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Explore nature with York’s open air labs

Posted on 19 May 2015

The University of York is celebrating the expansion of the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) programme by encouraging people across Yorkshire to discover their local environment.

Led by Imperial College London, OPAL is a citizen science initiative that inspires communities to discover, enjoy and protect their local environment. Established in England in 2007, this month the scheme launches across the whole of the UK.

A range of wildlife groups, museums and universities, including the University of York, will work in partnership to deliver the programme’s citizen science activities, including six national environment surveys.

Alys Fowler, nature lover and gardening correspondent, is urging people of all ages and abilities to explore nature with the programme.  She said: “OPAL is a great way to find out about the nature right on your doorstep – wherever you live in the UK. It’s really easy to get started, you don’t need any previous knowledge or experience and it doesn’t matter if you live in the countryside or a city. Best of all, OPAL resources are free and available to download from, so you don’t have any excuses not to get involved!”

The expansion is made possible by a £3 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund, in addition to £15 million of lottery funding awarded to the project between 2007 and 2012.

The University of York is celebrating the expansion of OPAL at the Elsecar Heritage Centre in South Yorkshire on 23 May. Together with the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, they will host a training session in the morning and anyone can drop by in the afternoon to hear more about the project. 

Rachel Pateman, OPAL Community Scientist for Yorkshire and the Humber said: “We will give people the opportunity to get hands-on with nature and get a taste of the OPAL surveys.”

Roseanna Burton, Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership  Community Officer, added: “Drop by to hear about how the Landscape Partnership and OPAL are working together and tell us about the your favourite places for wildlife in the Dearne Valley.”

OPAL Director Dr David Slawson said: “We are very pleased to be able to roll out OPAL in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our activities have been very popular already, with more than 850,000 people taking part and submitting more than 55,000 records about their local environment.

“Not only are people learning more about their environment, but this valuable data is helping scientists learn a great deal about biodiversity in our country, especially in areas they would never normally be able to study, such as back gardens. We hope many more people will join in, explore nature and contribute to our knowledge of the environment across the whole of the UK.”

Further information:

  • The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network, led by Imperial College London, is a UK-wide partnership initiative that inspires communities to discover, enjoy and protect their local environments through citizen science-based activities. OPAL began in 2007, operating across England and funded by a Big Lottery Fund – Changing Spaces grant. Since January 2014, the programme has expanded to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland thanks to a further award from the Big Lottery Fund’s Supporting UK-wide Great Ideas programme. For more information, please visit or follow on Twitter @OPALNature
  • A full list of OPAL partners can be found at
  • The Big Lottery Fund (BLF) supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities across the UK. BLF are responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by the National Lottery and invest over £650 million a year in projects big and small in health, education, environment and charitable purposes.  Since June 2004 BLF have awarded over £6.5billion to projects that make a difference to people and communities in need, from early years intervention to commemorative travel funding for World War Two veterans.  Since the National Lottery began in 1994, £33 billion has been raised and more than 450,000 grants awarded.
  • Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) - From the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife, we use National Lottery players' money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about. The Heritage Lottery Fund ( has awarded a grant of almost £1.8m to Barnsley MBC FOR the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership. The DVLP will work from 2014-2019 to conserve, protect and enhance  the unique and varied landscape of the Dearne Valley. It will celebrate the wealth of the Dearne’s industrial heritage and rich wildlife sites, by reconnecting  communities with their local landscape. For more information, visit or follow on Twitter @discoverdearne.

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