Sarah Smith - Chester Zoo (left) and Matthew Lissimore - West Midland Safari Park (right)

Blog: Spotted on Site! How zoos and aquariums are supporting native species

Posted: 26th July, 2022

BIAZA’s Senior Manager, Nicky Needham, writes about the innovative campaign to document the native species observed across sites at BIAZA zoos and aquariums – Spotted on Site.  

Think zoos and aquariums and you think weird and wonderful exotic species, right? 
Think again!  BIAZA zoos and aquariums don’t just care for some of the world’s most far-flung species, they also manage their sites increasingly carefully to support the native species which live on our doorsteps. BIAZA member sites encompass a fantastic and diverse range of habitats, from the most diminutive urban oases of our city-based members to our more extensive rural safari parks and reserves. We are privileged to hold stewardship over everything from meadow and woodland areas, limestone grassland, freshwater wetlands and coastal sandy dunes, counting numerous designated conservation areas such as SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and AONBs (Areas of Natural Beauty) within our care.  
We’ve spent the last five years gathering data on over 4000 species which have been spied on these sites. These have included some exciting highlights such as white-clawed crayfish, woodworm sunshiner beetle, great ciliated lichen, skylark, beavers and vendace (the UK’s rarest fish) – all IUCN listed Critical species (members can view the complete lists here).  

These lengthy species lists are themselves critical in helping zoos and aquariums to identify the most sensitive way to manage these important sites. Whether that be in taking careful steps of mitigation for necessary development, in setting up population monitoring and research projects for sensitive species, or in opening up nature trails and creating opportunities for our visitors to enjoy our biggest native superstar species alongside us. 

That’s why we’re so excited to launch the BIAZA ‘Spotted on Site’ (SoS) campaign, in association with the National Biodiversity Network Trust, using the iNaturalistUK platform. We’re asking BIAZA member zoos and aquariums to set their site up as a project within the BIAZA SoS umbrella project, and to encourage as many staff, volunteers and visitors as possible to download the iNaturalist app and get snapping! This not only builds up a useful picture of the biodiversity of each individual site, it contributes to invaluable national and global datasets. 

We’re just three weeks into the campaign and we’re seeing some fantastic results – already over 9,000 observations from across 18 zoos and aquariums and including over 1,600 species! Great crested newts, jelly ear fungus, bee orchids, red squirrels and northern lapwings to name just a very few! And the benefits of participating don’t end with a handy downloadable spreadsheet of species for your site. It’s a fun and easy way to engage your staff and visitors with your local environment, and an opportunity for a spot of healthy competition between our member zoos and aquariums to reach the top spot on our leaderboard – there will be prizes for all those registered by end September, kindly sponsored by Safe4! 

Lisa Chilton, CEO of the National Biodiversity Network Trust says: “We are delighted to be involved with BIAZA’s ‘Spotted on Site’ project.  Recording wildlife is at the heart of nature conservation and the fight to reverse the biodiversity crisis.  It’s wonderful that staff at zoos and aquariums will be recording the native species around them whilst also encouraging their visitors to do the same!”

So to all our members – get on board! You can find details here, and can contact Maria or Nicky in the BIAZA Office for any further information. 

And to all our fantastic visitors – make sure you take a moment during your next BIAZA zoo or aquarium trip to keep an eye out for some of our less exotic, but equally special native species, and help support your favourite zoos and aquariums in topping our leaderboard

By Nicky Needham,  Senior Manager at BIAZA 

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