Become a citizen scientist in your woodland with Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network

Posted on October 6, 2015 by

Want to learn a bit more about your local environment, get out of the house, have fun and take part in an important national scientific survey? Here Bob Griffiths, OPAL Community Scientist and associate member of Llais y Goedwig gives an overview of the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network, and how community woodlands can benefit from getting involved.

What is the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network?

The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network, is a National Lottery funded, UK-wide citizen science initiative that allows you to get hands-on with nature, whatever your age, background or level of ability.

OPAL offers high quality reusable resources, training and other support to enable community groups and individuals to carry out up to 6 different surveys using easy to identify indicator species.

These surveys were developed by a number of organisations and universities, to enable the general public to gather data, which will be collated and will help produce a snapshot of the state of the environment in the UK and could also help demonstrate wider environmental variations, such as climate change or species adaptation.

Surveying your community woodland

Whilst it should be possible to carry out any one of the surveys in woodland , the Tree Health, Air and Biodiversity Surveys are particularly suited to undertaking in a community woodland.


The Tree Health Survey

Tree Health Survey – this survey was recently developed as a response to the latest threat of disease to oak and ash trees, but covers a large number of pests and diseases found on a number of trees.

The survey can be used to engage members of the public, the tree guide is designed to help identify common trees found in UK woodlands. It also shows an innovative method of measuring the height of trees. The formal survey will record details of the trees and any evidence of pests and diseases, once completed the results can be uploaded to our website, and as well as contributing valuable scientific data, any potential sightings of the most harmful diseases will be investigated by Forest Research.

The Air Quality Survey

The Air Quality Survey studies Lichens on Trees to monitor levels of Nitrogen pollution. The Lichens chosen are reasonably easy to identify indicator species, some of which are tolerant to Nitrogen pollution in the form of Ammonia, Nitrogen Dioxide, and Nitrogen Oxide; others which are Nitrogen intolerant are indicators of low levels of pollution

The Biodiversity Survey

The Biodiversity Survey looks at life in Hedgerows, and is particularly good to do in the autumn, whilst fruit is present, but before leaf drop.

The other current surveys are:-

  • Bug Count (finding and recording small invertebrates)
  • Water Quality (looking at creatures living in ponds and lakes)
  • Soil Quality (using earthworm species as indicators)
  • New Zealand Flat Worm (the latest survey to be developed, to monitor the presence of this non- native invasive species which preys on our native Earthworms).

Who can do these surveys?

These surveys are suitable for all ages and abilities, and are designed to be easily repeatable, allowing groups to monitor the wildlife in their local area over a long period, or compare a number of sites within their local area.

Want to run surveys in the woods?

Speak to myself here at OPAL team to order our range of bilingual resources, and look at training options to help carry out surveys in your woodland. I work in Welsh or English.

My contacts are – 01248 672680 / 07786 634951 or

OPAL in Wales is being run by a partnership between Cofnod (The North Wales Local Records Centre), the North Wales Wildlife Trust and the National Museum of Wales, who employ a network of Community Scientists to work to support community groups in their regional area.


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