Public Domain

Project of the Week #19: OPAL (Open Air Laboratories)

Today's Project of the Week, Open Air Laboratories or OPAL, is celebrating because they have reached 1 million participants. Congratulations!

What does this project do?
This is a UK citizen science project aimed at getting citizens involved in surveying their local environment, checking for wildlife, water pollution, newly introduced species, soil and earthworms, and indicators of air quality such as lichens and fungi on leaves. They provide detailed information packs for people wishing to take part in such surveys. The work is designed to be done in groups, such as schools, universities or volunteers (this makes taking measurements while noting them down much easier, as well as safer). Their aims include both scientific research and public engagement, and the plan is to monitor the environment across the whole of the UK.

What do I have to do?
Choose one of their many projects, download the information packs (available in Welsh and English), and record your results online.

For example, you might choose the "Polli:Nation" survey, checking for bees and other insects that pollinate flowering plants. In this case, the information pack would explain what pollinators are and why they are important, then show you how to survey first a habitat and then the pollinators themselves. You will be introduced to what a quadrat is, and have several useful pictures (as shown below) of what types of wildlife you should look out for. After you're done, you'd then fill out your results here.

Below: recording sheets will help you to identify plants and insects.

Where can I find out more?
Their website
OPAL on Twitter
OPAL on Facebook

What’s the Citizen Science Project of the Week?
Citizen Science Project of the Week is a regular Monday feature at Doing It Together Science. What project would you like to see featured? Please let us know on the contact form, Facebook page or email us at Please put "Project of the Week" in the subject line and send us a link to the project, some information about it and why you'd like it featured. If you want us to, we'll credit you and tag you on Facebook!

More details
You can view the results collected by OPAL volunteers so far here. This page will take you to options for how you want to view the results: there is a report, describing also what citizen science is and how effective and accurate it is, and then describing in qualitative terms some of the interesting findings from the surveys. Where New Zealand flatworms are thriving, there are fewer earthworms. You can get an accurate idea of the water quality of the whole pond from a finding at its shoreline, but this is not the case with a large lake. Gardens are the best spots for biodiversity, containing the highest numbers of species of earthworm, for example, though rural gardens do much better than urban. And those who remember our fourth Project of the Week on Conker Tree Science might not be surprised to hear that, of all the trees surveyed, horse chestnut trees seem to have the most diseases.

Below: the form for finding out more about local water quality.

Alternatively, you can go to their Data Explorer page, where you will be shown a zoomable map of the UK and visual representations of the results.

Speaking to us last week when the news about a million volunteers came through, Poppy Lakeman Fraser, OPAL's senior coordinator, told us:

"The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network is a UK-wide citizen science initiative that allows you to get hands-on with nature, whatever your age, background or level of ability. We develop activities and resources, including our national surveys, which allow you to get closer to your local environment while collecting important scientific data. Over the past 10 years over a million people have taken part, many of which are from communities classified as socio-economically deprived. People have picked up a survey pack and conducted monitoring in their local green space and/or worked with OPAL Community Scientists around the UK on bespoke activities. In the next phase of OPAL, we want to continue to work closely with communities on the subjects that matter to them, to not only generate useable data but to use the evidence to make local changes to their green spaces. This is why for our next campaign, we are passionate about supporting inspirational students at St Albans's Primary School in Havant in their Pollinator Promise, a drive to encourage people to sign up to create bee friendly habitats where they live."