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Sycamore stumps adults in UK Biodiversity Census

Less than a quarter of adults in the UK can correctly identify the Sycamore, a common British tree

Published:18 May 2010
Fieldwork:19 March - 15 April 2010
Keywords:Nature, Wildlife
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Less than 1 in 4 (24%) British adults are able to correctly identify the Sycamore (latin name) when shown a photographic image of the tree found commonly throughout the UK and 1 in 3 (32%) able to correctly identify the peacock butterfly (latin name), according to the results of a joint survey by the Natural History Museum, London and Ipsos MORI. Results were a little more encouraging when it came to identifying a toad (latin name) (63%) and blue tit (latin name) (63% also), 6 in 10 adults correctly answered both, although staff at the Natural History Museum would hope that this figure was higher. 


The Capibus survey asked over a thousand adults and one hundred children to identify a series of photographic images of UK wildlife as well as state whether a further set of images showed plants and animals found in the UK. While a high number of adults who took part in the survey could correctly identify a toad, woodlouse and blue tit, a worryingly low number were able to identify an ammonite, Britain’s most common fossil with less than 1 in 5 (17%) giving a correct answer.  Some of the more unusual answers, however, were stick insect or strawberry plant for Sycamore and slug or worm for woodlouse.

Participants were also asked about their level of interest in wildlife and natural history. 3 in 5 (60%) of all adults expressed an interest in wildlife and natural history. Less than 1 in 2 (49%) of those aged 15-34 expressed an interest compared to those aged 35-44 (66%) and 45+ (64%).

Almost 8 out of 10 (78%) adults claimed they did not belong to a wildlife group or natural history group such as the RSPB or Wildlife Trust. of those that participated in the survey 6 in 10 adults expressed an interest in spending time outdoors such as fishing or walking (62%) and 1 in2 adults like to watch wildlife on TV (51%).

Overall Londoners had the worst knowledge and those living in the South and Midlands fared better with Northerners as runners up. Just over 1 in 10 adults (11%) within London could correctly identify the Sycamore, a common British tree, for instance. 4 out of 10 adults (40%) from the midlands correctly identified the peacock butterfly, whereas slightly more than 1 in 4 (27%) adults from London could do the same.

Additional survey findings include:

  • Only 1 in 5 (17%) adults are able to correctly identify an ammonite, the most common fossil in Britain.
  • Under 1 in 5 (19%) adults recognised the elephant hawkmoth as a species of moth found in the UK
  • Over half of adults (58%) recognised that perch are found in the UK.
  • Less than 2 in 5  adults (37%) were unable to identify a toad
  • Under 1 in 5 adults (18%) recognised the sundew, one of the UK’s only carnivorous plants as a species found in the UK.
  • More than half of all adults (60%) expressed some level of interest in wildlife even though only 3% were able to identify all six examples of UK wildlife correctly.

Visitors can drop in to the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity every weekday 10.00–17.30 and 10.00–17.00 on Sundays. Visitors wishing to use the facilities and collections are advised to book their visit in advance. Email amc-bookings@nhm.ac.uk or telephone 020 7942 5045.

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Technical Note

  • The sample size for Ipsos MORI Capibus survey was 1008 adults aged 15+ and 119 children aged 8-14 in Great Britain and took place between 19 March and 15 April 2010. 194 sample points were between the 19th – 25th of March and 181 sample points were used between the 9th of April and 15th April.
  • The species included in the survey for identification were; toad (latin name), peacock butterfly (latin name), sycamore (name), woodlouse (name), ammonite (name) and blue tit (name)
  • The species included in the survey to be identified as being from the UK were; sundew, ring necked parakeet, perch, great crested newt and stag beetle. 
  • A complete copy of the survey results are available from the Natural History Museum press office  
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Daniel Marshall
Daniel Marshall

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