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Young sleuths combat crimes against wildlife

Children in Aberdeenshire are playing detectives with the help of experts and interactive learning packs. Jean McLeish reports

Children in Aberdeenshire are playing detectives with the help of experts and interactive learning packs. Jean McLeish reports

When a new wildlife educational initiative is launched at Dunecht Primary, Aberdeenshire, 10-year-old Samuel Bellarby sums it up succinctly: "There's a DVD with it and it's got clips about what's good for wildlife, how to manage it and why not to poach," he says.

Dunecht Primary is an ideal location to promote this interactive learning package. It's a small rural school in the countryside near Aberdeen with a keen interest in outdoor learning, which was praised in its recent inspection.

The school was also the venue 18 months ago for the introduction of the UK's first wildlife crime education officer, Andy Turner from the Grampian Police wildlife crime unit. He is working to raise awareness of crimes that harm animals and damage the natural environment, and has developed the new Wildlife Detectives pack, which has been well received by pupils like Samuel at nearly 250 primaries in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray.

Mr Turner's new role and the impact of projects like this will be watched with interest by police forces across the country. He will give a presentation at the UK Wildlife Enforcers Conference at the National Police College, Bramshill, Hampshire in October.

Mr Turner has been seconded from Scottish Natural Heritage's National Nature Reserve at St Cyrus, south of Stonehaven, to take up this civilian post with the wildlife crime unit.

"Children seem to be more receptive to these messages at this age," he says. "If we can try to instil this in them at a young age, hopefully it will stay with them.

"Because wildlife crime is so dispersed, crimes happen away from public areas, out of sight. We need the public to be aware of wildlife crime and we also need people who are working out in the countryside to be aware of what goes on. So it's crime prevention through awareness raising."

Last year Grampian's wildlife crime unit dealt with 306 incidents, ranging from salmon poaching to the illegal killing of birds of prey. Young children aren't usually the culprits, but it's important they know right from wrong in the countryside.

"Crimes like these not only affect Grampian's wildlife, but can pose a threat to people accessing the countryside for recreation and can cause damage to the land," says the head of the unit, chief inspector Janice Innes.

"It's important that children understand how our countryside is managed for the benefit of both wildlife and people. The pack will help children differentiate between legal practices and wildlife crime."

The Wildlife Detectives education pack went to 15,000 children between P5 and P7 earlier this year. It provides classes with interactive tasks like a CSI-style wildlife crime scene investigation, a wildlife team quiz and a competition to design a poster, which attracted more than 1,000 entries.

It comes with a detailed teachers' booklet which explains how learning activities can be run separately or studied together as a mini-project to meet experiences and outcomes in several areas of the curriculum.

A half-hour DVD features an overview of the six national priorities in the fight against wildlife crime: poaching, crimes against bats, badgers, birds of prey and fresh water pearl mussels, as well as illegal trading in wildlife.

The idea is that teachers can choose which sections they want to study to encourage children to protect their natural environment and clarify what's expected of them when they're out in the countryside. There have been 3,000 wildlife education packs, developed in partnership with TAQA Bratani Ltd, circulated to primary schools throughout the North East.

Mr Turner says it is hoped to modify the resources to make them suitable for secondary pupils and to make the activities accessible to primary and secondary schools across Scotland with an online version on Glow.

For more on the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland, see bit.lyOGNSBt.


Their school's wildlife garden has given them the inside track on the natural world. On an impromptu walk round the grounds, pupils such as Sabrina Carter, 11, share their knowledge confidently with visitors to Dunecht Primary.

"The bird feeders are over there and a bird table as well," says the Aberdeenshire pupil. "We see siskins, a robin just went by, we get blackbirds on the bird table and we get chaffinches and house sparrows - lots of house sparrows," she says.

"We've had this garden as long as we can remember," says Conor Charles, sounding older than his 10 years. "And we have lots of insects under the stones and we're trying to improve our plants so we can attract more birds and stuff," says nine-year-old Hannah MacIntyre.

Pupils here are regular visitors to the nearby Dunecht Estate, where they have been supported by the ranger and helped to set up a forest classroom. School inspectors praised this partnership with Dunecht Estates and the estate's support for the school in a report earlier this year.

The HMI report identified outdoor learning as a key strength at Dunecht Primary. "Children are enthusiastic about this work and can discuss their achievements in detail," it said. "Children are very aware of eco issues and the need to protect the environment."

Head Deborah Burr says: "There's a wide range of children and backgrounds and they're inspired by their outdoor learning.

"We have 45 pupils and only one farming family that I am aware of - so we're not rural in that sense - it's very much a commuter belt to Aberdeen, being only nine miles out of the city.

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