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Big Lottery announces new grant for OPAL

three schoolgirls in a park in autumn measuring the diameter of a tree with a measuring tape.

Peter Ainsworth, the Big Lottery Fund’s UK Chair, today announced that the Big Lottery Fund has awarded the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network a £1.2m grant to help put OPAL on the path to financial sustainability.  Big Lottery Fund will work with OPAL under the new grant, which commences in 2017, to develop financial sustainability plans and a new delivery approach that does not rely on indefinite Big Lottery funding.

Speaking today at OPAL’s “Citizen Science for Everyone” Conference at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Dr. Karen Kerr of the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work stated this was ‘very exciting news as more and more schools and organisations in Northern Ireland are using OPAL resources’.

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, reports 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 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.”