Cowslip observation boom in Europe

Warmer weather has finally made the cowslips bloom in Estonia, which is not just lovely to see but also of great interest to researchers. This spring, the citizen-science campaign “Estonia is looking for cowslips” launched in 2019 has spread throughout Europe. Led by researchers of the University of Tartu, the cowslip team now includes partners from 30 countries. Everyone is welcome to participate in the observations.

“We are delighted that the initiative has been so warmly received. In other parts of Europe, cowslips started to bloom already a few weeks ago, and so far, we have had especially active participation in Czechia, the United Kingdom and, in the past few days, also in Latvia,” said landscape ecologist and leader of the campaign Tsipe Aavik. In total, more than 2,000 observations have been made already: 1,420 directly via the page and 650 in the nature observation application used in the United Kingdom. “Around the Baltic Sea, the cowslip has only started to bloom, so many more observations are expected to be done in the following weekends. I am hoping that Estonians will also prove themselves and do as many observations as they did in the past two years,” said Aavik, inciting some competition.

The common cowslip is a good species for such a survey, providing indirect estimates of the state of the landscapes and biodiversity. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the project: all you need to do is simply look into one hundred cowslip flowers in one location, count the different types of flowers and forward this information to researchers via the website “No prior knowledge is needed. There are two types of cowslips and with the help of the website, it is very easy to differentiate between the two,” Aavik added. The cowslip grows all over Estonia, it can be found in grasslands and forest edges but is more numerous in coastal areas and at roadsides. It is best to use a smart device for observation, but paper and a pen will do. Observations can be done as long as the cowslips are in bloom. Cowslips need not be injured or picked for the observation: turning the flower towards you is enough.

Under the leadership of University of Tartu researchers and with the help of Estonian cowslip observers, a scientific article was written based on the data collected in 2019, presenting the first surprising results of the study. In viable cowslip populations, the proportion of the two flower types are mostly equal, but the extensive citizen-science project indicated that one flower type is slightly more common. It was also found that it is the smaller cowslip populations that are out of balance, making these populations more vulnerable. “These results are very exciting in the context of basic natural science research and need further research also due to important nature conservation outputs. The larger the territory of the research, the better the overview”, said Tsipe Aavik.

Today, the opening event of Estonia’s observations took place at Tallinn Botanic Garden, where the cowslips were observed together with researchers.

For more information about the campaign, see and

Further information: Tsipe Aavik, Associate Professor of Landscape Ecology of the University of Tartu, leader of the research initiative,
+372 516 1187,