Community Champion: Ali Cush

Ali CushAli Cush
Inchinnan, Renfrewshire

How are you using OPAL to make a difference in the community?

We have been using OPAL to enhance the outdoor learning sessions Rangers deliver in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, and promote them to teachers as well as groups completing their John Muir Awards in the National Park. 

How did you first discover/get involved with OPAL?

A wee while ago, the OPAL weather survey was used as a great resource to capture data during the UK National Parks MICCI Project – a peatland restoration educational programme. This neat package contained all the information and resources to undertake the survey, which was very innovative. I was instantly a fan!

What do you enjoy most about using OPAL resources / what has been your favourite moment while using them?

To be honest, the first thing I enjoy is tearing open the package and finding out what resources and ‘goodies’ are inside – it brings a smile to my face. 

Which is your favourite OPAL survey and why?

The worm dance in actionI’d have to say the OPAL Soil Survey could be my current favourite – out of the surveys I have used. During the wonderful training delivered by the Field Study Council and The Conservation Volunteers, I got to legitimately do a dance to charm the worms out of the ground – and it even worked!

Where is your favourite place to enjoy nature and why?

I have to say Inchcailloch, the island on Loch Lomond and part of the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve. It is a fantastic jewel of a place, no matter the season or the weather you always have an inspiring day there. Taking others to experience this special place makes you value it more, passing on the inspiration for others to share. Its oak woods are draped with lichens and mosses, and it is home to a huge variety of things. In spring the bluebells form nature’s best carpet. 

What is the most interesting/unusual/beautiful plant or animal you’ve ever seen?

A pygmy shrew I saw once was an amazing wee powerhouse of a creature! A non–stop insectivorous ingesting machine.

What advice would you give to people who want to encourage their communities to get involved in science and nature?

Don’t be put off, challenge yourself to give it a go as you’ll be amazed at how much you will enjoy it. There are so many partners who will be delighted to help you; there is a great network of support out there ready to help out. 

Any funny stories from working with a group or any moments that made you proud?

Worm sketchI think maybe the best thing is promoting the OPAL surveys to teachers through Career Long Professional Learning (CLPL), then hearing how they have used the surveys to deliver outdoor learning back at their school grounds or on other sessions they have led.

It’s also great to see the Rangers and the Volunteer Rangers who have received the OPAL survey training benefiting from the experience, and now passing on their knowledge when they support schools and groups to learn about the National Park.

Finally, it’s a great outcome of a training session to see the impact of the learning from a personal perspective – see right for my worm sketch (before and after the soil survey). I learnt about the saddle and how to tell which end is the head (and note no smiley face in the bottom sketch).

Follow Ali on Twitter: @Cush_Ali

About OPAL Community Champions

The OPAL Community Champions scheme aims to acknowledge the contribution made by individuals to the OPAL network, to thank people for their efforts, and to act as an inspiration for others.

Over the next few weeks and months we'll be profiling 20 Community Champions, nominated by OPAL's team of Community Scientists from across the UK.