Emma Straughan writes about her journey volunteering for the OPAL project in Scotland and her move into employment in the environmental sector.

I was afforded the opportunity to enrol as an OPAL and STEM Ambassador over a year ago. This came about as a result of OPAL’s Community Scientist reading a citizen science project I’d undertaken as part of my John Muir Award on the emergence of Spring in the proposed Seven Lochs Wetland Park entitled “Springing Into Action”, the main crux being the assessment of local frog populations as part of Froglife’s Dragon Finder Project.

Up until this point all the volunteering I had done with Scottish Canals, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland, the David Livingston Centre and primarily as a volunteer liaison officer with the Seven Lochs involved working with people over the age of 16. Volunteering with OPAL was a unique opportunity to volunteer with school children and bring environmental education in at the grass roots.

Any concerns I had were completely squashed on meeting Joanne Dempster, Glasgow City of Science/Glasgow Science Centre’s Community Scientist. She has been a great mentor providing an insight into the work of OPAL, plenty of enthusiasm to sustain the interest of the children and given excellent examples to overcome potential barriers in delivering environmental education to youngsters from a variety of backgrounds and abilities.

For the most part I have been involved in OPAL’s Soil Ecology, Air Survey and Tree Health Survey. The Soil Ecology survey highlighted to me never to underestimate the understanding children have as they taught me about earthworm ecology, in particular the number of hearts worms have. This ultimately proves that everyday is a school day even if you graduated years ago.

Joanne’s Worm Dance and Beastie Tai Chi were great methods to overcome the children’s excitement at being outdoors whilst still concentrating on the topic at hand.

One of my most unique experiences with OPAL was attending Glasgow Science Centre’s Halloween Fright Night. Armed only with a wolf costume I assisted on OPAL’s Mucky Monsters stall creating a variety of weird and wonderful germinating beasties with the younger children.

My experiences in delivering OPAL’s citizen science projects to school children in and around Glasgow has ultimately awarded me the opportunity in The Conservation Volunteers Natural Networks Traineeship as an Urban Rewilding Community Officer which I am genuinely grateful for. Whether it is with TCV or OPAL or a similar conservation body I hope I can continue to educate others on the importance of safeguarding biodiversity for the health of the UK environment as well as the human population inspiring others to do the same.




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