Open Air Laboratories (OPAL)

  • Burton, Agneta (PI)

Project: Research

Project Details


A collaborative programme of research and citizen science in the East of England was part of the England-wide Big Lottery-funded OPAL project coordinated by Imperial College ( Two main components: 1) training was provided for data collection by members of the public to contribute to 7 national surveys; 2) research into the distribution of epiphytic bryophytes and lichens on apple orchard trees (including some data collection by community groups) formed a PhD research project by Mari Whitelaw.
1) Data collection for the 7 national surveys (e.g. earthworms and soil quality, invertebrates in ponds, lichens on trees, tree health) was promoted to over 200 adult community groups and young people in the region. Data were submitted to central OPAL databases ( and incorporated in peer-reviewed papers prepared by the data centres.

2) The regional research project on orchard tree epiphytic mosses examined the species diversity and cover in relation to tree and orchard characteristics (influenced by orchard management). Research included detailed field surveys in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire orchards and laboratory experiments on spore germination and growth. Traditional orchards are recognised as a Priority Habitat in the UK and little research has been conducted into their ecology.

Key findings

(1) data are included in the outputs from the data centres (OPAL website)).

2) The diversity of epiphytic bryophyte species varied between orchards, with a few species occurring very widely, but their abundance being related to the structure and size of the trees. Multivariate analysis of the data showed the key factors both within and between orchards influencing diversity and cover and there were indications that not only different fruit tree species but also different varieties of apples supported different epiphytic bryophytes. Production of identification keys to orchard lichens and orchard mosses (published by the Field Studies Council) were developed alongside the research project to aid future surveys by non-specialists.

AcronymOPAL East
Effective start/end date1/12/0730/12/12


  • Big Lottery fund: £349,990.00


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