Lottery funding of £11.7 million has been awarded to an environmental project known as Open Air Laboratories (OPAL).
The OPAL network is an England-wide initiative designed to inspire and support communities to explore, study, enjoy and protect their local environment through engagement with some of the country's leading scientists.
Over the next five years sixteen OPAL partners, including the Natural History Museum, The Open University, Imperial College and nine regional universities, will run projects based on the needs and priorities of the local communities. It will be the first community-led study of the natural world around us.
'We urgently need to know more about the quality of our local environments,' says Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum. 'OPAL will provide the training, practical experience, tools and support needed for communities to record the plants, animals and fungi in their local environments.'
Communities will set up sites, or 'laboratories', where they will learn about their environment. Laboratories could be anything from a window box growing a single plant to a sports field from where soil samples are taken.
Information collected will be shared via an interactive website, and will help build a picture of the quality and biodiversity of local areas.
'Communities will be empowered to play a major role in the assessment and monitoring of local water, soil and air quality which in turn will raise awareness of wider environmental issues such as climate change and how all these aspects are related to the health and well-being of society,' adds Dr Dixon.
'If we are to take full advantage of the opportunities for improving the quality of life offered by scientific knowledge and discovery, it is crucial that we bring scientists and the public closer together to explore issues such as the quality of local environment.'
OPAL funding officially starts on 1 October 2007 and will be fully launched to the public in Spring 2008, so stay tuned for further information.