Citizen Science and the Gathering of Ornithological Data in Singapore has just been published in the 2009 volume of the on-line journal of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore. You can get a PDF copy from the journal, Nature in Singapore, by clicking HERE.
The paper traces how citizen science was started by expatriate birdwatchers of the Bird Group affiliated to the Nature Society (Singapore) in the 1980s. Birdwatchers responded enthusiastically by sending in their field observations to an in-house monthly newsletter, the Singapore Avifauna. The 1987-90 issues provided useful data when ornithologist David Wells wrote his two-volumes, The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula.
However, when locals took over the leadership of the Bird Group, citizen science broke down somewhat. Limited in experience and knowledge but full of enthusiasm, the leadership slowly became elitist and exclusive when expatriate as well as the more experienced local birdwatchers left the group. The unwillingness to recruit birdwatchers more knowledgeable than themselves into the leadership led the group into a decade-long decline. The group slowly became more recreational and less scientific. The Avifauna issues dwindled as morale among the general membership plummeted and quality contributions dried up. The leadership felt besieged and restricted access of the Avifauna to Dr Wells, working from his base in the UK. In this sense citizen science failed as data collected by volunteers were not freely available.
Citizen science got a reprieve in the early 2000s when two new players came onto the scene – bird photographers and the Bird Ecology Study Group. The former was spurned when a group seek to revitilise the NSS’s Photo Group while the latter’s acceptance by the society was vigorously resisted for months. In the end, competition proved to be an excellent remedy to the complacency of the organised local birdwatchers who had monopolised birdwatching for at least a decade.
Currently, citizen science has been revitilised, with the three players slowly but surely coming together for the good of the birding fraternity, especially when there are chances of leadership changes in the near future.