Citizen Science

Are we making a difference?

The ACT Vegwatch Program is a community-led citizen science approach which enables volunteers measure the impacts of their work.

Volunteering type: citizen science

Banner Image: The Pinnacle Nature Reserve by Nathanael Coyne

Vegwatch is a vegetation survey and monitoring approach designed to be run as a citizen science program in the mould of Waterwatch and Frogwatch. Vegwatch was conceived and designed by community volunteers, with support from Molonglo Conservation Group. It has been running since 2011, during which time it has relied largely on a small handful of dedicated volunteers. 

Vegwatch was created to enable citizen scientists to monitor vegetation using a robust framework offering guidance on data collection, reporting and monitoring. It has been used at around 20 sites in the ACT, and often involved existing ParkCare or similar groups. Volunteers collect information once or twice a year about the plant species found in a particular plot, together with their abundance, and use this to measure changes at the site over time. 

Vegwatch surveys need someone with good botanical knowledge and plant identification skills to lead the work, and can be a good way for other volunteers to learn more about the plants in their area. The monitoring program also requires a commitment over a long period of time to collect the data needed to tell the story of what is happening at a particular site. Some ParkCare groups have used the approach to collect long-term, detailed information about what is growing at their site, and to help gauge the success of revegetation plantings and weeding activities.

 Wooly New Holland Daisy. Photo: Nathanael Coyne

For more information about the Vegwatch program’s findings over the years, check out this report by Dr Sarah Sharp. 

Friends of the Pinnacle ParkCare group are successful adopters of the Vegwatch program. The group attributes this at least in part to the fact that they have a very experienced botanist among their members who has been instrumental in continuously running the surveys. Volunteers coming to the program without prior expertise in plant ID have found it a useful way to learn this skill.

The Pinnacle Nature Reserve. Photo: Nathanael Coyne

Friends of the Pinnacle carries out surveys at two plots:

  1. A site where revegetation was completed in 2011 to monitor the survival rates of the plantings and find out whether these new plants reproduced successfully. Surveys began in 2012.
  2. A site where a pipeline was constructed through the reserve, leaving a 20-40m wide disturbed corridor. While revegetation with both ground cover and trees did occur, the area is now in poor condition and new weeds have established themselves. A Vegwatch site was established in 2019 within this area to help tell the story of what grows back; the hope was that this would document an increase in natives but in fact it has revealed mostly weeds.
 Sheep’s Burr. Photo: Nathanael Coyne

The data shows lessons emerging from the 2012 site (1) about plantings, with 66% of the plantings still alive after eight years. Individual species’ survival varied between 0% and 91% – information which may help with guide future revegetation projects at the Pinnacle. Perhaps even more interesting for Friends of the Pinnacle is the ability the survey gives them to measure their weed control impacts in a specific and accurate way. Even though monitoring has been ongoing for 10 years, this has still not been enough time to judge whether this revegetation effort was a success or a failure. This is typical of good science, when it often takes a long time for trends and changes to become apparent.

 Early Nancy. Photo: Nathanael Coyne