Community Champion: Marcia Rae

OPAL Community Champion - Marcia RaeMarcia Rae
Inverness, Scottish Highlands

How are you using OPAL to make a difference in the community?

I used the OPAL Water Survey to work with local schools in Inverness to assess the quality of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). There are 40 SuDS ponds in the city and we wished to assess their benefit to biodiversity in the urban environment.

I assessed all of the sites that were holding water and local school children helped me with those that were located within walking distance of their schools. This allowed the children to explore a world that they may not have looked at before.

We discussed the life cycles of freshwater invertebrates and the importance of urban drainage ponds to reduce flooding. The majority of sites were very healthy and already supporting impressive invertebrate communities.

This work involved the children in science and the information gained from the surveys will help us to improve sites where water quality and biodiversity are lower. We hope to be able to encourage local communities to get the most out of these spaces, which at the moment are mostly ignored.

How did you first discover/ get involved with OPAL?

I first discovered OPAL when I was a volunteer leader with TCV in Fife. We carried out a number of Air Surveys in local country parks with volunteers. I then went on to use OPAL with school groups throughout the Highlands when I worked as a seasonal ranger at Aigas Field Centre.

What do you enjoy most about using OPAL resources/ what has been your favourite moment while using them?

I really enjoy the fact that they are so easy to use and so easily available from the website. This means that I can easily share them and encourage people to get involved.

My favourite moment has been watching the children’s faces and excitement when they found a “little monster” in a pond. They were always so happy to find the biggest, scariest great diving beetle or dragonfly larva and hear about how they were able to breath underwater.

Which is your favourite OPAL survey and why?

I have to say the Water Survey because there are so many amazing wee beasties to find!

Where is your favourite place to enjoy nature and why?

West coast of ScotlandThe great thing about nature is that you can enjoy it anywhere. 

The work that I have been doing this year has shown me just how much you can find in the city if you have the will to look. I have to admit I assumed that I would be feeling a little deprived working in the middle of the city. But I have discovered so many amphibians, butterflies and plants that I haven’t had time to wish I were anywhere else.

However I have to say my favourite part of Scotland has to be the West Coast because it feels so wild and different from the East. The white sandy beaches and rugged coastline with its incredible geology makes for a stunning landscape but it is also a great place to find White-tailed Eagles, Otters and Common Dolphins.

What is the most interesting/ unusual/ beautiful plant or animal you’ve ever seen?

Crab spider on pink flowerI once found a Crab Spider camouflaged on a pink and white orchid. This was in France when I was on a birding holiday. It was an amazing trip and I saw some incredible birds but the Crab Spider sticks in my mind because it was so unexpected. I only noticed it because I went to sniff the flower and it moved!

I never used to be a big fan of spiders but it was by far one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. It made me realise that there are a lot more incredible creatures out there that get overlooked.

Who/ what inspired you to work in your community?

All the people who shared nature and their knowledge of nature with me in the past. I did not realise it at the time but it was really important for me to have that connection. I grew up in Dunfermline in Fife and did not have the same connection to my local environment as I know people in the Highlands certainly do. It was just somewhere I lived and I didn’t really experience it.

It wasn’t until I was older and studied Countryside Management at College that I realised just how much there was to discover. I want to make sure that I pass that on. I want people who live in cities to know that nature is not something separate from them, or that they have to get in the car to find. It literally can be right there on their doorstep.

Elephant hawk-moth in gardenI remember finding an Elephant Hawk-moth on the kitchen windowsill one evening. I had no idea what it was but I had to find out. So I looked it up and discovered what it was and realised it must have come from the area of scrub at the end of the street. I will never forget what an Elephant Hawk-moth is because I discovered it for myself.

I want to inspire that in others. I want to help them discover nature in their own way and find out what it means to them.

What advice would you give to people who want to encourage their communities to get involved in science and nature?

Just do it. There are so many resources, particularly from OPAL, and help out there - all you really have to do is decide to get started and keep going.

Any funny stories from working with a group or any moments that made you proud?

The thing that made me proud working on this project was the fact that the teachers set aside their fears and prejudices about bugs to work with the children and learn about the invertebrates in the ponds. Some even learned to overcome their own misconceptions about aquatic invertebrates.

Also, discovering just how many drainage sites in Inverness are of good quality. The majority were not designed with biodiversity in mind so it is great to see that a good pond can be created even if it is not intended that way.

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 20 Community Champions, nominated by OPAL's team of Community Scientists from across the UK.