Primary - Police help pupils earn their stripes as wildlife crimebusters

18th February 2011 at 00:00
Museum workshop uses `crime scene' with trap and explains why badgers need their own laws

if you go down to the woods today . you might come across some keen-eyed children looking for signs of wildlife crime.

Pupils from Howwood Primary in rural Renfrewshire were the latest recipients of a workshop led by Joe Connelly, co-ordinator of the Strathclyde Police wildlife crime office.

Although Mr Connelly usually delivers his pupil workshops on school premises, this time he had been invited to Paisley Museum by natural history curator Nicola Macintyre as part of its education programme for the International Year of Biodiversity.

The wildlife crime workshop was offered to complement the museum's recent "What on Earth" exhibition. The set-up at Paisley Museum focused on badger baiting and, by the time the class of 30 P6-7s from Howwood Primary arrived, Mr Connelly had already prepared a mock-up of a crime scene where an attempt at badger baiting is suspected.

In the garden behind the museum, he had dug a hole and left behind "evidence" including a shovel, a soft drinks can and an animal trap. The area had been cordoned off with police crime scene tape wrapped around wooden stakes.

In the education room earlier, the children learned that, included in the 150 laws that protect wildlife across the UK, there is one especially for badgers, which covers not only the animals but the `setts' in which they live.

Mr Connelly explained that badgers needed their own special law, because of the "huge amount of cruelty done to them".

He said: "They're put in pits or other places to fight with dogs and usually end up very badly disabled, if not dead."

Outside at the scene of the suspected "crime", Mr. Connelly told the pupils: "It looks like someone has been digging up a badgers' sett and, as that's against the law, we've decided to investigate it." Having established that, thanks to TV programmes like The Bill and CSI, most of the pupils were familiar with police investigation procedures, the business of gathering "evidence" began.

Mr Connelly said: "Exactly the same techniques used on any other sort of crime will be used on this wildlife crime."

The drinks can which might be examined by police lab technicians for fingerprints and DNA was put into a polythene evidence bag that was then signed, sealed and dated. In a real-life situation, witnesses would have to be questioned and if a dead badger was found, a post mortem would be carried out to establish how it had died.

"You may end up with a suspect," Mr Connelly pointed out, "but you have to be really sure there is enough evidence to pass the case on to the Procurator Fiscal's department which is where the decision on whether or not to proceed to court is made."

Holding up an animal trap that had been `left' at the scene, he explained that it's a leg trap, a type that is banned throughout Europe because of the suffering it causes.

But not all animal traps are illegal, the pupils discoverd back in the education room. Shown a trap that breaks an animal's back and kills it outright, they learn (to their surprise) that it's legal and is used by farmers to protect their crops from rats and .?

"Ooh . bunnies ." one crestfallen girl, with an obvious soft spot for rabbits, guessed correctly.

At the end of the workshop, each pupil received an illustrated booklet designed to help them: "Learn more about the wildlife in your area and also to help you learn a little more about what wildlife crime really is."

Further information: and the Scottish Natural Heritage web site (Wild Life Crime).

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