Plumbridge, County Tyrone
How are you using OPAL to make a difference in the community?
I use OPAL with monthly wildlife clubs that I lead. I find them useful to focus children on one aspect of the natural world for that session. Young people love science when it is hands on and even better if it is outside. The surveys can work well with a mixed age group which my clubs often are. Older children can act as readers and scribes and the younger children can take directions to do or observe.
I also use OPAL to engage teachers in using the outdoors for education programmes. Through my work at Faughan Valley Landscape Partnership we have trained 12 teachers in Forest Schools and they have gained accreditation for this. The surveys are useful activities for the teachers to use at their regular Forest School sites as they are often looking for new ideas.
How did you first discover / get involved with OPAL?
I first came across OPAL two years ago when I discovered it online and I used the hedgerow survey with a group of adult learners. I was delivering a Farm Habitat Management Unit through a BTEC Level 3 Countryside Management course.
What do you enjoy most about using OPAL resources / what has been your favourite moment while using them?
I enjoy the colourful guides and the fact that you can upload your data to be used by OPAL scientists in UK wide surveys. The kids all love getting their hands dirty in the soil survey, as do I!
Which is your favourite OPAL survey and why?
Although it is difficult at times to identify lichens I enjoy the air quality survey as it is a new one for me. Even if we can’t identify or be sure, it is fun trying and we learn alot about lichens and air quality.
Where is your favourite place to enjoy nature and why?
The Sperrin Mountains are my favourite place as I grew up farming there and still do so today, although in a different area of it. It is one of the most impressive landscapes in Northern Ireland with brilliant views from Sawel and Dart and along the Glenelly Valley. I love the blanket bog and heathland habitats found there. Unfortunately not alot of people realise what is on their doorstep and not enough people get into the hills to enjoy it. Perhaps OPAL should do a sphagnum survey?
What is the most interesting/unusual/beautiful plant or animal you’ve ever seen?
My great love is the sundew plant which we have on our own farm. It is so tiny it is easily missable on the bogs but it's so impressive and beautiful as one of our native insectivore plants.
Who/what inspired you to work in your community?
I have always loved nature and I have volunteered and worked in conservation since I have been 16. I think growing up in Park, a village in the Sperrins with access to Learmount Forest, the river Faughan and the hills inspired this, and of course my Dad who took me farming! I love working with children, and seeing their reaction to nature keeps it fresh for me.
What advice would you give to people who want to encourage their communities to get involved in science and nature?
Just do it, start a wildlife club. It might only meet monthly but you will get as much out of it as the kids will.
About OPAL Community Champions
The OPAL Community Champions scheme aims to acknowledge the contribution made by individuals to the OPAL network, to thank people for their efforts, and to act as an inspiration for others.
Over the next few weeks and months we'll be profiling our Community Champions who are nominated by OPAL's team of Community Scientists from across the UK.