Look for lichen and help air survey

29 September 2009

People are asked to look for lichen and help scientists find out about England's air quality in a survey launched at the Chelsea Physic Garden today.

The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) national air survey aims to find out more about the impact of air quality all over England. It needs the public to investigate lichens growing on trees in their local area, and to count black ‘tar spots’ on the leaves of sycamore trees. 

'We want to find out more about what lichens can tell us about the changes in air quality in our towns and countryside,' says Pat Wolseley of The British Lichen Society. 

The OPAL air survey needs people to help look for lichen

The OPAL air survey needs people to help look for lichen

'Are we seeing more of certain species in certain areas because the air is cleaner today? Or is it because the pollutants have changed?'

'Everyone’s contribution to this survey is valuable; even a result of ‘no lichens’ still tells us something about the air quality in that area.'

The OPAL Air Survey has been developed with experts from the British Lichen Society, Natural History Museum and Imperial College London. 

Pollution indicators

Some lichens thrive on air pollution whilst others are highly sensitive to it. This means they can be used to indicate what air quality is like.

The survey results will help build a map of pollution-loving and sensitive lichens all across England.

Plant-like organisms

Lichens are plant-like organisms that form when a fungus and algae develop together.

They can be found all year round in urban areas and the countryside, and on a variety of surfaces from tree bark to park benches and pavements.

Take part

People can download a free survey pack from www.airsurvey.org and then start their lichen search. They then upload their data onto the website and an interactive map will show what other people have found around England.

OPAL is a new nationwide partnership initiative set up to inspire a new generation of nature enthusiasts and has been awarded a grant of £11.7 million by the Big Lottery Fund.

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