A badger on a camper trap

Discover wildlife with a trail camera

Wildlife Photography with a Trail Camera Trap

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Oct 2013; updated May 2023.

Trial camera traps are now within reach of most of us thanks to the reduced cost of technology. This could be an interesting project to do with your kids and discover your local wildlife.

Once upon a time, only researchers and filmmakers could do this. Now you can do it with your kids.

Wildlife trail cameras (also known as camera traps) had only been available to wildlife photographers, but now that camera technology is cheaper (though not quite 'cheap'), these gadgets are within reach to the rest of us.

Using a Wildlife Trail Camera

You can strap trail cameras to a tree close to an animal trail, then come back later to see what you caught. It's a great way for you and your kids to survey just what sort of animals come out after dark.

Get a camera that has infrared, so it can take pictures in the dark (but note that these will be black and white).

If you want to get good shots, try placing some food close to the camera.

Suggestions for taking trail photos with your kids

Here are some suggestions for using a trail camera with your kids:

  • If you have a big garden, set up the camera to see your nighttime visitors.  It may be the local cats, but you could get hedgehogs and foxes.  Your kids will be surprised who shares their garden at night.
  • If you live near some countryside, find somewhere you can leave the camera safely. You might be surprised how much or how little wildlife there is nearby. This activity could make an ideal school project.
  • Are you going camping somewhere in the countryside?  Leave the camera near your tent to see what visitors you get at night. We had a hedgehog checking us out at one camp recently. However, at a campsite in the French Alps, something bigger was making a noise in the early hours. We never discovered what it was, but this camera could have helped.

How good is the photo quality of a camera trap?

As with most things, you get what you pay for, but the one we bought from Amazon wasn't expensive and produced good photos.

Here are some videos that people have taken with their trail cameras.

This video is of a fox caught in UK woodland, so the sort of thing you may find.

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Unfortunately, the people who took this left their camera strapped to a tree for two weeks, and someone had nicked it! So if you do this, please try and hide the camera and don't leave it there for a long time.

Camera Trapping, by Nature Spy

Here are some words from an expert 'Camera Trapper', James McConnell, a Wildlife Biologist over at Nature Spy, who specialises in using Camera Traps to uncover nature in our countryside.

Camera traps are much more than a little magic camera strapped to a tree. They offer a new way to see and learn about wildlife practically anywhere in the world.

It’s almost magical. It’s a glimpse into a world that is extremely rarely seen; a view of a wild animal behaving completely naturally with no influence from watching humans. Camera traps also work 24/7, giving you not just daytime but also night-time images.

Fox caught on camera trap - from Nature Spy

The best thing about camera traps is you literally never know what can turn up – you can try and influence the wildlife by leaving some tasty snacks out, but you can never control it. This means you can get brown hare in the middle of forests, badgers using field edges, great tits plucking grubs from grass stems – it’s impossible to predict.

It’s this which makes them fantastic for families; do you know if you’ve got a hedgehog bumbling around your garden in the summer? You’d be surprised how many people thought they didn’t, then with the help of our cameras, found out they did. This means families can leave out special hedgehog food and encourage their prickly visitors to stay longer, or even come earlier.  We’ve even captured two hedgehogs wrestling over peanuts.

Badger caught by camera trap - from Nature Spy

Checking the camera is undoubtedly the best part; it’s like Christmas morning! It’s best to leave the camera for a week or two before checking it to give you the best chance of images, though garden cameras can be checked daily without risking disturbance. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an urban or rural area – camera traps can always throw up a surprise.

NatureSpy has used camera traps to show schoolchildren the fox on their playground in the dead of night and the deer visiting the nearby forest. We’ve also used them on nature reserves to get a view into what happens when everyone goes home. Our project to try and uncover pine marten in Yorkshire for the first time using camera traps attracted national attention and had given us some fantastic images.

With falling prices and improving quality, now is the time to invest in a little magic camera.

The photos above are from Nature Spy and show what you can get with a camera trap.

Searching for Pine Martins on the North York Moors

Nature Spy has been working on a project to confirm if the rare Pine Martins have returned to North Yorkshire.

Here's a video from the BBC on that project.

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