11 Sept 2017

Forty aspiring young artists and writers from across Scotland have been selected as the finalists in a national competition organised by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust. Children aged 8-18 were asked to paint, draw or write about 15 iconic Scottish species, ranging from Scottish wildcats and red deer to great crested newts.

ARC's patron and TV presenter Chris Packham said: "There are some very striking, imaginative and colourful artworks... and some tremendous essays describing these wonderful animals."

Finalists have been invited to attend an awards day at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo on Saturday 21st October 2017, hosted by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). The final results will be declared on the day, when all finalists will receive prizes.

Children from the following schools are on the list: Inverarary Primary School (Argyll), Levenvale Primary School (West Dunbartonshire), Troqueer Primary School (Dumfries), Park Primary School and Drummore Primary School (Stranraer), Leadhills Primary School (Biggar), Earlston High School, Coldingham Primary School and Melrose Primary School (Borders), Monymusk Primary School (Aberdeenshire), Ardnamurchan High School (Highland), St Joseph's Academy (Kilmarnock), Sgoil nan Loch (Isle of Lewis), Greenfaulds Academy (Cumbernauld), Lockerbie Academy, George Watson's College (Edinburgh), Belmont House School (Newton Mearns) and Arbroath Academy (Angus). A number of independent entrants are also on the list.

The creative work done by the children will be used to help illustrate a book called "Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science: how DNA technology is being used to help save Scotland's wildlife". The book is being compiled by Dr Pete Minting of ARC, who hopes that it will inspire more people to develop an interest in science and wildlife conservation.

Dr Minting also runs ARC's Great Crested Newt Detectives project in Scotland, where volunteers collect water samples from ponds to test for great crested newt DNA. He said: "It's amazing what we can achieve today with the help of DNA technology. We often hear of DNA evidence being used to solve murders, or find out more about our ancestors. But wildlife also benefits. If we discover a great crested newt site, it may be protected from development. If someone claims that the salmon in their freezer came from a salmon farm, DNA evidence may show they were actually caught in a river. If someone's dog bites a badger or a hare, the dog and its owner may be identified."

RZSS is working closely with ARC to help make the Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science project a success. Dr Gill Murray-Dickson is a research scientist in the RZSS WildGenes laboratory. She says “DNA technology is a powerful tool with huge potential for helping to manage rare and endangered species. Using DNA-based information to help conserve native species in particular is a hugely exciting, yet challenging, mission to be part of.” The RZSS WildGenes laboratory works on several projects in Scotland (and further afield) including genetic studies of endangered Scottish wildcats and European beavers that have recently been reintroduced to Scotland. The awards day on Saturday 21st October will be followed by an event for a wider audience at the same venue on Sunday 22nd October, which will feature presentations by the RZSS, ARC and other speakers specialising in genetics and wildlife conservation.

The Amazing Animals Brilliant Science competition is part of ARC's Great Crested Newt Detectives project in Scotland, which started in April 2016 and runs until March 2018, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Scottish Natural Heritage, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and ARC.