Florally challenged

12th January 2007 at 00:00
How many of today's sixth formers know the difference between a lobster and a crayfish or a horse and a donkey?

Not enough, fear life sciences researchers at Oxford Brookes university, who have been dismayed by their first-year students' inability to identify wild flora and fauna.

To counteract the problem, they have created a high-tech "biodiversity tool", which helps children identify different species by answering a series of questions.

They hope the Wildkey software, which works on handheld computers and advanced mobile phones, will mean that future university entrants know their starlings from their thrushes.

Dr Neil Bailey, researcher at Oxford Brookes, said: "We have noticed that students joining the university have poor identification skills when it comes to wildlife.

"Schools are increasingly sticking to classroom-based learning, but looking at something under a microscope is simply not the same as getting outside and seeing it in its natural habitat."

He added that two 12-year-olds trying out the device in the Natural History Museum gardens in London had identified a species of native Australian ladybird that officials had not know was there.

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