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An exhibition for peat's sake

Wild, Wet and Wonderful Smith Art Gallery and Museum, Stirling, until February 27 Scotland's peat bogs as important as the rainforests of South America? Yes, apparently, according to the enthusiastic bog experts who were on hand to show teachers around the Wild, Wet and Wonderful exhibition at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling.

"Close your eyes and smell this," urges June Waley, head of Kippen Environment Centre near Stirling. It's a jar of dried bog myrtle and has a lovely fragrance, a bit like marjoram. June gathered it from Flanders Moss, which lies between Stirling and Kippen and is the largest remaining raised peat bog in Britain.

Then she shows us some tickly bog cotton and points to a beautiful colour photograph of sphagnum moss that decorates the peat bog resources box she's created.

"You see," June says, "peat bogs aren't drab and dreary. They only look that way from a passing car. Close up, you can observe all the reds, bright greens and silvers."

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wants to raise public awareness about our most undervalued natural resource through the exhibition. Apart from its wildlife, the preserving qualities of peat mean bogs are like natural history diaries of up to 8,000 years ago. Peat bogs help safeguard our air and water.

SNH is keen to get schools involved in bog awareness and has a free Wild, Wet and Wonderful edcation pack. It's an excellent publication, written by former primary school teacher Susan Webster and aimed at the 5-14 curriculum. Simple, effective activities include making a bog with a loofah and natural dyeing.

It's not the biggest or most exciting show, but its simplicity, and compact size make for a gentle introduction to the subject and can be appreciated by the youngest primary children. In Stirling, the show has been enhanced through the efforts of local countryside rangers who have added a large peat bog tank, a peat bog natural history time tube and a discovery table where visitors can examine sphagnum moss under a microscope and pick through some peat.

Sarah Fairclough and Glenys Jones attended the briefing session. Sarah, a former art teacher now doing a PhD in museum studies, is taking P2s, 5s and 6s from a Stirling school to the Smith for a series of workshops.

Glenys, head at Thornhill Primary, a small school near Flanders Moss, won't take classes to the show because they're doing wind power for this year's environmental topic. But she thinks peat bogs would be an excellent subject for future study and will encourage pupils to visit the exhibition with their parents.

Wild, Wet and Wonderful moves to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow in spring, then Dumfries and the Borders. Details: Smith Art Gallery and Museum 01786 471917

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