The first cuckoo in winter: Phenology, recording, credibility and meaning in Britain

Anna Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Biological recording is a long-established feature of amateur natural history in Britain. Phenology (the recording of seasonal events) in particular has provided scientists with important long-term data sets. These data are of increasing interest as indicators of climate change and its impacts. Most scientists treat the data as the object of interest, while less attention has been paid to the two-way process of knowledge creation, and the significance of the inner, personal part of that. Phenological recording provides an interesting window on this because it is relatively straightforward (and therefore involves a wider range of people than more technically demanding recording), and because it is linked to the climate change discourse (and therefore connected with emotional and moral framings of the situation). This paper describes the rise of popular phenology in the UK and explores these dynamically related aspects of knowledge creation by drawing on accounts in the media and by participants. It concludes that reflexivity and credibility are important aspects of both personal and interpersonal meaning-making, and suggests that attention to both subjective integration of data, and the scale of local cultures of knowledge, are important in understanding the potential for connecting networks of citizen science. Phenology therefore appears to have a particular role to play in public understanding of climate change, which extends beyond the merely extractive collection of data to a more deeply integrated connection between observation and meaning. Crown

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-179
Number of pages7
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2009


  • Biological recording
  • Climate change knowledge cultures
  • Public participation
  • Reflexivity
  • Volunteers


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