Discover, enjoy and help protect your local environment
21st May 2015
How healthy are the trees in your neighbourhood? Is the elusive tortoise shell butterfly a regular visitor to your garden? What invertebrates lurk under the water of your local pond? The Open Air Laboratories Programme (OPAL) wants people from across Scotland to go outside to discover, enjoy and help protect their local environment.
Since 2007, OPAL has operated in England where over 850,000 people have contributed to scientific research through its environment surveys. The programme is now expanding to other parts of the UK so whether you live in the vast open spaces of our Highlands, the busy cosmopolitans of our cities or along the rugged coasts - OPAL wants to hear from you.
Led by the Imperial College in London, OPAL collaborates with a range of organisations across the UK to deliver its citizen science activities. There are three regional bases in Scotland and in South West Scotland, OPAL partners the Field Studies Council and Glasgow City of Science. From her base at Glasgow Science Centre, OPAL Community Scientist Joanne Dempster has been working alongside the Centre’s education team to engage with schools and community groups in the area to encourage people of all ages to take part in the programme:
“Scotland has an abundance of fauna that call our local ponds, parks and woodlands home. You would be amazed by what creatures live in your back yard, and what we as scientists can learn from your garden guests. OPAL’s surveys allow you to learn about your environment and provide valuable data to help scientists learn a great deal about biodiversity of our country.
There are six different surveys to take part in that cover areas such as the health of our trees, the quality of the air and shapes of hedges. Taking part in the surveys is a great opportunity to get outdoors, have fun exploring your local environment whilst helping to protect it.”
To mark the launch of OPAL in Scotland, Joanne helped pupils at Battlefield Primary School take part in a tree health survey using the trees in their playground. Children from the school had a great time in the sunshine on Wednesday 20th of May, identifying trees using the shapes of their leaves, mini beast hunting to find out who calls their trees home and using maths to discover how old their trees are.
Citizen scientists have already used lichens to identify areas affected by air pollution and discovered that earthworm diversity is high in back gardens. The expansion of OPAL’s surveys now means scientists will be able to track the spread of invasive species, such as the damaging Chalara ash dieback disease, as well as find out more about the differences between urban and rural biodiversity.
Alys Fowler, nature lover and gardening correspondent, is urging people of all ages and abilities to explore nature with the OPAL programme. She said:
“OPAL is a great way to find out about the nature right on your doorstep – wherever you live in the UK”. “It’s really easy to get started; you don’t need any previous knowledge or experience and it doesn’t matter if you live in the countryside or a city. Best of all, OPAL resources are free and available to download from www.opalexplorenature.org right now, so you don’t have any excuses not to get involved!”
The expansion of OPAL into Scotland, and other parts of the UK, was made possible through a £3 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund. This comes on top of £15 million of lottery funding awarded to the project between 2007 and 2012.
OPAL Director Dr David Slawson said:
“We are very pleased to be able to roll out OPAL in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland today. Our activities have been very popular already, with more than 850,000 people taking part and submitting more than 50,000 records about their local environment. We hope many more people will join in, explore nature and contribute to our knowledge of the environment across the whole of the UK.”
A number of local events are being held to mark OPAL’s expansion across the UK, where people have been getting hands-on with nature and getting a taste of the surveys. People can find out about other OPAL events in their area at http://www.opalexplorenature.org/OPALActivities
To download resources and the citizen science surveys, please visit www.opalexplorenature.org
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