the app.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play. To learn more go to friendsoftheearth.uk/bee-count

Might be helpful with: Cub Naturalist Activity Badge.

Did you know? In the UK, 35 bee species are at risk.

For treasure hunts

Geocaching app

Geocaching is a great way to encourage young people to spend time outdoors and explore their environment while having fun. Essentially a large-scale treasure hunt, geocaching uses GPS on a phone or other mobile device to help cachers’ nd treasures left by others around the world. At the locations are containers, sometimes with small trinkets, and a logbook so you can prove you found it. Once you’ve done a search and selected a cache to nd, the S will usually only put you within 30 feet of it.

They are often hidden or disguised, so the young adventurers will have to use their eyes, hands and geo-senses to nd it.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play

Might be helpful with: Scout Geocaching Activity Badge.

Start geocaching: Go to geocaching.com to get some top tips for beginners.

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For helping the environment

Zero Carbon app

Everyone can do their bit to help the environment and make sure the natural world is around for future generations to enjoy. Young people might not realise all the ways they could be creating a carbon footprint, or the impact this might have. This app will calculate their CO emissions and suggest simple ways to reduce them, by changing daily habits like eating less meat or taking shorter showers. People are encouraged to set goals and share their carbon footprints on Facebook to encourage their friends to get involved too.

Price: free

Where to find it: App Store or Google Play

Might be helpful with: Beaver Global Issues Activity Badge, Cub Global Issues Activity Badge, Cub Environmental Conservation Activity Badge, Scout Environmental Conservation Activity Badge.

Offset your footprint: Within the app you can offset your CO by donating to certifed projects working to reduce carbon emissions.

 

* Help young people to protect themselves when they’re online and out in the real world by using the section speci c Stay Safe leaflets, available for free from local Scout Shops or online as PDFs to download at: scouts.org.uk/staysafe.

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