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Moray Teens

A new Wildlife Watch group is drawing in teens and attracting TV crews to a small corner of Moray, in the Scottish Highlands. Donna Mathieson, People and Wildlife Officer for Scottish Wildlife Trust tells more....




In the beginning


Six years ago Lynne Laing decided to start up a Wildlife Watch club as she wanted to encourage and develop her own kids' interest in nature and to meet more families who love the outdoors. The club ran for around 5 years, and was very successful - to name but a few things, they made an appearance on "Live n Deadly", put on an outdoor theatre production in conjunction with a theatre group all about Brambly Hedge, as well as exploring their stunning surroundings!


Growing up


When the kids were all moving on to high school Lynne felt it was a natural time for the group to finish - the kids disagreed! A core group, who had been attending since they were 6 years old, were keen for the group to continue. Lynne has always felt passionate about getting kids outdoors, and she realised there was nowhere else for these young teenagers to do what they did at her club. And so Moray Wildlife Watch group was reborn, as a teenage group. 


Moray teens!


The group started meeting a few times a year and tried ambitious and exciting activities like "Into the Wild". This was two day woodland workshop spent learning all about green woodworking, willow weaving and bush craft, all funded by a local energy company. Other activities included learning about botanical art, and sessions on insect macrophotography. They also ran a session on bird ringing, learnt how to ID and age birds, and held a moth night. 


Keeping an interesting programme can be more of a challenge for this older age group, and the secret appears to be keeping it varied and using interests the younger people already have, as a hook. For example, an exciting activity they are planning is to create their own radio podcast to share what they are doing with others their age. They also plan to learn about winter adaptation and navigation skills in the mountains of the nearby national park, the Cairngorms. Four of the group have gone on to become junior ambassadors, a role which involves representating the Trust (and Wildlife Watch) at events in the local area. 


Wildcat Action


Scottish Wildcat Action is a partnership project that works across Scotland with the aim of saving the Scottish wildcat from extinction. Its plan is to safeguard wildcat habitat, trap, neuter, vaccinate and release feral cats living in wildcat areas, and to educate people about the importance of neutering. In addition, there is a conservation breeding programme going on to help boost numbers in the wild. Scottish Wildlife Trust is one of the partners in the project and Emma Rawling is the Scottish Wildcat Action project offer for the areas around the Moray Wildlife Watch club. 


Emma wanted to raise awareness and recruit volunteers to help set up and look after motion-sensitive trail cameras across the winter, in order to establish which cats are out there and where they are living. This will help them to better protect what's left of our native cats. The next step will be to target feral cats for netuering and vaccinating so that they can't interbreed or pass on diseases to wildcats. 


Lynne got in contact and Emma agreed to come out and give the group an introduction to the project, as well as a practical training workshop on how to use camera traps. Scottish Wildlife Trust got in touch with their contacts at Landward, a BBC Scotland outdoors TV programme, and they were very interested in coming along.


On the day

 
The teens were all very excited about being filmed - and so were the adults! The film crew arrived and first they interviewed Lynne and the junior ambassadors for a BBC Scotland radio show, Out of Doors


They were then given a fantastic presentation by Emma, the Wildcat Officer. They got their hands on a camera trap, and were shown how to use them effectively, and what kinds of images they could expect.




The practical bit


The kids were set the task of choosing a suitable location for the camera trap and setting it up at the right height, to result in the best possible set of photos. A lot of thought was put into this, and they all did brilliantly! The cameras were rolling the entire time and got some great footage. The junior ambassadors were interviewed on camera at this point and all did really well in a situation that would faze many adults. They came across as articulate and enthusiastic. 


Next, the footage from the camera traps was played on the big screen back at the base, and laughs aside, Emma explained what worked and what didn't. In the end the group learned so much that they decided to adopt a transect square out in the woods for the winter and really play an active role in conserving this iconic species. 


Summary


This experience was great for the group - and I, as People and Wildlife Officer, would love to see more groups for this age range. It has traditionally been seen as a harder to reach group, and many children do lose interest, but many do not. Keeping those that are interested and engaged with the Trust works on so many levels - the kids are getting hands on experience in many different aspects of conservation. Many of them want to follow this career path, and having this connection will only help them. 


In addition, teens can very much be influenced by their peers, so having junior ambassadors, who will talk to others about what they have been up to and why, is a great asset to Scottish Wildlife Trust. It helps to spread our message. And of course, these groups get kids outside, which we all know has countless benefits.


Read Lynne's blog post for a closer look at this inspiring group! 


Donna Mathieson
People and Wildlife Officer
Scottish Wildlife Trust


All pics: Donna Mathieson



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