My Naturewatch

Self-build cameras for engagement with local wildlife and digital DIY.

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Squirrel selfie taken with a My Naturewatch camera as it raids a feeder.

A collaboration between Goldsmiths researchers and the BBC’s Natural History Unit to design a low-cost camera for novice makers to build at home led to thousands of people getting involved in digital DIY and exploring their local wildlife.

The My Naturewatch camera featured on BBC Springwatch in June 2018 to a live audience of two million, and hundreds of thousands more on iPlayer, resulting in 45,000 people visiting the associated website to learn more about the project.

Some 2,500 people were inspired to purchase component packs, make the camera, and start recording their natural surroundings. Schools, museums, nature reserves and the independent maker community have since used the camera to inspire new audiences and organise their own making events, and an online My Naturewatch community quickly formed on social media and the website’s forum.

Since 2005, the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths has been dedicated to practice-based research, developing new computational products that address issues such as environmental concerns or human relationships. The resulting products are designed for long-term trials in people’s own environments.

The My Naturewatch camera takes pictures when it ‘sees’ movement using computer vision – it can be set up outside with bait to capture local birds and animals' images. The camera can be assembled from cheap components purchased online and cased in household materials such as recycled plastic bottles. This empowers technically inexperienced people and those on a budget to try making computational products. As Springwatch Producer Chris Howard said, it helps “democratise the very workflows which make Springwatch so special.”

My Naturewatch has become an example of how design can help generate new information about wildlife and endangered species' natural habitats, with conservation organisations such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Spitalfields City Farm and The Conservation Volunteers using it for tracking and recording. Goldsmiths-led workshops and presentations have also helped enthuse a generation of school children about digital self-building and exploring the natural world.

Discover DIY devices to engage with nature at My Naturewatch

This research was submitted for REF 2021.