Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is a UK-wide citizen science initiative founded in 2007 that allows people to get hands-on with nature while contributing to important scientific research.
Concept and objectives
The OPAL concept involves taking experts into the heart of communities to explore and investigate the natural world with local people; exchanging knowledge, experience and skills while learning more about local wildlife and their habitats under changing environmental conditions. Citizens who participate can contribute data about their local environment via our national surveys (read more below) to research projects focusing on topics including environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and climate change. By bringing scientists, amateur-experts, local interest groups, policy makers and the public closer together, OPAL aims to form lasting relationships and ensure environmental issues of local and global relevance are discussed and investigated.
Partners and community scientist network
Although the programme is UK-wide, OPAL has a strong local focus and involves partners based across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Within each partner organisation, OPAL funds one or more Community Scientists who provide training and guidance to local communities to support them in participating in OPAL activities.
Through their work, Community Scientists build a network of enthusiastic volunteers eager to learn more about their local environment and to contribute to research on matters of important scientific concern. Each region also hosts a community scientists committee bringing together local and regional representatives from a wide range of organisations.
Surveys and resources
OPAL has designed a suite of field and desk-based activities that are suitable for all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and in particular, has launched a series of national biological surveys. These activities are designed to increase understanding of the natural environment through data collection covering wildlife and habitat conditions.
Each survey consists of an easy-to-follow set of instructions, a workbook to record results and species identification guides/keys. Partner organisations have collaborated in the design, delivery and adaptation of these surveys.
National and international links
OPAL is recognised at all levels of government, by RCUK through affiliation to Living With Environmental Change, within academia and by major organisations associated with the natural environment and in science education. Defra and the Environment Agency are associate partners.
In 2013, the OPAL management team was instrumental in establishing and launching the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), a Europe-wide mechanism to promote knowledge exchange and the development of public monitoring networks across the continent. The Secretariat has now transferred to the Natural History Museum in Berlin, Germany, and OPAL remains a key member of the association.