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The Big Lottery Fund for England has announced that The Open University is to be awarded a £2 million grant over five years to fund the Biodiversity Observatory.

This is a part of the Fund’s £11.7million grant to the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network, in which the OU is a partner, along with Imperial College London, the Natural History Museum and 12 other institutions.

The Biodiversity Observatory, to be launched in 2009, will be a large website designed to allow anyone interested in British wildlife, from the casual viewer of wildlife programmes on TV to the knowledgeable amateur naturalist, to share their observations.

The aim will be to build online communities of people with similar interests and to provide a forum in which the beginner can learn from the expert without any barriers. The site will provide aids to identification, information, images, videos, bird sounds etc., but will also collect data on wildlife from the public. The Biodiversity Observatory will provide a permanent focus for surveys, linked to relevant educational resources, local and national groups and mentors.

Biodiversity Observatory project leader Jonathan Silvertown, Professor of Ecology, said: “More and more people are interested in nature and are conscious that so much of what we value is under threat. At the same time, fewer and fewer people can actually identify what they see. This grant from the Big Lottery Fund will enable us to help people identify common animals and plants and to share their observations on the Biodiversity Observatory website. Registration will be free and open to everyone.”

The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network as a whole will work with an estimated 500,000 people. It also aims to inspire more than one million people to appreciate the quality of open spaces around them. The OPAL network is an England-wide initiative that is designed to inspire and support communities to explore, study, enjoy and protect their local environments through engagement with some of the country’s leading scientists.

For more information on the Biodiversity Observatory please contact the project leader Jonathan Silvertown.

Funded by The National Lottery through Big Lottery Fund.