Community Champion: Rebecca Cairns

Rebecca CairnsRebecca Cairns
Stirling, Scotland

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

Over the past year working as a Discovering Nature Trainee with TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) I have been working with community groups within the Inner Forth/Central Belt region in Scotland. My main role has been to engage with different community groups to encourage them to use and explore their local green spaces.  

OPAL has been a fantastic resource for me to use with community groups and schools during my traineeship. Not only are the OPAL surveys educational and easy to use, they are a great tool for learning and discovering more about the nature and wildlife within local green areas, and are ideal for group activities.

How did you first discover/ get involved with OPAL?

I have always been really interested in wildlife/environmental recording and I think citizen science is a fantastic way to obtain records across vast distances. Most importantly, it allows anybody who is interested to be involved. 

I first discovered OPAL at the beginning of my traineeship with TCV last year in 2014, which was the year OPAL first launched in Scotland. 

As well as researching and getting the relevant OPAL information and downloadable material from the website, I was fortunate enough to be working alongside Amy Styles, the OPAL Community Scientist based with TCV in Stirling who gave me OPAL training when I started and provided me with OPAL survey packs for me to use with groups.

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

Learning to ID pond invertebratesI like how the OPAL surveys give you clear, step-by-step guidelines and instructions for each of their surveys. 

I enjoy using them so much because they provide you with all of the relevant information along with useful ID guides which you can keep for life.

For my work, I carry out a lot of pond dipping sessions with groups and schools to see what water invertebrates we can find. 

Some of my favourite moments while using the OPAL surveys have been during these sessions – the groups are always fascinated to learn about how different water invertebrates show signs of healthy or poor water quality. 

Which is your favourite OPAL survey and why?

Rebecca at lichen survey eventMy favourite OPAL survey is definitely the Air Survey, looking and studying the different lichens on trees. 

Previous to taking part in this survey, I had no idea that you could tell how clean/polluted the air is by looking at the lichens on nearby trees. Now, I can’t walk past a tree without having a quick look to see if there are any nitrogen ‘loving’ or ‘hating’ lichens on it!

Where is your favourite place to enjoy nature and why?

Vipers bugloss flower

My favourite place to enjoy nature is a place near to where I grew up in East Lothian: Gullane Bents beach. I love the coast and I try to visit this beach whenever I visit home. 

There is a mix of rock pools and long stretches of sand. Impressive sand dunes lie behind the beach, where you can often get lost while wondering the different trails. 

As well as many seashells and marine creatures on the beach, the dunes are home to a colourful range of wildflowers (my favourite being Viper’s Bugloss), birds nesting within the sea buckthorn, and an incredible diversity of invertebrates: butterflies and moths, spiders, bees, beetles and grasshoppers to name a few!

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

Hawksbill turtle returns to the seaIn 2004 I was on holiday with my family in Sri Lanka. For part of the trip we stayed in a beach resort on the south coast of the country. 

Sea turtles were known to use that stretch of beach to lay their eggs and during our stay a whole batch of eggs hatched.

They hatched early in the morning, and due to a high chance of bird predation at that time, they were collected and put into buckets of water for the day.

They were absolutely amazing (not to mention cute!) and I had the chance to see them and hold them. I remember that one fell asleep on my hand. 

Later on in the day, we released the baby sea turtles onto the beach and watched them as they made their way to the sea. 

It was an incredible experience and they are without a doubt the most interesting and beautiful animal that I have ever seen.

Who/ what inspired you to work in your community?

TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) are the people who really inspired me to work within my community.  

I really wanted to work in the conservation/environmental sector and it was at TCV where I learnt that involving communities is key in conservation. 

Conserving local green spaces and nature is equally as important for biodiversity as it is for the local community who visit these places every day.

I wanted to share my interests and knowledge of exploring the outdoors to the communities staying within the same area.

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

Keep at it!  Some people who may not seem interested simply might not understand the benefits or even the real point of it. 

If you can, try to arrange a small meeting where you can talk about why citizen science is important and about the different benefits and advantages that come with it. Ask them for their ideas and interests too.

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.