Schools Camera Trap Project

Children are instinctively fascinated by wildlife – combining their innate curiosity with the use of new technology provides a wonderful tool to engage young people in biodiversity.

Mice, mustelids and the magic of camera trapping

It is difficult for people to value what they don’t know is there, but much of our wildlife is secretive or nocturnal by nature.  However, the increasing availability of low-cost, high-functioning camera traps is opening up a new window on wildlife.

The North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership first grasped this new opportunity in 2013, with the purchase of several camera traps that were then loaned to local community groups. The project quickly expanded and, in 2014, we started to work more closely with schools.

Children are instinctively fascinated by wildlife – combining their innate curiosity with the use of new technology provides a wonderful tool to engage young people in biodiversity.  With considerable assistance from countryside rangers and other conservation professionals, more than 250 children from a dozen local schools, both rural and urban, have been able to find out more about the animals with whom they share their school grounds and surrounding land.

In 2016, thanks to support from SNH to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, the pilot project was upscaled and rolled out to 20 schools right across Scotland.  This started with a training day at Battleby, where rangers and other staff working with schools were equipped with the skills to get the most out of using camera traps.  With the loan of equipment, including small mammal boxes, they were up and away.  The schools submitted a short compilation video at the end of a four-month period of camera trap use, to highlight the wildlife that they found and, crucially, show engagement by the children in the process.

The judges were amazed and delighted by the level of engagement demonstrated in the videos. Not only were some exciting and secretive species shown exploring the school environment, but also the sense of excitement and engagement by the children was clear to see.  From creating wildlife detectives to new film-makers, the schools ran with the project in ways beyond what we could have imagined, demonstrating innovation, new ways of learning, and whole school involvement to an incredible degree. The project is shortly to begin a new chapter, again working with SNH, to bring this experience to schoolchildren as part of the Learning in Local Greenspace project.

Picture showing the winners of the School Camera Trapping competition.

Winners of the school camera trapping competiton © NESBiP

So, what is the key to the success of this project?  There are many demonstrable benefits including providing the opportunity for outdoor learning, presenting a level playing field for young people to learn, engendering positive attitudes towards wildlife and encouraging action to benefit wildlife.  And, of course, it’s fun!  In times of tightened financial constraints, it is a low-cost project that can be easily replicated right across Scotland and it has a huge legacy value. Outdoor learning is now firmly integrated into the school curriculum – hopefully, one day (soon), camera trapping will be integrated within outdoor learning!

We think this is a magical project, but don’t just take our word for it, the quotes below from the schools involved are the best endorsement we could receive.

“Our pupils and staff were not only captivated by the animals that visited our garden, but motivated to learn more about them and find out how to encourage other wildlife” Ciara Gibson, PT, Grandtully Primary

“It’s just such a fantastic educational experience for everyone!  The whole school are hooked, and the children are viewing their playground so very differently.  Their wee minds have been blown… Cannot thank you both enough!” Newtonhill Primary

“I liked putting the camera out.  Before I saw the video of the pine martens, I thought they were make-believe creatures like unicorns!” Florence McNeil (Age 6).

Rose Toney

Coordinator at The Biodiversity Partnership (2010-2019)