New grant will allow citizen science network to bring people closer to nature


Children exploring nature in a garden, holding magnifying glasses

A UK-wide network that allows the public to get closer to their local environment has received a £1.2m boost from the Big Lottery Fund.

Peter Ainsworth, UK Chair of the Big Lottery Fund, revealed new funding for the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), based at Imperial, in his keynote speech at their conference on Thursday 13th October at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

The grant will enable the OPAL network to develop a long-term financial sustainability plan so it can continue to inspire communities, and particularly young people, to discover, enjoy and protect local environments through citizen science-based activities.

Ainsworth said: “The natural environment is fascinating to explore and there’s no better place to start than right on your doorstep. The OPAL Network gives people the chance to unearth their inner scientist with expert-led events and resources that everyone can get involved in. We support projects that empower communities and great initiatives like this encourage everyone to discover, enjoy and protect their local environments”.

The announcement coincided with the publication of a report: “OPAL – Exploring Nature Together - Findings and Lessons Learnt”, which highlights the impact and community benefits of OPAL’s work. The report highlights findings from the citizen science investigations carried out by the public, and shares lessons learnt on using a citizen science approach. Highlights include:

  • In the latest phase of OPAL over 3,700 teachers have been trained to deliver outdoor learning and over 21,000 school children from inner cities, remote rural communities or in areas of high deprivation have had the opportunity to explore their local environment and appreciate the relevance of the natural world to their lives
  • In just a year, the most recent OPAL mini-survey on the New Zealand Flatworm has received over 1,200 submissions, providing scientists with useful data to on the spread of this invasive species that feeds on our native earthworms

OPAL Director, Dr David Slawson, form the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Since OPAL began in 2007 nearly 1 million people, many from disadvantaged communities, have benefited from exploring their local nature through OPAL activities.

“This additional funding from Big Lottery gives us a fantastic opportunity to develop new funding sources and new ways of working so that OPAL can continue to deliver these benefits to society.”


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

Click to expand or contract

Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 2412

Show all stories by this author