Children urged to become 'alien detectives' to protect local habitat

The project is led by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Scottish children are being urged to find and identify alien plant species in the local area during lockdown.

The ‘Alien Detectives’ project has been launched as part of the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and aims to both protect local habitat and entertain children not in school.

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There are a range of activities online to help young ‘alien detectives’ seek out non-native species, including crafts, quizzes, worksheets, presentations and puzzles.

People are being urged to get involved in a new lockdown assault on invasive non-native species from the comfort of their own homes.

The SISI works with communities and volunteers to remove and control American mink and non-native plants such as giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and American skunk cabbage from the Scottish countryside.

It is a four-year £3.34 million partnership between SNH, Aberdeen University, and several fishery boards and trusts.

While the SISI is based in the northern part of the country, children and adults from Edinburgh and the Lothians are also able to access the online resources.

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Callum Sinclair, SISI Project Manager, said: “Our project team has been busy while homeworking during the lockdown to produce these fantastic resources.

“We hope that becoming ‘Alien Detectives’ will bring many hours of enjoyment to individuals and families during lockdown, especially at a time when most young people are not in a regular school environment and might be looking for a new challenge or activities to continue their learning.

“‘Invasive non-native species might be a new topic to many but it is a really important one - invasive species can have a major impact on our environment and native wildlife and are responsible for significant biodiversity loss in Scotland and across the world.

“We hope these resources will help raise awareness of the impacts of invasive species and inspire more young people to learn something about them.

“No prior knowledge is needed and there’s lots to learn and have fun with so become an Alien Detective and help us tackle invasive species today!”

Vicky Hilton, SISI Volunteer and Communication Officer, added: “To help structured learning the resource pack is laid out across themes including discovering what aliens are, how they got here, what makes them successful, how we can prevent them taking over and how to find and capture them.

“Each theme has several activities and in addition there is a whole section devoted to fun crafts, puzzles and games - from invasive species battleships, top trumps and making an exploding seed pod to crosswords, pictograms and wordsearches.

“There is also a certificate for those who have earned the sought-after status of ‘Alien Detective’.”