Tree surveys and twitter takeovers – work experience with OPAL

By Sorcha Leavey
Work experience student

In June I spent a week doing work experience with OPAL, based at Imperial College London in the Centre for Environmental Policy.

Every day leaving South Kensington station I was welcomed with a lively buzz around the University buildings. At 10am on the first day, I arrived at the campus and went upstairs to the OPAL office. After meeting the friendly OPAL team and having a tour of the surrounding area it was time to start working!

Close-up of Horse Chestnut bleeding cankerThroughout the week I worked with the team to get an insight of how OPAL works. Imperial has led the OPAL project since its beginning in 2007 and aims to work towards a better understanding of the environment. Through citizen science, OPAL staff want people to spend time outside and explore their local area in order to collect results on the condition of the natural environment.

Through sending out surveys to schools and community groups all around the UK, it became clear that the Bugs Count Survey was most popular. It was amazing to see that so many people are looking into improving their local area and supporting OPAL.

On Wednesday it was my turn to do some fieldwork; Dr Poppy Lakeman Fraser and I headed out into the ‘secret garden’ behind the office to do the Tree Health Survey (although I did see a few spiders...). To my surprise I discovered that the tree had a disease – Horse Chestnut bleeding canker. This can lead to the tree's death. From just one afternoon, I was more aware of how trees are affected by disease.

Towards the end of the week I enjoyed doing a ‘digital takeover’. I spent time on OPAL's Twitter and Facebook accounts to communicate with the public and well-known organisations like the Environment Agency and Defra. Fittingly, it was National Insect Week so there was plenty to read, from new species being found to videos about why insects are important.

The five days went quickly but were good fun. Perhaps in the future I will come back to the OPAL office with a full time job and have more exciting opportunities to help improve and sustain our natural environment.

Enjoyed this? Read our other work experience blog: In at the deep end – work experience with OPAL