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Citizen science project helps young people connect with nature during lockdown

(20 May 2020)

We’ve all been missing the great outdoors during the lockdown, but our MammalWeb citizen science project is helping one group of teenagers to keep in touch with nature.

What is MammalWeb?

The MammalWeb project aims to increase understanding of the UK’s wild mammals and wider environmental issues.

Volunteers are invited to place motion-sensing cameras at different locations to capture images of wildlife.

Community volunteers including school pupils are then invited to identify the wildlife photographed.

How has lockdown affected the project?

One of the groups taking part in MammalWeb is the Group for Anxious Pupils (GAP) project.

This is a small number of Year 10 and 11 pupils in County Durham who are unable to attend mainstream school due to anxiety and depression. They are taught by the Education Health Needs Team, with the support of mental health professionals.

They have been part of MammalWeb since March 2019 and in March 2020 placed motion-sensing cameras around Gosforth Nature Reserve, Newcastle.

Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic meant they couldn’t return to the Reserve to retrieve the cameras.

However, one of their teachers Kathryn McLaughlin was allowed to do so – and she uploaded the photos to the MammalWeb website.

Since then, the young people have been identifying the wildlife photographed from their own homes. So far, they’ve done over 1,000 photo sequences.

What wildlife did they find?

The images revealed an impressive array of wildlife including roe deer, badgers, red foxes, rabbits, grey squirrels and a sparrowhawk.

What they said…

Lily Willis, one of the GAP group, said: “I was thrilled to discover that our camera placements were a success.

“I personally loved our trip and I’m confident the rest of my peers did too. This project has given us a unique experience we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get, as well as gaining new knowledge and skills.

“From a mental health perspective, it was beneficial to get outdoors and into nature, as well as giving us a very peaceful, strangely therapeutic, job of sorting through all of the images during lockdown.”

What’s next?

The group had hoped to present their findings at The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in July. They now hope to do so in 2021.

We hope MammalWeb will be rolled out to more schools across the UK.