OPAL runs a fun science day in Newcastle

OPAL ran a fun science day with a serious purpose in Newcastle upon Tyne last month.

Around 200 local people joined in the fun at a family apple day and science day in Nuns Moor Park, Newcastle upon Tyne on Saturday 17 October.

Local groups Greening Wingrove, Change 4 Life and Sustrans ran an apple and spoon race, a longest apple peel competition, and Dr Bike from Sustrans checked out the condition of people’s bikes.

People also took part in a series of engaging science activities run by OPAL scientists.

They identified trees, measured their height and girth, mapped some different land uses in the park, got their hands into the soil to determine soil type and even told us what they thought of the park: what they enjoyed most; what they enjoyed least and the one thing they would like to change.

Measuring trees at Nuns Moor Park

Question: Which part of the park do you use most and why?

  • "At the band stand we do role play and singing"
  • "We make a point of walking through every day"
  • "The playground, because of the toys!"

Soil activity at Nuns Moor Park

Question: Is there an area of the park that you actively avoid and why?

  • "The sensory garden is always locked, we'd like to use that more"

Collaborative mapping activity at Nuns Moor Park

Question: If you could change one area of the park, where would that be and how would you change it?

  • "We'd like a wildlife garden near the play park, to play in the long grass and use your imagination, and a place where the kids can dig"
  • "Expand the playground"

Parks under threat

In addition to being fun, there was a serious side to the events too. Parks in our towns and cities are under threat. There is increasing demand for housing and local authority budgets are under serious pressure.

But parks matter. They are oases for nature, part of our national heritage, bring communities together, improve our physical health and our mental well-being, regulate water temperature and noise, and provide jobs. However, these many benefits are never fully appreciated because they are difficult to measure and people may simply not be aware of them.

Well, the people of Wingrove, Newcastle upon Tyne, made a start at generating some of this much-needed information. For example, data from the tree height and girth measurements were taken, plugged into a clever calculator - ‘Treezilla’ - to provide a very rough estimate of the annual nature benefits provided by all the trees in Nuns Moor Park, and the results are amazing:

  • Greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide was reduced by over 69,000 kgs equivalent to the emissions from 145 cars
  • Water: 2.8 million litres were conserved equivalent to 1.1 Olympic-sized swimming pools
  • Energy: nearly 385,000 kWh conserved equivalent to 3.4 million kettles boiled
  • Air quality: 367 kgs of pollutants removed equivalent to 1 month’s emissions from a single clean power station
  • Money: all of these benefits are worth nearly £24,000 a year!

Ecosystem services poster for Nuns Moor Park

What next?

Engaging local people to help generate data on the value of nature (‘ecosystem services’) provided by parks will:

  • Enable parks to be managed better and their condition improved
  • Safeguard the heritage and recent investment in parks by providing evidence to inform planning decisions
  • Provide people with new skills of observation, assessment, monitoring and reporting
  • Create a new cadre of people to champion their parks
  • Protect the environment and wildlife of parks
  • Boost the local economy (local businesses and local authorities) and improve people’s physical and mental health

OPAL will now review the information obtained on the day and seek partners and funders to support a nationwide public engagement project to enable local people, volunteer groups and local authorities, to better appreciate the true value and benefits of their parks, and to understand what they can do collectively to protect and improve them.

Remember, parks really do matter