Celebrating citizen science for everyone at the OPAL Conference in Kew Gardens

“We are nature! It’s not out there, or over the wall. We are part of it.”

This was just on of the sentiments that emerged from OPAL’s conference held in the historic grounds of Royal Botanic Garden, Kew yesterday, 13th October 2016.  OPAL partners, collaborators and participants met for a day of discussions, talks and walks around the theme of ‘citizen science for everyone’.

The packed programme was kicked off by the Chair of the Big Lottery Fund, Peter Ainsworth, who announced that Big Lottery Fund was awarding OPAL a further £1.2 million.

The programme focused on a wide range of topics, providing insights into subjects ranging from stakeholder reflections on UK citizen science to capturing conservation information in the threatened forests of Madagascar. Delegates heard about how the citizen science community was growing internationally, through European, Australian and global citizen science associations.

Dynamic panel sessions anchored the day’s events, stimulating discussions around what motivates people to take part in citizen science, what lessons have been learnt from different approaches and their benefits for research and education, and where citizen science (and OPAL) may go in the future. With education, media, business, policy, research and community sectors all represented, a broad range of personal accounts, challenges and success stories were shared, mulled over, debated, and celebrated.

Conversations flowed into the lunchtime ‘Food for Thought’ citizen science trail around the Kew grounds, taking in the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the new Hive exhibit, an immersive structure that tells the story of the honey bee. Dotted en-route delegates took part in game show themed activities: ‘Citizen Science DIY SOS’ and ‘Citizen Science Million Pound Drop’. While a bit of fun, these exercises revealed that delegates believed that the loss of green space and biodiversity where they live was a key concern for local communities and that citizen science could help tackle these challenges through engagement of local people in local solutions. The most popular way that people would like to spend a million pounds (holidays aside!) was to support more face-to-face science education and awareness raising experiences with the public.

Approaching the tenth year of operation, OPAL had plenty to celebrate. From funding announcements; to the launch the new OPAL report ‘OPAL- Exploring Nature Together: Findings and Lessons Learnt’; to the achievements of the people that make OPAL what it is.  Special mention was given to Dr Linda Davies, the original OPAL Director who’s vision started the OPAL journey, and OPAL’s Community Champions, local people and community leaders who have become ambassadors for OPAL and citizen science and who lead and inspire others to learn about and enjoy nature.

This sentiment was captured eloquently by our final speaker of the day, Gardener’s World broadcaster and Guardian journalist Alys Fowler:

“Go out, be curious, turn around and tell other people.”

If you are interested in following the day’s events, please check out OPALs Twitter account @OPALnature #celebratingnature or read about BBC coverage of the event.