Community Champion: Paula Murdoch

Paula Murdoch
Glasgow, Scotland

How did you first hear about or come across OPAL?

I met Joanne Dempster, the OPAL community scientist based at the Science Centre in Glasgow, when I was looking for ways to involve volunteers at The Hidden Gardens with environmental surveying and recording the benefits of the work they carry out at The Hidden Gardens.

What made you want to use/work with the OPAL project in particular?

I work with volunteer groups at The Hidden Gardens in Pollokshields. As well as learning gardening skills we spend time exploring, investigating and enjoying the outdoor environment. I think that taking part in surveys is a great tool to engage people in environmental issues and nature, and being part of a bigger project makes it particularly relevant.

What do you enjoy most about using the OPAL resources/What has been your favourite part of working with OPAL?

The resources are easy to follow and use, but also full of information. For me, knowing that the results are part of national surveys gives a real value to taking part and shows the benefit of all the wildlife gardening we do at The Hidden Gardens and elsewhere.

Which is your favourite OPAL survey and why?

Volunteers from The Hidden Gardens went along to Queens Park in Glasgow to carry out the lichen air quality survey. It was a very wet day, forecast to stay wet all day, and I wondered whether we should cancel, or if anyone would turn up, but everyone did brave the weather. Under Joanne’s guidance we all became fascinated by the various lichens, and the distribution throughout the park, depending on the proximity of the trees to major roads. Watching everyone getting up close to the trees with magnifiers and working together to identify the lichens, filling in results and not noticing the weather, was brilliant. It was a highlight for the volunteers and many of them said they had carried on looking at lichens in other areas, and sharing newfound knowledge with friends.

I have to admit that since taking part in the OPAL lichen survey I now check out every tree I pass for lichens and do a quick assessment of air quality!

How are you using OPAL in your community?

It’s a great way to introduce people to scientific research, particularly those who might never have done any surveying, or studied their environment up close. 

What is special about the area and/or community you work in?

The Hidden Gardens is a very special sanctuary garden located in the heart of Glasgow. The area around The Hidden Gardens is one of the most diverse communities in Scotland, and at The Hidden Gardens we aim to promote understanding between people of all cultures, faiths and backgrounds and celebrates our shared love of nature.

In addition to being a beautiful greenspace where people can relax away from the busy city streets, the Gardens is a place of learning and exchange; a place where people can come together and share stories, skills and histories.

We have produced a Biodiversity Action Plan for the gardens and continually work towards gardening for the benefit of wildlife and the environment, sharing our knowledge with volunteers and visitors. By taking part in wildlife and environmental surveys, not only do we discover more about our garden, but we also contribute to a wider understanding of gardening for wildlife and visibly demonstrate the valuable contribution volunteers are making.

Is there a person, place or animal that inspired you to work with nature?

My allotment is my inspiration to pass on my enthusiasm for nature to others. It is in the middle of Glasgow but is always so full of life; birds, bees, foxes, butterflies and it makes me realise the importance of green space in cities for wildlife and the people who live there.

Do you have a favourite animal, plant or fungi and what makes it your favourite?

I can’t choose one! But I love watching bumblebees at the Hidden Gardens and at my allotment, from the common carders to the red-tailed bumblebees, then the huge queen bees emerging in spring. It makes me appreciate that the flowers, hedges and herbs between my fruit and veg, are an important part of my plot.

What advice would you give to people wanting to encourage others to get involved in science and nature?

Get out there and look up close at anything from birds to bumblebees, lichens to flowers. People are often reluctant, thinking it’s not for them or that it’s too hard to take part. But when they begin to look at something like bumblebees and discover that there are many different species, and that they can begin to tell some of them apart, then they can begin to piece together a bigger story; which flowers do different bees prefer, which ones are first to appear after rain, pollen sacs on females, males don’t sting, then there’s solitary bees, hoverflies mimicking bees ….eventually everyone is hooked and sharing their knowledge with friends and family.

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 our Community Champions who are nominated by OPAL's team of Community Scientists from across the UK.