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Let students find where the wild things are

We are incredibly lucky to have fantastic outdoor spaces within the grounds of our small rural school and in nearby woodland. Children love lessons outside the classroom, and having such resources on our doorstep means we can indulge in nature learning more often than most schools.

Unsurprisingly, then, my best lesson includes an outdoor element. Several months ago, an email arrived from the North East Scotland Biological Records Centre asking if we would like to participate in a survey of local mammal species. We were keen to take part, as the children had already observed a badger sett and had experience in tracking woodland animals.

We got to work immediately, placing a motion-sensitive camera on a birch tree and smearing the area with special bait: peanut butter. Why? Because the local ranger was convinced that pine martens (pictured below) were living in the woods. They like to stay hidden, but we had selected them as the first mammals we would survey, so we were going to try to capture footage of them.

About a week later, we looked at the camera data: within a couple of shots we had captured the movement of a pine marten. In fact, there were two. Immediately, the children's questions started. Where did the pine martens live? What did they eat? Were they male or female?

It was the beginning of an adventure that has lasted several months, and the children have led proceedings throughout. We have set up more cameras, created stills of the pine martens and made contact with an expert to help with the more challenging questions.

The most recent footage seems to show a pecking order of woodland mammals. Who comes out on top between a fox and a pine marten? To our surprise, the pine marten.

We believe we are the only school to have contributed to this survey so far, but I would encourage all schools to get involved in something like this. There is no need for specialist equipment: we started with shoeboxes and some chocolate to entice small, shy mammals such as mice, moles and shrews.

What next? Well, now we're looking for stoats and weasels.

Andrea Drummond is headteacher of Craigievar Primary School in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

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