School of Life Sciences


Schools needed for Sussex scientists' 'watch and learn' project, connecting pupils with nature

Two researchers from the University of Sussex are looking for schools to take part in a project which will allow pupils to connect and engage with often overlooked wildlife through DIY cameras.

Dr Rob Fowler, Head of Technical Services in the School of Life Sciences, and Dr Chris Sandom, Lecturer in Biology, have received funding to work with ten schools across Brighton & Hove, giving school children aged 8-11 years the tools to make and set up homemade camera traps to observe and monitor wildlife on their school grounds.

It is believed that there is a lack of connection between children and nature, particularly in urban environments where wildlife is often overlooked or discounted.

But although urbanisation is generally seen as deleterious to biodiversity, some wildlife can thrive in urban areas including bees, birds and small mammals.

Indeed, experts believe that due to intensive agriculture, it could be argued that urban areas are fast becoming our national wildlife reserves, with some city sites rivalling if not exceeding records of certain species compared to rural or agricultural settings.

The problem is that many of these animals, such as hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, mice and voles, are rarely seen due to nocturnal activities.

A ‘camera trap’ can be a powerful solution to help engage people with nature; capturing footage of wildlife in their own environment and providing an insight into just how close we are to various species. Wildlife is not harmed in any way; the set-up includes just a motion activated camera and a piece of food as bait, to encourage animals to come closer.

This project hopes to engage pupils with the nature that is on their doorstep and increase their knowledge of basic ecology. The findings will also be used to contribute to national wildlife records impressing on pupils the importance of citizen science, wildlife monitoring and conservation while building on the work currently being done in schools by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, as part of the Brighton & Hove environmental education programme.

Dr Rob Fowler said: “This is a really exciting opportunity for a selection of schools to discover what wildlife they have visiting their school grounds or wildlife area.

“Moreover, any records of wildlife will go towards national monitoring schemes adding information to wider databases. Our vision is that the methods we set out in this project will pave the way for schools across the country to adopt.”

Dr Chris Sandom said: “These build your own camera traps offer a fantastic opportunity to learn about the wildlife living on our doorsteps and how technology is allowing researchers and citizen scientists to study them.

“I can’t wait to see the footage captured and hear the stories the school children have to tell of their wildlife encounters.”

Primary school teachers are encouraged to express their interest to take part in the project. They will then be invited to an event where the project will be introduced in detail.

Katie Eberstein, from Sussex Wildlife Trust,  who runs the Brighton & Hove environmental education programme, said: “This is a unique opportunity for pupils to work with real scientists, find out more about their local wildlife and enhance the science and ITC curriculum.”


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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Wednesday, 13 February 2019