OPAL (Open Air Laboratories)

Boy looking through magnifying glassThe OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) project is a new partnership initiative funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund (£11.75 million) and co-coordinated by Imperial College London.

One of its major aims is to get research scientists working with local communities on local environmental issues.

Portfolio partners include nine universities such as Birmingham, Natural History Museum, Open University, Field Studies Council, Meteorological Office and the National Biodiversity Network.

The project will also work closely with the Environment Agency and many voluntary sector organisations. The portfolio has three major themes of particular environmental importance: biodiversity, pollution and climate.

Opal logo with a kingfisher bird shown in magnifying glassOPAL is an England-wide initiative which aims to inform, educate and support communities to explore, study and protect their environment through engagement with wildlife and habitats in their local area.

The OPAL project is a 5 year programme with a number of projects to stimulate local people to survey and get to know their local environment. It could involve one million people over the period. The first of five national surveys will be on soils and earthworms in March 2009 but others may include collecting data on ponds, air and climate.

Each region will be taking the lead for a particular theme and, in the West Midlands, the project will concentrate on the urban environment.

The regional co-coordinator for the project is Dr Jonathan Sadler of Birmingham University, well known for his nature walks through the city parks. He has a website with images of the changing seasons at Canon Hill Park and more information about OPAL.

Family in a parkMany urban dwellers will first meet with wildlife in their city’s open spaces. Research has shown that contact with green spaces has many health benefits for city dwellers, yet few people are aware of these, nor the diversity of wildlife on their doorsteps.

Cities are home to a wide range of organisms awaiting discovery. OPAL West Midlands aims to engage local communities in adopting, monitoring, understanding and enhancing biodiversity in their local patches, using five community-based local initiatives involving multiple stakeholders, e.g. local residents, park rangers, and school and university students.

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