Did you know that the Scottish wildcat is more endangered than the tiger, and that you are very unlikely to spot one in the wild? Or that one of its last remaining habitats is in the hills and mountains surrounding the Cairngorm village of Newtonmore (probably better known for its backdrop role in the TV series Monarch of the Glen)? The inhabitants of this village, especially pupils at the local primary school, have a cunning plan to raise awareness and keep this issue current.
Cue the Wildcat Experience: 192 fibreglass models painted in an array of witty designs and documented in a booklet available from the village Wildcat Centre. Nearly as hard to spot as the real thing, they are hidden in gardens, shop windows and on pub roofs. Pupil-painted "Ice-cool Cat" shows off his shades; the local osteopath has a skeletal "Osteocat" lurking in her greenery; and in another garden "Cat A. Hoy" sports the racing colours of Olympic hero Sir Chris Hoy. Children happily spend hours finding these cats, deepening their knowledge of place and community.
There is some great geography here that could be adapted to suit your school and setting. Find out about Newtonmore and compare it to your own locality. By walking to school or just strolling around your area, you can investigate the creatures or plants that are disappearing from your locality and discover why: enquire about the importance of location in determining habitats and the changes brought about by the interaction between human and natural worlds. You could also create a map of endangered species in the British Isles.
After identifying the local species you want to champion, you will need some models to decorate and place on your trail. A cheap option would be to draw a two-dimensional design that could be coloured and laminated. Create a trail in or around the school, enlisting the support of parents and locals. You could also extend the trail to show where in the locality you might spot your elusive creature.
Finally, design a booklet containing a trail map to showcase the fruits of your geographical enquiry. You might even get support from the local tourist board or a mention in the local press. Learning about environmental issues while putting your place on the map keeps geography exciting, relevant and real.
Dr Paula Owens is a primary curriculum development leader for the Geographical Association, an author and an educational consultant and trainer
For more information about the Wildcat Experience in Newtonmore, see: bit.lywildcattrail
Find out why beavers and brown bears no longer roam the British wilderness in phlibowuk's lesson on extinction and endangered animals.