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APHA inspiring kids to look after plants and native wildlife

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A lot of great science is carried out on a daily basis at APHA, and our scientists enjoy showing children that science can be fun, exciting and easy to understand when they have the opportunity.

APHA scientists recently attended the Countryside Days event at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate to explain how APHA supports the Defra objective of creating a great place for living through our work to protect plants from health risks and helping native wildlife flourish.

This is an annual two day event, organised by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, for children (ages 7-11, in key stage 2) to learn more about farming, food, the countryside, the environment and healthy living at over 100 exciting workshops and spectacular arena displays including their legendary sheep show for children!

The event has been running since 2001 and we went along for the first time this June to run some interactive workshops for some of the 6000 children that attended!

Workshop on plant health

Our Plant Health team ran a “Train to be a Plant Doctor” workshop.

Groups of around 20 excited children joined the workshop to learn about some common plant diseases and how to prevent their spread. They learned that just as humans get sick (through causative agents and with associated symptoms …see image below), plants do too.

Image of some notes made by the children at the event listing symptoms of illnesses humans may have and some of the illnesses: Sick, stomach aches, chicken pox, tonsillitis, doctor, hospital, germs, bacteria and dirt.
The children were asked to list some of the sickness symptoms they had experienced in the past and the possible cause.

Pests and diseases were then identified using a previously spiked test kit and the exercise was finished off with a ‘take home message’ on how diseases spread and the importance of good biosecurity practices. For example, when buying new plants for the garden, source them carefully from a reputable nursery and where possible purchase plants grown in the UK. Garden waste affected by pests and diseases should also be disposed of appropriately through burning or at council composting facilities.

Hidden throughout the exhibition hall were parts of our “Alien Bug Hunt” activity.  The children avidly set off hunting down the invaders, such as the red-necked longhorn beetle, and answering a questionnaire as they learnt about the impact these bugs can have.

Image of a box containing pencils and activity packs with a sign above entitled 'Come and join our Alien Bug Hunt'
'Alien Bug Hunt' activity set up for the children.

Workshop on non-native species of plants and animals

Our staff from the National Wildlife Management Centre and the GB Non-native Species Secretariat ran a workshop entitled “Train to be an invasive species detective”. Children learned important definitions regarding native, non-native and invasive non-native species before taking part in two games. The detectives were tasked to find hidden “invaders” in urban and freshwater environments using the displays on the table.

Image of an adult and some children standing around a table with a paper activity in front of them.
APHA’s lead scientist for wildlife guiding a group of detectives through the first exercise.

In the second interactive game, the children were encouraged to uncover some of the key ways that invasive species are introduced to the environment, and to come up with some simple actions they could take to reduce the risk of this happening in future.

Image showing a pile of laminated cards each with a different 'case' and detective's report. The card showing on the image says, ' Case 4: American skunk cabbage has been found in a second wood a few miles away. Detective's report: What caused the problem? Seeds were spread on muddy boots. How can we stop it happening again? Clean your shoes after walking in the countryside.
APHA’s wildlife biologist coaching the detective academy recruits.

Over two days, we spoke to over 200 children who went away with an increased knowledge of invasive plants and animals, of ways to look after our environment to protect against such threats and of some basic good biosecurity practices that they can use in their day-to-day lives. The two days were fun, if not a little tiring! We see science communication as an integral part of the science process and it was very rewarding for the APHA staff involved to share the exciting and valuable aspects of the scientific research and surveillance work they are involved with.

Here are some simple things we can all do to help protect the environment and recreational spaces we enjoy:

  • If you’re an angler, sailor, canoeist or similar, remember to Check Clean Dry your equipment and clothing after leaving the water to avoid accidentally spreading invasive plants and animals between waterbodies on your kit.
  • Help native plants and wildlife to thrive by preventing your garden, pond and aquarium plants from spreading into the wild. If you’re having a clear out, Be Plant Wise and compost any unwanted plants.
  • Look out for new species like the Asian hornet which is a threat to honey bees. Find out more and report sightings online or download the free Asian Hornet Watch app.
  • Find out more at

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