Scott Davidson at Goss Moor using his smartphone on a dedicated cradle next to peatland.
Citizen scientists are playing a critical role in helping monitor the health of the planet’s peatlands.
Requiring nothing more than a photograph taken by smartphone, the Tracking the Colour of Peatlands project encourages people to assess how the areas change colour over the course of the growing season.
Through this, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how the landscapes are functioning now but also how they might be impacted under future climate and land-use changes.
The project was started in 2021 by Dr Scott Davidson, Lecturer in Ecosystem Resilience at the University of Plymouth.
He has been studying peatlands and wetlands for several years, with his work intended to increase awareness of them – including their importance and benefits – globally.
Through that, his aim is to achieve a level of protection, restoration and management for these ecosystems that can highlight them as a viable nature-based solution to climate change.

As a general rule, it is challenging to get people to care about the natural world. But getting them to feel passionate about somewhere they have never been – or about carbon, or a greenhouse gas they will never see – is even more challenging. This project is a great way of showing people how dynamic these landscapes are and allowing them to play a role in charting how much they change over the course of a year.

Scott DavidsonScott Davidson
Lecturer in Ecosystem Resilience

The Tracking the Colour of Peatlands project encourages people to capture photography from a fixed point, which allows researchers to build a picture of how the wetlands change colour over the course of the year. The change in colour can then be linked to how ‘healthy’ a peatland is or in other words, how much carbon is being taken up by the plants found there.
Over its first three years, the project has focused on three sites – RSPB Forsinard Flows in Scotland, the Eden Project in Cornwall, and the Boreal Wetland Centre in Alberta, Canada.
At each location, there is a cradle where people can place their smartphone to capture a picture, as well as information boards on what they are seeing.
Capturing footage from the same precise locations allows scientists to see differences in the sites on a regular basis, which might not otherwise be possible due to the remoteness of some peatland locations.
The initiative has now been expanded to 16 sites across the UK and Canada as well as others in Finland, Ireland, Germany, France, Sweden and Australia.

There is so much diversity within our peatlands, and any time I have taken someone to a peatland they always leave saying how unexpectedly cool it is. But this project has actually done much more than that, and the messages I get when people share pictures with me are really rewarding. People often email me a photo with details of what they’ve done that day, whether it has been to see a common lizard or simply to say how happy they are to have contributed to science. I hope that by changing people’s opinion on peatlands, we can get them to appreciate these sites – and what they can offer our planet – just as much as I do.

Dr Scott Davidson
The changing peatlands at the Forsinard Flows in Scotland

Get involved in the Tracking the Colour of Peatlands project 

With sites all over the world – from Canada to Australia, and across the UK and Europe – there are a number of opportunities through which people can support this citizen science research.
If you have a smartphone and would like to play your part, click the link below to find out more.
Tracking the Colour of Peatlands phone cradle sites dotted across a world map.