08 Sep 2010

How you can help protect our hedgerow havens

Nature can no longer be expected to fend for itself

Nature can no longer be expected to fend for itself

From today [8 September], Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is asking people all over England to help uncover new insights into the country’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.

The survey can be carried out anywhere in England but scientists are particularly keen to gather results from a wide range of locations, not just the countryside. The plight of rural hedgerows, and the creatures that depend on them, is widely reported but hedges also play a vital role in our urban landscapes. In highly built up areas, hedges are often the only remaining habitat for many species of birds, mammals and insects. Scientists hope the findings will help them locate thriving hedge hotspots across the country that can be protected to preserve biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, a complex jigsaw made up of plants, animals and their habitats. 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. In October 2010 officials from 193 countries will gather in Japan to agree how to tackle global biodiversity loss and set new targets to conserve biodiversity for the next ten years.

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, which takes about an hour to complete, can be carried out by anyone who wishes to take part from 8 September 2010. A free identification guide and activity book can be downloaded from 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 and the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). It is funded as a part of OPAL’s grant from the Big Lottery Fund of £11.75m. OPAL has also recently received accreditation to the Living with the Environmental Change (LWEC) programme.


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. The Big Lottery Fund, the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors, has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. It was established by Parliament on 1 December 2006. Full details of the work of the Big Lottery Fund, its programmes and awards are available on the website:
4. 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

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