Self-isolation and MammalWeb


For many of us, these are the strangest and most disorientating times we have known. For those of us working from home, it's hard to settle to anything meaningful.  For those who aren't able to work from home, there's only so much spring cleaning you can do!  Whether you're trying to occupy the children's time, or looking for something satisfying that you can do, we hope that MammalWeb offers some potential.  Our growing range of projects should offer something for everyone - and any time spent on MammalWeb brings the added satisfaction that you are helping to build a vital database of where mammals of different species occur, how they spend their time, and what aspects of the environment affect both of those.  In addition, we are aiming to launch a competition for those who participate in spotting during the lockdown.  Watch our social media channels for more on that in due course!

We are always seeking additional help to increase camera trapping coverage and to increase the rate at which we gain classifications of submitted data.  For that reason, we have created a "quick start" guide to using MammalWeb.  Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be looking for satisfying ways to spend their time!  The quick start guide is here.

For now, we hope you are keeping safe and healthy, and that this bizarre and worrisome period will soon be over - maybe even leaving behind a new perspective on how we work, what we value, and how we balance our time between work and home.

Image credit: Roland Ascroft

Forest of Dean camera trapping


We are very excited to introduce a new project for you all. Sian, one of our MammalWeb PhD students, has been running a camera trap survey in the Forest of Dean and is now looking for help to classify the thousands of photos and videos collected. This project adds new data to MammalWeb from a part of the UK less well represented in the dataset so far.

This survey, over a period of 5 months, has involved rotating cameras across 75 locations in a systematic grid formation across the forest. The survey area spans three different counties: Gloucestershire and Herefordshire in England, and Monmouthshire in Wales. The aims of this project are to provide a systematic assessment of the wildlife living in the Forest of Dean and assist with monitoring the newly introduced pine martens, as well as some testing of different camera trap methodologies.

The forest is home to an interesting array of wildlife so should make for interesting spotting, with species such as wild boar, muntjac and fallow deer. There has even been a recent re-introduction of pine martens to the forest in a collaborative effort between the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Forestry Commission. While the pine martens are at a low density and are quite elusive, if you are very lucky you may come across one! There are two projects for the Forest of Dean survey, one containing photos and the other containing videos. They are equally in need of classifications.

Have a go at spotting for the Forest of Dean projects to have a chance of catching fallow deer like this one, wild boar, or even the elusive pine martens!

Discovering MammalWeb


We are very excited to tell you about the new module on the MammalWeb platform that will enable you to view MammalWeb data from different locations and focussing on different species. By clicking "Discover" in the MammalWeb menu bar, you can search for data on a particular species by selecting it from the drop-down list on the right. This will provide information on the total number of records for this species each year as well as the number of records from different locations on the map.

You can also search for records based on grid cell by selecting this option from the top left of the screen and then selecting the grid cell you are interested in. This will then display the number of image sequences uploaded and classified in that grid cell, as well as showing the most common species recorded from that location. You can take a broad view, or zoom in to a particular area. Aggregated records can be viewed to a resolution of 0.1° of latitude by 0.2° of longitude. That is a resolution of about 70km2, ensuring that you can investigate the records in detail without revealing the exact locations of individual camera traps or of sensitive species. We hope that this will help you to see how all your efforts fit into the bigger picture of European mammal records. Have fun exploring!

Social media research


At MammalWeb, we are interested in understanding more about how social media could be used to help people engage with our project, and how we could improve our pages. Therefore we are planning on doing some research, and would like to make people aware of this. We will be monitoring our social media pages and anonymised data may be analysed in order to understand how people engage with posts. No individuals, accounts or user names will be identified for research purposes. Examples of the data we are interested in include overall number of likes or shares a post receives. We will not be looking at individual responses.  

Overall, we aim to use our social media pages to provide educational materials, relevant news and project updates as well as to encourage discussion and communication between participants. We hope this research will help us improve our pages and engage with more people!

We are happy to answer any questions or concerns, for more information, please contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


New site creation wizard!


To make it easier to create sites, Helen has created a "wizard" that will guide you through the process of setting up a new site.  The information is the same (although look out for a couple of extra questions about the use of bait and the time during which the camera was active; these aren't compulsory, as you can just accept the defaults) but it should be much easier to enter than previously.  See below for an example of the data entry interface.

We hope this is helpful but, as always, let us know (by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) if you spot a problem or have changes to suggest.

How to tell the difference between a stoat and a weasel


Stoats and weasels are very closely related, belonging to the same genus, Mustela. This can make it tricky to tell them apart in camera trap images. Thankfully, there are a few defining features that can be used to distinguish between them.

The most obvious difference in appearance between the two is the black, bushy tip at the end of a stoat’s tail. Comparatively, the tail of a weasel is short, stubby and entirely orange-brown.

However, if the tail isn’t visible, there are other subtle differences that can be used to tell these small mammals apart. Stoats are typically larger than weasels, measuring about 30-40cm, whereas weasels have a whole body length of 20-27cm. In addition, stoats run with bounding movements, characterised by an arched back. Weasels, however, move more quickly with their back flat.

If you happen to spot one of these animals in winter, you may notice that the coat is completely white. Weasels remain orange-brown all year round, so if this is the case, you have definitely spotted a stoat. However, stoats’ fur doesn’t always change colour, in which case you can use the clues above to identify which mustelid you’re looking at.

Dippy on Tour - and some of your favourite images


Rather a long time since we posted news here - sorry!  However, as those of you who follow us on Twitter, Facebook or through our newsletter know, we have not been idle ...

Now we're into the school holidays, those of you in the north east might be interested to know about our exhibit at the Great North Museum: Hancock. Until October, the museum will be hosting Dippy, the iconic cast of Diplodocus carnegii from London's Natural History Museum.  Associated with Dippy's visit is a series of exhibits, intended to increase connections with nature, past, present and future. As part of that, the museum's Natural Northumbria gallery has been transformed.  It now hosts a number of touch screens, each associated with a different habitat type.  A large number of schools across the north east have been putting out camera traps over recent months and have uploaded their captured photos to the different screens.  If you get a chance to go along, you'll love seeing Dippy - and do have a go at classifying images for the Dippy Schools too!

Durham University has put out a press release about the exhibit and they have also collated some of the mammal pictures that MammalWeb participants have identified as favourites over the years.  Some of those are available on Facebook, whilst a larger collection can be seen in this Flickr album.

Easter competition closes


Thanks to everyone who contributed classifications over the past two weeks in pursuit of the prize-winning Easter photographs.  Altogether, you submitted nearly 22,000 classifications in just 2 weeks - by far the most rapid rate of classification in the project's history!  Congratulations to our prize-winners: Beth Smith, Reece Fowler and Julia Wilkinson.  Each of them will receive a fabulous new Browning Command Ops Pro camera trap, courtesy of the generous support of NatureSpy!  Thanks, also, to everyone else who contributed classifications.  We hope you've enjoyed participating in the project.  Please do carry on; every classification helps us to make sense of the data and to understand - as the project grows - how we can have confidence in what is being spotted in different parts of the country.  Watch this news page for more initiatives coming soon ... 

Competition update


Despite heroic levels of classifications over the last 2 weeks, the prize-winning photos still haven't been found!  The odds are now pretty high that someone will find them soon.  Keep up the good work and let us know if you find one.  Remember, if you find one, save it to your local device, classify it as “Other” and email it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  As below (see article from the 10th of April), the first three different Spotters to find one will win a camera trap!

Why aren't my stats updating?!


The Spotter homepage tells you how many image sequences you've classified.  Some of you have noticed that it's rather slow to update after you've been spotting.  Don't worry: the system is registering your efforts.  However, last week, we had some site performance issues and we reduced the frequency with which statistics were updated (to once per day).  We think we've identified the problem, so we'll be starting slowly to restore the frequency of calculations again.  In the meantime, sorry for the frustration - but check back the following day to make sure that your statistics have all updated.

Easter competition


Following the success of our Christmas competition, we are excited to announce that we are now running an Easter spotting competition! Starting today (Wednesday the 10th of April), we will be adding some novelty, Easter-themed pictures into the MammalWeb UK data set. If you find one, save it to your local device, classify it as “Other” and email it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Everyone who finds one will get an honourable mention when we announce the results. We are particularly grateful to our friends at NatureSpy, who have very generously donated three Browning Command Ops Pro camera traps as prizes for this competition. This incredible generosity means that we can offer one of these camera traps as a prize to each of the first three Spotters who send us the novelty Easter photo that they found (up to a limit of one camera per person)! NatureSpy will also be offering discounts on camera traps to MammalWeb participants. Check out their shop here, and watch for further news on how to access the discounts soon!

MammalWeb UK hits 100% classified


In March, we reached a major milestone. Specifically, for the first time since the MammalWeb UK project began, we reached a point at which every image sequence submitted to the MammalWeb UK project had been classified at least once! This is a great achievement and we’d like to thank everyone who has contributed classifications, as well as Helen, whose tireless work on the web platform has made Spotting such an effortless (and, we think, addictive) process!

Although MammalWeb UK is now just one of the projects on the site, it remains the project to which most people contribute data. At the point when all sequences had been classified at least once, it included almost 80,000 sequences from over 300 sites. As you can see from the detailed map (in which the MammalWeb UK sites are shown in red, overlying blue sites from other projects), survey efforts remain dominated by sites in the North East of England, where the project began. Zooming out to the UK map, however, you can see that MammalWeb UK is continuing to expand. If you are, or know, a camera trapper elsewhere in the country, please do upload your camera trap photos/encourage others to do so. This way we can continue to expand our coverage, and consequently learn more about mammal ecology across the UK.

At the point at which all image sequences had been classified at least once, the data suggest that about 62% of the sequences contained identifiable animal life. So, what do they contain? As you can see from the graph on the left below, the most frequently sighted animal is the grey squirrel which, as many of you will know, is an invasive non-native species. Nevertheless, there are a number of native species that appear frequently, including roe deer in about 1 in every 12 sequences you view, and badger or red fox in about 1 in 18 sequences. Bear in mind that these statistics are based on what species people have said are in sequences. As we get more classifications per sequence and more conviction regarding what is pictured, this could change.

A more intriguing picture arises when we consider the number of sites at which different species have been photographed (see graph on the right below). This suggests that roe deer and red fox are actually more geographically widespread in our data than are grey squirrels. This probably arises because they are more wide-ranging: when grey squirrels are active around a camera, they are usually very busy, generating lots of image sequences; roe deer and red foxes turn up at more cameras – but don’t linger by the camera for so long.

As contributors are increasingly trapping in other parts of the country, these patterns will almost certainly change. We have recently seen muntjac in the data set from a site in Worcestershire, as well as fallow deer from a site in South Wales. Who knows what other species we might see as the project continues to expand?

Website modifications


Probably our most requested feature is the ability for Spotters to zoom in to images to take a closer look.  We're really excited to report that the ever-brilliant Helen at Rhombus Technology has just implemented that feature!  When you're spotting, look out for the 'full screen tool' in the bottom right of the image display (where the red arrow is pointing in this picture).


We note that some versions of iOS and Safari don't have the full screen capability.  In those cases, the tool should not display.  You should, however, be able to zoom manually.

Another change in this release is that, on the projects page, you now click on the photo representing any project to find out more about that project and its subprojects.  And, of course, in case you'd missed it, you can also navigate to any project of interest via the project pages and click "Classify this project", in order to specify exactly the collection of photos you wish to classify.

Let us know how you get on with these changes and if you notice anything that doesn't work as it should. As always, you can reach us by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Highland Red Squirrel Project Update


Last summer many of you helped classify photos in the Highland Red Squirrel Project. The project focussed on the understanding of, and potential mitigation for, forest operations on red squirrels, and was run by a team based at the University of the Highlands and Islands in collaboration with Forest Enterprise Scotland. With your help, all images in the project were classified, and now the team have had chance to analyse the data, they would like to share with you the results! Click here to read the report.

Camera trapping in Deerness woods, County Durham


One of our trappers, Roland, has written a report about his findings from camera trapping in his local woods over the past two years. In the report, he writes about the species that have been captured on his camera traps, which he has put out at 62 different locations in the Deerness woods, County Durham. This includes camera traps that he modified to be used to photograph small mammals, which you can read more about on our "Projects" page, under the "Small Mammal Camera Trapping" project. We'd like to say thank you to Roland for sharing this great report with us, and providing MammalWeb with many lovely photos, such as the ones below, to classify over the last few years! You can read the report by clicking here.


How to tell the difference between deer species


There are six species of deer in the UK: roe deer, red deer, fallow deer, Reeve's Muntjac deer, sika deer and chinese water deer. In County Durham, by far the most common deer species we capture on our camera traps is the roe deer. However, as MammalWeb starts to collect images from new camera trap sites across the country, you may come across some different deer species whilst spotting. Telling the difference between deer species can sometimes be tricky, so we've summarised some key facts for all six species in the graphic below.


When classifying camera trap photos here are some key things you can look for to help you decide which deer species it is.

  • Size: The size of deer species varies greatly. The red deer is the largest species, with a shoulder height of up to 137 cm in males and 122 cm in females. Reeve's Muntjac deer and chinese water deer are the smallest, with a shoulder height of only 50-55 cm. In low level light roe deer and red deer (particularly females) can appear similar, so one way to determine which species it is would be to look at the size of the animal, as roe deer are smaller than red deer. You could look at background objects in camera trap photographs, such as trees or fence posts, to get an idea of scale.
  • Rump and tail: The colour, pattern and size of the rump and tail varies between all six deer species, so if you have a camera trap photo of the back end of the animal, this is a great way to tell the different species apart. 
  • Coat: The coat colour and pattern varies between deer species. However, there can be variation in coat colour and pattern within a species, and most species have different coat patterns in the summer and winter. So don't solely rely on coat colour to distinguish between species, but rather look at it in parallel with all of the other features.
  • Antlers: If it is a male deer with antlers, then the size and shape of antlers can tell you which species you are looking at.

If you would like more information on deer species in the UK, and the differences between them, here are some links to some great resources:

The Mammal Society's "Discover mammals" page:

The British Deer Society's "Deer Species" page:

NatureSpy's article on "What are the different British deer species?", which includes some lovely camera trap footage:


Last festive picture found!


Congratulations to Justine Thompson, who found the final seasonally-adjusted MammalWeb picture! This means that all three pictures have now been found, so congratulations to all our prize-winners: Elliot Tebbs, Clive Moulding and Justine Thompson.  Their prizes will soon be in the mail!

More generally, thanks to everyone who has contributed massively to Spotting over recent weeks.  Over the last month, a fantastic 12,000 sequences have been classified for the MammalWeb UK project!  For the first time ever, we are now teasingly-close to having all MammalWeb sequences classified at least once.  That's a huge achievement.  Keep an eye on the project page to watch our progress towards that goal.  You will also see that NatureSpy have uploaded a new batch of images from their cameras in the North York Moors.  Their baited traps have yielded some beautiful pictures already, with red foxes a common visitor; what else might be in there?


Festive competition update


We're pleased to report that two of the three modified photos have now been found.  One was found on the evening of the 2nd of January, whilst another was found this morning.  How long will it be before the third is tracked down?  Keep spotting, and let's hope it turns up before the 12 days of Christmas are over!  Two camera traps will soon be on their way to the lucky winners so far.  Could you be the recipient of the third?

Thanks – and a Camera trap giveaway!


As we approach the end of 2018, we wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed to MammalWeb over the past year!  It has been a tremendous year for Mammal monitoring in the north east of England – and increasingly further afield.

At the start of this year, 70 Trappers had deployed cameras at 227 sites, uploading 55,192 sequences, for which 257 Spotters had submitted 92,972 sequence-classifications (representing 40,374 unique sequences, or 73% of the sequences in the system).

As of today, 97 Trappers have now deployed cameras at 430 sites, uploading 122,742 sequences, for which 473 Spotters have submitted 208,229 sequence-classifications (representing 110,139 unique sequences, or 90% of the sequences in the system).  This is tremendous growth in our efforts to find out more about where our wild mammals occur, what they do and what affects that.  Next year promises to be much bigger!

This year has also seen the publication of our first paper, led by Pen, discussing how we can be confident about what species are pictured in the sequences you trap.  This was a collective effort by everyone who has contributed to MammalWeb – so well done to all of you!  Another major achievement was Sammy’s rigorous survey of the whole of County Durham.  Thanks to everyone who made a huge effort to get so many of the images from that survey classified in such a short space of time!  Thanks to you, Sammy was able to present her preliminary results at the recent meeting of the British Ecological Society.  You can expect to hear more about that study over the coming year.  We have also welcomed two new people – Sian Green and Jonathan Rees – to the MammalWeb team, as well as multiple new collaborating organisations, and you can expect to hear more about their work over coming months.

We look forward to a very exciting 2019.  There are some great developments in the pipeline, and you can expect to see some fabulous site improvements very soon …

For now, however, we’d just like to say a big THANK YOU again and to wish you all the best for a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!  As a token of our appreciation, there are now 3 sequences on the platform that have been modified in recognition of the season (the picture below is a hint!).  If you come across one of those between now and the 12th day of Christmas (specifically, midnight on the 6th of January), you will win a brand new camera trap!  If you see one of the modified sequences, please classify it as “Other” and send a copy of the picture to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  You can download it by right-clicking and choosing “save image” (or similar, depending on your browser).  Happy hunting, and have a great holiday!

Prizes for classifying photos on the County Durham Survey project!


For every classification you do on the County Durham Survey project between Mon 12/11/2018 17:00 and Mon 26/11/2018 17:00, you’ll get one ‘ticket’ in a prize draw to win either a £100 Amazon voucher, or one of two £50 Amazon vouchers! The more classifications you do during this time, the more chance you’ll have to win a prize!

You can read more information about the project over on our Projects page. To start classifying, simply log in as a MammalWeb spotter, and select "County Durham Survey" from the dropdown "Select a project box".

If you have any questions then please don't hesitate to get in contact by emailing us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Happy spotting!


New spotting opportunities!



We've got a diverse array of new spotting opportunities for you to enjoy! Should be something for everyone - so thanks in advance for anything you can do to help uncover what's out there! Here are our new spotting opportunities:


1). PhD student Sammy has started to upload her daunting (half a million!) set of pics from this summer's survey of County Durham. You can read more about the project on the Projects page. To help classify the photos select 'County Durham Survey' from the dropdown box when spotting.



2). For something truly different, check out long-term MammalWeb contributor Roland's new project. How well do you know the small mammals of Britain? Time to find out! Read more about the project on our Projects page, and select 'Small Mammal Camera Trapping' when spotting to help classify some images!



3). NatureSpy's North York Moors survey has yielded some lovely shots - but they've just uploaded another batch. Could there be an elusive pine marten among them? Select the project 'NatureSpy - North York Moors' when spotting to find out!


Project listings pages now available!


Over recent months, we've had several news articles about new projects available via the MammalWeb site. With huge thanks to Helen, who's been developing them, the project listings pages are now available.


If you click on "More" under any project, you will find a short description of each project and an indication of progress with uploading and classifying its image sequences. The summary charts draw on what is becoming a very large data base and, as a result, they currently take a little while to appear. Those will be optimised in due course to speed them up. We also plan to make it possible to link straight through to classifying sequences for any specific project. Private projects are not listed on these pages but some projects that are currently private will soon be made available for public viewing.

Summary charts for a project are based on submitted classifications (rather than on strictly validated data) but should, in any case, give a reasonable sense of the relative numbers of image sequences in which different species appear. They certainly suggest striking differences between the species most commonly photographed in a range of settings (including predominantly urban, entirely rural, arboreal, or with the assistance of baiting).

Notice that the "progress bars" (as depicted in the image above) identify the proportion of image sequences that have been classified at least once. In reality, we often need more than one classification to develop a reasonable sense of what's in a sequence (see further here). Consequently, if the progress bar suggests that 100% of the project's sequences have been classified but pictures are still available for you to classify, please keep spotting!

We look forward to developing the functionality of these pages still further, and to making new projects available. In the meantime, please check out the pages and, if you have any feedback, feel free to let us know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Doh! Correcting date and time problems for camera trap images


I would say, "We've all done it!" - but it's probably mostly just me.  Yes, once again I'm howling in anguish because I forgot that my camera trap uses a US time format (MM-DD-YYYY), rather than the more familiar (to me at least) DD-MM-YYYY format.  That means that photos from a camera trap I put out in early July, are all proudly stamped with the claim that they were taken at various times after the 7th of May!  If I was cataloguing and analysing my own camera trap photos, I'd have work-arounds for this error.  However, because MammalWeb takes information directly from the image EXIF data (Exchangeable image file format data, for those of you who care), I can't upload the images until I've sorted out the dodgy "Photo taken" dates and times.  This problem has been hanging over me for a while but, today, I decided to look into a solution.  Happily, I found one!

Owners of Macs (myself included) and users of Linux might not like me for this, but there's currently a bit of freeware available for PCs, called "Exif Date Changer".  There's probably something similar for Macs - but I have yet to find it.  If you do find one, please let us know (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  In the meantime, I'm very happy to report that the free version of Exif Date Changer is spectacularly straightforward and efficient - so much so, that it's quicker for me to go and find a PC to use it on, than to spend my time looking for alternatives that I can use on my own desktop.

The software allows you to choose the source folder containing the files you want to correct, as well as the output folder in which you want to store the corrected files.  That's particularly useful if - like me - it takes you a while to work out the difference between two dates (so you don't want to overwrite the originals until you've checked that you're correct).  There are a variety of options for changing the dates and times - but the most straightforward is just to set the numbers of days, hours, minutes and seconds by which you were out when you set the camera.  One thing to check is the "options" tab, which might suggest renaming the images.  You can easily change that, if you'd prefer that it left the names unchanged.  Of course, if you have a camera trap that puts the date and time on each photo, that will still be in error - but at least the dates and times recorded in the database will be correct!

Well, I'm pleased to have found this simple solution - and I hope that some of you find it useful too.

NatureSpy's Yorkshire Pine Marten Support Programme


Many of you will have been pleased to see the news, a couple of weeks ago, that pine marten appear to be spreading into Northumberland (e.g., see this article in The Guardian). The recovery of pine marten in England is an exciting development for nature enthusiasts, and could help to alleviate pressure on our native red squirrels.

We're really excited to announce a new partnership with NatureSpy, a non-profit organisation that - like MammalWeb - aims to engage people with the wildlife around them, and to research and conserve wildlife and habitats through study and monitoring. NatureSpy run a variety of projects and, at present, they are organising an intensive, 3-year project to study pine marten in the North York Moors. With the aid of volunteers, they are currently rotating camera traps around a variety of sites in the North York Moors, and a proportion of those traps are set to record still images. The traps yield large numbers of images and those will help to inform NatureSpy about the ecology of the area, aiding the development of a long-term conservation plan for pine marten in the area. If we're lucky, we might even see a picture or two of a pine marten!

If you are registered as a Spotter, the NatureSpy images will be available to classify by selecting "Classify All" from your Spotter home screen. To focus your efforts on helping the NatureSpy team, you can select "NatureSpy - North York Moors" and choose "Classify Selected Project Only".

You can also read a post about this project on the NatureSpy blog, here.

Much of the monitoring conducted by NatureSpy (as well as many other individuals and organisations) uses video, rather than still images. We know that a capacity to handle video (rather than just image sequences) is an aspect of the platform that many of you would like to see us develop. Over coming months, we will be looking for ways to resource this (both the development and the subsequent hosting of large video files); we'll keep you posted regarding progress!


Paper making sense of submitted classifications!


We (the project team, plus all of our participating volunteers) have published our first paper based on MammalWeb!  The paper is in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, and can be found here.  When we think of Remote Sensing, we often think of satellite observations (a source of data that can be remarkably handy for ecologists, as well as many land managers, plus other scientists and social scientists).  However, Remote Sensing can cover many types of data collection for which the presence of people is not necessary at the time of data acquisition.  Camera trapping is, thus, a good example of a remote sensing approach.

A pre-requisite for making use of the data collected by all of MammalWeb's participants is knowing what's in the images.  By comparing user-submitted classifications to a set of over 10,000 image sequences that have been looked at by "experts" to determine their subjects, we can learn about how confident we can be about those classifications.  Happily, it turns out that participants are very good at identifying what's in an image sequence.  We need lots of examples to get a good idea of how accurate participants usually are, so we focused on 16 of the most commonly-occurring species (or species designations).  When those species occurred in a sequence, we looked at all the submitted classifications and asked how many of them correctly said that the species was pictured.  For almost all of the commonly-occurring species, that figure was 80% or more.  For several species, it was closer to 95%!  Given the risk, with all trail cameras, of getting blurry, dark, partial, or otherwise indistinct images, we think this is a real testament to the skill and dedication of those using the website!


Fig. 1. In general, spotters show high levels of accuracy.

Two "species" for which accuracy is notably lower are small rodents and brown hares.  Further analyses looking at the inaccurate classifications in those cases show that they arise for different reasons.  In particular, small rodents are often overlooked altogether, because they are often visible only from their eye-shine.  We hope that our site developments (especially the new approach to being able to move backwards and forwards through a sequence, which can help to identify any sort of movement) will reduce this problem.  By contrast, brown hares show lower accuracy than most other species because they are often misidentified as rabbits.  This is understandable, given their many similarities.  However, we would encourage anyone who is uncertain to take a look at web tutorials, such as this page or this one.

Fig. 2. Reasons for incorrect classifications by species or species group.  Where blue predominates, the species is more often missed than misclassified; green indicates the proportion of errors that arise from misclassification.

Clearly, based on these numbers alone, we can be much more confident of classifications regarding some species than others.  This might mean that we could remove many image sequences, allowing users to focus on the less distinct, the more unusual, or those that prove harder to reach consensus about.  However, that might result in a far less rewarding time for Spotters.  At present, we are keeping a close eye on techniques for automatic image analysis.  These might, at the very least, allow us to remove sequences very likely to contain no wildlife, which - based on comments received - would probably be very popular with many of our contributors!

Using camera traps to assess the impact of urbanisation on mammals in Durham, UK

Toby Atkinson-Coyle recently graduated from the biology department at Durham University: congratulations Toby! For his final year project, Toby worked with the MammalWeb team on a camera trapping project looking at the impact of urbanisation on mammals in Durham. Here, he writes about some of the findings from his project:

For my masters’ project, I used distance sampling with camera traps to assess the impact of urbanisation on mammals in Durham, UK. As discussed in previous posts, this method involves measuring the distance of animals from the camera which can then be used to calculate their density. I deployed cameras in both rural and urban habitats across a 3x4km area of Durham from 12th February through to 9th March 2018.

Over the study period, a total of 2,646 images of wild mammals were obtained, 1,285 in rural and 1,361 in urban habitats (see Figure 1). Six species were regularly detected in both habitats, including European rabbit, European badger, red fox, grey squirrel, roe deer and small rodents. European rabbit and grey squirrel were the most frequently photographed species, so I report on them in greater detail. To assess the overall impact of urbanisation on mammals, I was also able to calculate broader community-level metrics such as species richness.


Figure 1 A subset of mammals photographed in Durham, UK.

Species varied in density between habitats. Four out of the six detected mammal species decreased from rural to urban habitats whilst two increased. The largest differences in density were in rabbit and grey squirrel populations. Rabbit density in urban habitats was twice that in rural ones (see Figure 2A). Conversely, squirrel density was much greater in rural habitats (see Figure 2B).


Figure 2 Estimated density per km2 of European rabbit and grey squirrel populations in rural and urban habitats.

I calculated species richness per deployment by counting the number of different species detected by each camera. Species richness was higher in rural habitats with an average of 1.60 (0.29 SE) species detected per deployment whilst in urban only 1.12 (0.23 SE) species were detected (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 Species richness per deployment of mammals in rural and urban habitats.

Urbanisation has a range of impacts on mammals at both the species and community levels. Broader ecological metrics indicate an overall decline of mammals with urbanisation but, at the species level, some appeared to benefit. Therefore, it is important to consider a range of species and community-level metrics when assessing the response of wildlife to disturbance.

Changes to the spotting process: species filters


Many of you have asked us to increase the range of species that you can choose from when spotting. We will soon be implementing changes to give this much greater flexibility, without forcing you to wade through long species lists each time you classify what’s in an image sequence. Specifically, when you are spotting, you should soon see something like the screenshot below. At the top will be 3 or more “filters”, which will allow you to navigate rapidly between lists of common species, and full lists of either mammals or birds. In some cases, there might also be a list of species that are most likely to turn up among images associated with the project you are Spotting. For the vast majority of image sequences you look at, the pictured species will be in the “Common” list (which will usually be the default display). If you are lucky, however, sometimes you might see an unusual species. In those cases, you can click on the “Mammals” or “Birds” filters to find what you are looking for. Those lists are arranged alphabetically and you can use the page selectors to jump to a different page of the list. Bear in mind that it might take a little while before you find those rarer species in the lists. For example, if you are looking for a mink under “M”, you might need to check whether we have discriminated between mink species (in which case, the American mink will be under “A”). For some species, we have also retained less certain designations for when you know what sort of animal it is but you can’t identify it to species-level. For example, you can find “Unidentified bird” under “U” in the birds list, and "Small rodent (unknown species)" under “S” in the mammals list. If possible, however, do identify to species level.


Using species filters when classifying


We are particularly grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account for funding this (and some of our other recent developments) and to Helen for making our vague notions a useful reality! We’d welcome your feedback on this new approach once it’s available. Also, do let us know if we have overlooked any species, or if you think there are others that would be a higher priority for the “Common” species filters. As always, you can send suggestions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Highland Red Squirrel Project


Some of you might have noticed that there are new projects available to classify.  Specifically, at present, we have the “Highland Red Squirrel Project” and the “North Pennines NNRs” projects visible under the “Classify Selected Project Only” menu.  


The North Pennines NNRs project has yet to upload data; we will tell you more about that project when images have been uploaded.  However, the Highland Red Squirrel Project has uploaded data.  In case you fancy helping out with their project, here’s a quick overview of what they’re up to and why.

Red squirrels are charismatic members of the UK’s native fauna but have been highlighted as one of our more threatened native mammals (e.g., see here).  Although they occur in various parts of the UK, the majority of red squirrels (c. 75% of the UK population) are found in Scotland.  A range of work is required throughout the UK to mitigate threats to red squirrels, and to boost their chances of re-establishment.  However, it is important that we manage remaining populations to ensure a strong base from which the population can expand when conditions have improved.

Red squirrels and their dreys are protected under UK and Scottish legislation, and there is a requirement to mitigate for any forest operations that could disturb the squirrels or damage their dreys.  Forest Enterprise Scotland manages over 400,000 ha of Scotland’s multi-functional forests and need to plan mitigation for their forest operations.  There is, however, very limited information about the impact of disturbance caused by forest operations on red squirrels.  Without knowing the impacts of those operations, if any, it’s difficult to know what mitigation, if any, is needed.

This project is being run by a team based at the University of the Highlands and Islands in collaboration with Forest Enterprise Scotland.  They aim to determine the impact on red squirrel breeding success, ranging behaviour and drey usage of habitat fragmentation and habitat loss caused by forest operations.  They are also looking into the use of nest boxes as a potential mitigation measure for forest operations taking place during the breeding season.  This latter aspect of the project is being assessed, in part, by determining the use of nest boxes at different heights and in different tree types.  The team have set up their monitoring so that camera traps will capture animals investigating or going into and out of the nest boxes.  Owing to the possibilities of false triggers and to the frequency with which other species (especially birds) will use the nest boxes, the monitoring has yielded large numbers of images.  The team need as much help as possible to classify what (if anything) is using the nest boxes.


Remember: if you are working on a desktop computer, you can use the cursor left and cursor right keys to speed up scanning through a sequence.  We are working on ways to improve the set of species that are shown for any project.  For now, however, if you are working on the red squirrel project, you can find the red squirrel on the second page of the species options and the great tit on the fifth page.  You can navigate rapidly to any page of options by clicking directly on the relevant page indicator.  As always, we only want your classifications for what appears in an entire sequence, not what appears in individual images.  Please make sure you’ve looked at the whole sequence before submitting your classifications and moving to the Next Sequence.

Congratulations to Pen on another award!


We're delighted to announce that Pen has scooped another award! This time it's Durham University's inaugural "Science Postgraduate Excellence in Outreach Award". As many of you know, Pen is passionate about science and passionate about getting more people involved in science. The award recognises the broad range of outreach activities that Pen has been involved in. These include his work on MammalWeb (including his work with Belmont Community School), his activities as an organiser of Ustinov College's "Café Scientifique" outreach programme, and his work on the College's Global Citizenship Programme. The latter included many innovative events, such as a public science day, university visits for primary school children, and a "speed-dating" event for teachers to meet with postgraduate researchers from the university, making new contacts and arranging new outreach events.

More on Pen's activities with outreach via MammalWeb can be found in this short video on his work with Belmont Community School, and this video of his prize-winning talk at the 2017 "Ecology Across Borders" meeting in Ghent, Belgium (the largest Ecology meeting in the European calendar).

Pine marten den boxes


We thought you might be interested to see this picture of a pine marten mother and her kits, clearly making the most of a den box provided by John Martin as part of a project to monitor pine martens in Dumfries and Galloway. The project involves a range of collaborators, including both John and Shirley, who (among other pine marten-related activities) produce pine marten den boxes, pine marten expert Johnny Birks, and Gareth Ventress of Forest Enterprise Scotland.

R20 camera traps currently less than £60


Some of our trappers have been impressed by the R20 camera trap. Roland has even done a formal, head-to-head comparison of its performance with that of a much more expensive trap and found them fairly similar.  He notes that they are currently available via Amazon for less than £60.  If anyone gets one, we'd be interested to know how you get on.  Let us know via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..