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Wild Animal Detectives

Natural objects and hidey-holes! Magnifying glasses if you have them.

Skinny Woods, Hawkhill Wood, Innocent Walkway, Craigmillar Castle Park

This game encourages observation of our natural surroundings, to make us more aware of the many animals living around us. It helps us to recognise which signs we can look out for to detect animal activity. It also prompts thinking about food chains and animal welfare.

If there are more than four children, divide the group up into small teams. Give the teams Scottish animal names (eg. otters, eagles, blackbirds, snails). Tell them that although they're in separate teams, they are working together as one large group.

Start off by asking each team to name 5 different wild animals that you would find in the local area - and be sure to remind them that the team names don't count!  If the children are young, general answers such as 'birds' will count. Older kids should be able to name kinds of birds. (Here are some examples for Craigmillar: Bats, Foxes, Squirrels, Hedgehogs, Sparrowhawks, Blackbirds, Sparrows, Gulls, Crows, Rabbits, Mice, Voles, Beetles (Ladybirds), Worms, Slugs, Ants, Bees, Spiders, Millipedes, Butterflies, Moths).

The next task is for the teams to find and point out 4  different shelters that their animals might use as homes (e.g. holes in the grass, holes in the ground, trees, bushes, nests, etc)

Task three is to find 3 different things that animals could eat. 'Leaves' only count as one thing here - although grass could be seen as separate from tree leaves, as long as the teams can name different animals that eat grass to those that eat tree leaves! Other things: seeds (small birds/mice),  berries (small birds and mammals), pollen (beetles/bees), nectar (bees/butterflies/moths), tree sap (ants), tree bark (rabbits, voles), the underneath ('cambium') of tree bark (bark beetles), nuts (squirrels, mice, insects), pine cones (squirrels / mice/ birds), dead wood (slaters/) and, of course, other animals such as small mammals / small birds / worms, spiders and insects (eaten by foxes / sparrowhawks / bats / hedgehogs / spiders).

Task four is to find 2 different signs that an animal has been here. This could include gnawed bark, molehills, spiders' webs, holes eaten in leaves (adult detectives - spot which leaf holes have been made by children!), stripped pine cones, half eaten berries/nuts/seeds, broken snail shells, animal tracks in mud or snow, pellets from crows, owls or sparrowhawks (containing undigested animal skeletons or fur and feathers) and, of course, animal droppings!

The fifth and final task is to come up with 1 way to help the local wildlife survive. This could be anything from clearing up litter (small rodents can get stuck in metal cans, larger animals can get caught up in plastic beer-can holders and plastic bags), to making bat and bird boxes and hedgehog homes, or leaving out seed cakes for birds in winter.

If you want to give the teams an added incentive for playing this, then teams could score points for each item they come up with. They only get a point if they come up with something that's different from the other teams. All the teams' points could then be added together at the end. If, together, they have exceeded the 'magic number' (a reasonably attainable number thought up by you at the beginning), then everyone gets some kind of reward! If you're going to do this, then best explain it at the beginning and tell the teams what the 'magic number' is.

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Go explore for yourself!