14 Oct 2010

The Open University’s iSpot nature website wins new media ‘OSCAR’

Katie with rare moth

Katie with rare moth

iSpot, the OU’s social networking site for anyone interested in nature, won the coveted ARKive New Media Award at a glittering Panda Awards Ceremony in Bristol last night [Wednesday 13 October].

“The Panda Awards are the wildlife and environment equivalent of the OSCARS,” says Jonathan Silvertown, Professor of Ecology in the Faculty of Science. “We are honoured to win in the new media category – this ranks iSpot as one of the best new media environment projects in the world.”

The Panda Awards are the most prestigious and influential awards for film of the natural world. Leading filmmakers from the across the globe enter the competition for a chance to win.

In the ARKive New Media category, judges were looking for projects that take advantage of the unique features that new media affords users. The judges were particularly interested in projects where people with shared interests can take part, building a virtual community of interest.

Of iSpot, the jury said: “The winner takes maximum advantage of what the internet uniquely affords users - being both participatory and collaborative. The judges loved the user generated content, and the fact that users are able to take an active role in the curation and validation of the content. A virtual community of interest putting amateurs in contact with experts in an unintimidating environment.”

In its first year of operation, iSpot has helped over 6,000 users identify more than 25,000 observations of some 2,500 species, including a first for Britain – the euonymus leaf notcher moth discovered by the then six-year-old Katie Dobbins in Berkshire.

“It is our aim that by helping people put names to what they see, they will not only learn something about nature, but also be better equipped to help to conserve it,” says Professor Silvertown.

iSpot’s success is particularly timely with 2010 being the UN-declared International Year of Biodiversity. Latest evidence suggests that the condition of global biodiversity is getting worse, not better. Some predict the complete loss of all coral reefs and their rich fauna by 2050.

“We are looking at the sixth greatest extinction in the history of life,” says Professor Silvertown. “Ignoring it will be a costly mistake and the price of inaction will place a recurring charge upon the health, wealth and quality of life of future generations.” is open to anyone interested in wildlife and the environment; whether you’re a science student, a casual observer or an experienced wildlife watcher and is being developed as part of the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) project and is funded by the Big Lottery Fund for England. On iSpot users can upload pictures and share observations from their local areas, join discussion groups and forums while learning from others willing to impart their expertise and knowledge on the site.

- Ends -

Notes to editor

1. Media contact: Gemma Bessant (01908 655596,
2. Professor Jonathan Silvertown is available for interview.
3. 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. For more information, please visit
4. 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.
5. 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:

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