Early this week the Natural History Museum launched a new project in the hopes of engaging future bio-scientists. The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) will allow members of the public to take part in scientific surveys in their local area – even in their own back gardens.
The first of these surveys kicks off in March 2009, and will see people up and down the country hunting for earthworms. For such a common feature of gardens everywhere, surprisingly little is known about the wriggly creatures and the soil that makes their home.
You can reserve your survey pack at the OPAL website. It will contain a guide to performing the survey, along with a chart of common earthworm types for easy identification. Results can will be entered on to the website and instantly be added to an interactive map, where you’ll be able to view other people’s findings as well. It’s mostly aimed at schools and community groups, but individuals can register as well.
The OPAL project has been awarded £11.7 million by the Big Lottery Fund, in order to encourage people to spend more time outdoors and exploring their local environments. Future surveys will cover air, water, biodiversity and climate. My home away from home, Imperial College, will be collecting the data gathered during the project and present it for publication in 2012. These will take the form of a formal scientific report and a more accessible format for those who took part.
So, if you fancy hunting for worms and doing a bit of science, reserve your survey pack and be ready to get your hands dirty!