Open Air Laboratories (OPAL)
What is the programme about?
Linda Davies, Open Air Laboratories Director based at Imperial College, London says:
'The OPAL programme was initiated by Imperial College London to encourage and support collaboration between policy makers, academics and the wider community to address issues of biodiversity, environmental degradation and climate change. Funded by Big Lottery Fund, OPAL comprises 31 fully integrated, multi-disciplinary research and public engagement projects which are managed by Imperial and delivered by the consortium with support from the Environment Agency, NERC and Defra.'
The project is funded by BIG Lottery Fund who awarded a grant to Imperial College London of £13 million through their Changing Spaces Grant Scheme (£200m in total). Over one hundred people work on the OPAL programme and thousands of people have taken part in OPAL activities, contributing a rich body of observational data that scientists could not have achieved alone and in the process gained new skills and knowledge about the environment where they live and work.
What will the programme do?
OPAL has five key objectives:
- To get more people outside observing and recording the world around them
- To develop an innovative and exciting environmental education programme for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds
- To inspire a new generation of environmentalists
- To encourage and support collaboration between community, voluntary and statutory sectors and academia
- To gain a greater understanding of the state of the environment.
“Being part of OPAL has provided us with a great opportunity to work with people outside the usual academic circles. It has meant challenges for us to explain our science to the public but the response, particularly to the water survey, has been fantastic,”
says Dr Neil Rose, OPAL Water Centre, University College London.
What tools are available?
- an informal educational pathway that explains our three topics (biodiversity, pollution and climate change) and provides interactive and downloadable materials for all ages, abilities and backgrounds
- free national survey packs on biodiversity, soil &earthworms, water, air, climate and bugs. For more info please visit http://www.opalexplorenature.org/surveys
- iSPOT – online social networking site to encourage and develop identification skills
- OPAL Weather Roadshow
- Climate change education programme
“The OPAL session gave us the opportunity to become more familiar with our local environment and opened our eyes to what is right on our doorstep,”
Teacher from New Moston Primary, Manchester
Links to policy and practitioners
The Environment Agency has a major role in assessing whether water bodies and courses are of an adequate quality under the EU Water Framework Directive. The studies being carried out by the OPAL Water Centre will provide detailed data to help the Environment Agency do that. OPAL has a number of national and regional research projects that are intended to involve local people. Staff from our national office, Evidence Directorate, Regions and Areas have been linked into these projects to help them deliver for the environment, local people and ourselves. The partners in OPAL have benefited the Environment Agency and helped to make links to other organisations and Environment Agency has been able to build more links to communities.
For example OPAL are looking out for Dikerogammarus villosus, 'the killer shrimp' and will report to the Environment Agency should they find it. In addition, the results of the OPAL national water survey will help inform their views for the Water Framework Directive.
PROGRAMME FACTS AND FIGURES
Start and end dates: 01/12/2007 to 30/11/2012
OPAL is delivered through a national network of universities, one in each region of England, together with the Natural History Museum, the Met Office, Field Studies Council, National Biodiversity Network (involving NERC-CEH), Royal Parks and the Open University. The project is led by Imperial College London.
OPAL is developing and delivering regional research programmes relevant to regional environmental issues and involving local people:
- South West: Moorlands (Plymouth University)
- South East: Traffic pollution (Imperial College London, Silwood Park)
- London: Climate change (Imperial College London - South Kensington)
- East of England: Orchards (Hertfordshire University)
- East Midlands: Heathlands (Nottingham University)
- West Midlands: Urban ecology (Birmingham University)
- Yorkshire and Humber: Brownfield (York University)
- North East: Industrial legacy of pollution (Newcastle University)
- North West: Social science: public engagement in environmental (University of Central Lancashire)