How are you using OPAL to make a difference in the community?
Doing the surveys over 12 months in the same area was a great way to use the identification cards and see the changes in the ecosystem through the season which, as a student studying ‘A’ level science subjects, was a great way to get outdoors to do some real-world science. And as part of the Skills section of a Duke of Edinburgh award, participating in the OPAL surveys is a great way to gain practical skills that anyone can do by following the guide.
How did you first discover OPAL?
Living close to Cheltenham, I attended the Cheltenham Science Festival with my Mum some years ago, and there was an OPAL stand. Mum picked up the details on a survey we could do in the garden, which turned out to be the “OPAL Air Survey”. Now Mum is always looking at lichen colour wherever we go!
Since then Mum has been receiving emails from OPAL about what is going on, so when I had been thinking about what I could do for my gold Duke of Edinburgh Award Skills section, I remembered this. It has been great to be involved in.
What do you enjoy most about using OPAL resources
It is simple, practical science, producing real data, which someone somewhere actually takes and builds into part of a bigger picture, which simply could not be achieved without everyone who participates.
What has been your favourite moment while using them?
Sampling from the Water Survey produces all sort of weird creatures that you can get an understanding for by using the identification sheets to know what you are looking at.
Which is your favourite OPAL survey and why?
They are all great fun and turn up all sorts of things, however if I have to choose one it has to be the Soil Survey. What a great excuse to get hands (and the rest) covered in mud, and you can come home saying it was all in the name of science.
Where is your favourite place to enjoy nature and why?
Croagh Patrick, County Mayo, Ireland, which is about as far west in Ireland as you can go. It is exposed to everything the Atlantic can throw at it, and from the top (762m high) on a clear day you can look out across the Drumlins of Clew bay and down across the scree slopes, but once you drop down to the vegetation level you find that hidden in the grass are these amazing sundews and the place is alive with amphibians.
What is the most interesting, unusual or beautiful plant or animal you’ve ever seen?
The plant that has made the most impression on me is Gunnera manicata. This is probably as a result of a photograph that was taken of me when I was 2 years old in Cornwall somewhere on the Lizard Peninsula, where it looks as if I am sat on this huge leaf. It must have been almost 2m across, since then I have always been interested in these plants wherever I find them.
Who or what inspired you to work in your community?
My parents from day one would be on a forest path, scrambling over rock pools or hiking up some hill, or just out in the garden showing me what was there, so when I started my Duke of Edinburgh award I was able to apply these experiences when doing the expedition elements. I would love to have the knowledge to forage edible wild plants for food, but you have to be so aware of what you are looking at. Being able to mix all this with the OPAL survey and be able in turn to share this knowledge is great.
What advice would you give to people who want to encourage their communities to get involved in science and nature?
Just do it. It is a great way to investigate nature in your garden, big or small, or in any bit of open space (parks, woodlands, fields ...) to find out what is really going on. And each time you go out invite a friend along. Even if you feel that you found nothing it will be a great trip out and in the big picture it tells the OPAL scientists information, so just follow the step by step guide, submit your survey findings and be part of a science project the size of the UK.
Anything else you may feel is relevant - Funniest survey moment?
I was very lucky to get some Climate surveys done before it closed (maybe it will be back one day), however chasing bubbles through woodland is perhaps not the most well-thought-out thing to do: trying to keep track of the big soap bubble floating along, while stepping over whatever was on the ground - yes eventually it had to happen, a tree just jumped straight into my path. Not sure who took longer to recover me or my friend, I’m just pleased he did not have the camera to hand.