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The secret lives of mammals

(19 July 2019)

Otters (Credit: Roland Ascroft)

Looking for something to do with the kids during the school holidays?

Why not take the family to the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle this summer, and have a go at identifying some of the many secretive animals with whom we share our natural environment?

MammalWeb would appreciate your help categorising some of the 640,000 photographs in its online database.

What's MammalWeb?

MammalWeb is a ‘citizen science’ initiative we set up with Durham Wildlife Trust, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The aim is to increase our understanding of the UK’s wild mammals and wider environmental issues.

Using motion-sensing cameras to photograph animals as they pass by, the MammalWeb team are able to develop a picture of animal population distributions and behaviours.

The images captured by these ‘camera traps’ (no animals are actually trapped!) are then uploaded to an online database to be analysed by researchers.

Your chance to ‘dip in’

The MammalWeb team and the Great North Museum: Hancock recently enlisted 50 schools across the North East to deploy camera traps to take pictures of their local mammals.

Visitors to the museum this summer can help ‘spot’ the animals and categorise the images using touch screens in the Natural Northumbria Gallery.

It’s a great opportunity for children to learn about nature and it coincides with the Museum’s ‘Dippy on Tour’ exhibition. The Natural History Museum's famous 21 metre-long Diplodocus skeleton cast is on display in Newcastle until October.

Inspiring the next generation

Another example of MammalWeb’s schools outreach work is PhD researcher Sammy Mason’s involvement with schools across the country.

Sammy’s delivered teacher training sessions, loaned cameras to dozens of schools, and held workshops to inspire more than 3,000 children.

Anyone can get involved with MammalWeb. Individuals can either sign up to be a ‘spotter’, or use a camera trap to capture images and upload data to the website. If you don’t have a camera trap, MammalWeb may even be able to lend you one to get you started.

You can set up a camera trap anywhere including back gardens, woods, playing fields, and other public spaces, provided you have permission.

MammalWeb ‘spotters’ have identified over 40 mammal species so far, including dogs and deer, rabbits and rodents, hedgehogs and horses, and with your help they hope to record more.