How to be ‘smartphone smart’ about nature

PUBLISHED: 11:33 16 June 2018

A nature app on your smartphone can help you appreciate so much more of the world of nature around us.

A nature app on your smartphone can help you appreciate so much more of the world of nature around us.


A little knowledge can help us get closer to nature. And what better way to do it than on your smartphone?, says Diane Church of the RSPB.

I’m full of enthusiasm for the natural world, but I’m if I’m honest, I don’t know very much about it. On one level, I guess this really doesn’t matter. A walk through the woods or a picnic in a meadow has a unique pleasure of its own. Yet, it’s also true that learning a little more about nature and wildlife has the potential to immeasurably enrich and enliven our experience.

In such situations, your smartphone can be your best friend. While I generally endorse the view that getting closer to nature definitely benefits from ‘switching off’ from technology, there are exceptions to this rule. I’ve got apps on my phone to identify trees, recognise bird song, explain the lifecycle of dragonflies, draw constellations - and so much more. Best of all, are the new apps, which require nothing more than a photo to identify a list of possible species.

The great advantage of these apps is that they’re on your phone and in your pocket. They’re so much easier to use than guide books and also more discreet. Trying to identify a bird 50 metres away that you can barely see is so much simpler with an app, than trying to flick through a guide book with its endless images of birds which all look pretty much the same. They’re more accurate too because possible sightings are based upon your location and the app immediately discounts the hundreds of species you look at in a book that never fly north of Turkey.

Until recently, if you showed me anything rarer than a blue tit or a buttercup, my knowledge was exhausted. With the help of my phone in my pocket though, this is changing. This week, I went for a walk along the North Norfolk coast between Cromer and Sheringham with my partner Richard and we had great fun trying to work out what we were looking at. With the help of our phones, we were able to identify sand martins darting across the sky above sandy cliffs; the beautiful song of skylarks hovering high in the sky overhead; and an array of summer wildflowers, including Rancher’s fiddleneck, sea thrift and yellow bush lupines. Not bad for a couple novices.

So get online and find some apps. Here are a few of my current favourites – but there are thousands to choose from. There’s something for everyone, whatever your area of interest, so start downloading today:

iNaturalist – my current favourite. This app has lots of features. You can create your own local guides to share with others and check out those created by others. My favourite feature though is ‘What did you see?’ Take a photo of a bird, butterfly, flower etc and it will come up with a list of possibilities based upon your location. An instant ID guide.

RSPB Giving Nature a Home – lots of tips and advice to help you, your family and/or local community engage with nature in your garden or communal areas to create habitats and learn more about nature on your doorstep through projects and one-off activities.

British Trees – if you’ve a leaf, flower, bud or bark from a tree, this app from the Woodland Trust will help you identify the tree you’re looking at.

Insect Identification – take a photo and identify the bugs you’re looking at immediately and learn a little more about them.

SkyView – just hold your phone to the sky and it will identify constellations, planets, track satellites, and show you whatever is above you at that moment.

Why not come along to our latest Marvellous Moths session at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen? It’s being held on Sunday July 15, from 8-9.30am. The Fen is a magical place for close encounters with wildlife. Discover the wonderful world of moths, inspect the previous night’s catch in the light trap and help with identification and recording. There’ll be excellent photographic opportunities and the chance to see some of the rarer fen species. The event is suitable for adults and older children. Price: Adult member £5 / Child member £2.50 / Adult non-member £7 / Child non-member £3.50. Booking essential. Call 01603 715191.

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