Smart Living | Lifestyle

Lifestyle | 12 Aug 2022

How your smartphone can strengthen your bond with nature

If you want to appreciate nature, then it’s time to pick up your smartphone rather than putting it down. These apps can help you better understand the trees, animals and clouds around you.

A growing number of apps promise to unlock the secrets of the natural world around us, boosting our understanding and even our enjoyment of the birds, bees and trees.

It’s a phenomenon that ecologists and environmentalists have long awaited. Back in 2015, Professor Paul Jepson and Dr Richard J. Ladle from the University of Oxford published a study called Nature apps: Waiting for the revolution. “The proliferation of apps and their potential uses is both unprecedented and exciting,” the pair argued. Apps have the potential to transform how we “appreciate, use, and conserve wild places, animals and plants,” they predicted.

The pinnacle of nature-based apps would be one that could identify a bird call or animal noises, they said, engaging the public and even helping scientists with research and conservation.

“Nature identification apps can be a great tool for encouraging us to learn more about our natural surroundings, deepening our knowledge and inviting anyone with a smartphone to become a naturalist,” says Kate Stephenson, conservationist and author of the Kate on Conservation blog. “It’s never been easier to connect with the outdoors in a meaningful way.”

Don't splash your cash! The truth about ‘waterproof’ smartphones

It's probably a bad idea to take your smartphone or smartwatch into the pool or the sea this summer, even if it claims to be water-resistant.

“In a time when we are facing the twin threats of climate and biodiversity emergencies, now more than ever we need people to appreciate nature and in turn to join together to protect and enhance our natural world,” agrees Andy Bond of the Woodland Trust. “We have more than 1,200 woods across the country that are free to visit for people to enjoy unique woodland habitats. There are so many species of trees in our woods, it can be tricky to identify one tree from the other, even for experienced folk!”

So, this summer – whether you’re at the beach, in the woods, or up a mountain – there’s a host of excellent apps that will capture the imaginations of adults and turn children into mini conservationists.


Tree ID app

This free app from the Woodland Trust, (the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity), functions like an arboreal A-Z. Spot a tree you can’t name and identify it in just a few steps, using its leaves, bark, twigs, buds of flowers. Once you’ve solved the mystery, the app even gives you key facts about the species.

“This is the beauty of the Woodland Trust’s tree ID app,” says Andy Bond. “It allows anyone – from budding conservationists to those with a general interest – to enhance their visits by identifying trees in just a few easy steps. In doing so they can learn more about nature and in turn develop a greater understanding of how important it is.”




Think of this app as Shazam for birds. It cleverly uses machine-learning technology to identify bird songs and calls. Record a ten-second snatch of bird song, and the app checks it against a library of more than 100 birds, providing you with the closest possible match. You can save your recent recordings too.



If you’re trying to identify a wildflower, then this app can help. Take a snap and Seek will use image recognition technology to identify it (as well as other plants and animals you spot). You can even take part in monthly challenges and win badges for spotting new species. Flower power.


Fossil Explorer
Designed by the Natural History Museum, this app works like a pocket field guide to the common fossils of Britain. It covers nearly 90 different groups and includes an interactive map. Dig deeper, and you’ll find illustrations and data on over 1,200 fossils from the Museum’s own collection. It’s all been checked by their palaeontologists, too. Rock on.


Picture Insect
If the name of a creepy crawly is bugging you, (and you’re brave enough to get close and snap a photo), this app will use artificial intelligence to identify it for you. It boasts an accuracy rate of 95.28% and works on more than 1,000 types of insect. You can even have a consultation with an entomologist (that’s an insect expert to you and me).

Stretch your legs with these walking and hiking apps

Whether you’re a keen hiker or just want new ideas for leisurely strolls, why not limber up with these useful and inspirational apps?

Night skies

Star Walk 2
If you don’t know your Ursa Major from your Cassiopeia, don’t panic. This app shows you information about the stars, planets, constellations, comets, satellites, meteor showers and other astronomical phenomena around you in a really engaging way.

One of the most well-known augmented reality apps, Star Walk 2 taps into your smartphone’s sensors, camera and GPS to figure out where you are and what part of the night sky is visible through your phone’s camera. It then displays astronomical information onscreen that updates in real-time with your phone’s movements. Cosmic.



Created by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, bestselling author and founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society, this iOS-only app is a virtual guide to our grey skies. It covers 40 different cloud types from Cumulus to rare Noctilucent. Every time you spot a new cloud type, you unlock stars and achievements. You can even compete with other spotters. The perfect game for a British summer, after all.

And for recording your own sightings

iRecord App

If you want to contribute to conservation research, then you can with iRecord. Use this app to log your species sightings with GPS coordinates, descriptions and more, providing scientists with important new biodiversity information. Experts review sightings to screen for mistakes and data is shared with national and local recording schemes. Citizen science in action.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from Vodafone by following us on Twitter and signing up for News Centre website notifications.