17 Jun 2010

How sweeping your hedge can help scientists protect important wildlife havens

Nature can no longer be expected to fend for itself

Nature can no longer be expected to fend for itself

From September 2010, Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is asking people all over England to ‘sweep’ the nation’s hedges so that the condition of these important habitats can be mapped for conservation. The OPAL Biodiversity Survey, led by The Open University, aims to find out more about the importance of hedges to nature by asking people to identify the insects that live in them and record what they find. Sweeping with a brush and a white sheet is an effective and commonly used method of collecting the creatures that call hedges their home, and scientists hope the findings will help them locate thriving hedge hotspots across the country.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, a complex jigsaw made up of plants, animals and their habitats. Hedges are an important habitat and can support a wide diversity of life in all kinds of rural and urban locations. The survey is part of OPAL’s contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity, a 2010 UN initiative aiming to help people discover the connections between themselves and the natural world around them.

Jonathan Silvertown, Professor of Ecology at The Open University and head of the OPAL Biodiversity Observatory, says: “The biodiversity crisis is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. We might well be able to survive with a fraction of the species that currently provide us with benefits of all kinds, but is that really the future we would choose for our descendants? If not, we need to face up to the fact that nature can no longer be expected to fend for itself.

“This survey will help uncover new information about biodiversity here in England, where loss of species is occurring at an unprecedented scale. Learning more about all havens for wildlife, including hedges, means we can protect nature for future generations.”

The survey can be carried out by anyone who wishes to take part from 6 September 2010. A free identification guide and activity book can be downloaded from the OPAL website at By uploading their findings, participants can help contribute to this national scientific project. The website will display their survey results, along with those of other participants from around the country, building a picture of the ecological health of our hedges.

The OPAL Biodiversity Survey is led by The Open University, in association with Hedgelink, the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the Tree Council. It is funded by as a part of OPAL’s grant from the Big Lottery Fund of £11.75m.


Notes to editor

1. Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is a nation-wide partnership initiative that will inspire communities to discover, enjoy and protect their local environments. It aims to create a new generation of nature-lovers by stimulating interest through local and national projects which are accessible, fun and relevant to anyone who wants to take part. Website:

2. The Big Lottery Fund’s Changing Spaces programme was launched in November 2005 to help communities enjoy and improve their local environments. The programme funds a range of activities from local food schemes and farmers markets, to education projects teaching people about the environment. Imperial College London (the leading OPAL partner) was awarded a £11,760,783 Changing Spaces grant in August 2007

3. Biodiversity is Life The OPAL Biodiversity Survey is part of the world-wide celebrations of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. The diversity of life on earth is crucial for human well-being and now is the time to act to preserve it. For information on events, initiatives and exhibitions across the UK visit

4. The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.5 million students and has more than 250,000 current students, including 20,000 overseas, learning in their own time using course materials, online activities and content, web-based forums and tutorials and through tutor groups and residential schools. The OU has been highly rated for teaching quality, and has been at the top of student satisfaction rankings in the National Student Survey since it was introduced in 2005. 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and three out of four FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses. The OU supports a vibrant research portfolio and in the UK's latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), the University climbed 23 places to 43rd, securing a place in the UK's top 50 higher education institutions. Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had more than 10 million unique visitors, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded 13 million downloads. The OU has a 40 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Life, Coast, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.

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