Unfortunately, with the increased workload over the last year at school, I haven’t been able to make time to post regularly about what I’ve been up to. So this post is just a little summary of the last 365 days. Apologies for any weird formatting – WordPress seems to be malfunctioning.
Last winter I had the privilege of visiting Horsey Beach in Norfolk to look for Grey Seal pups. It was something I’d desperately wanted to do for years, and this time, at long last, the parents relented to a short trip. I only spent a couple of hours with them, but it was probably the best wildlife encounter I’ve ever had! We visited towards the end of the breeding season, so there were few very young pups, but there were a significant number of slightly older ones that had ventured up into the sand dunes to keep cool and stay out of the way of fighting males.
Despite the time limitations, I did manage to get enough footage to piece together a short documentary:
In January I helped to run a rewilding conference at Cambridge University. It was a brilliant event, with a huge variety of speakers and talks, from Frans Schepers laying out a vision for restoring Europe’s wildernesses, to Isabella Tree’s story of how they turned their intensively farmed estate into one of the most biodiverse sites in the country. George Monbiot also gave a talk on how rewilding is now a necessity to combat the climate crisis.
The conference attracted leaders in the field from all over the world, and there was a lot of discussion in workshops and between sessions which will hopefully lead to more exciting developments in the future. Because it’s such a new field, I expect that sharing knowledge between individuals working on isolated projects around the world is of utmost importance, in order to know what works and what doesn’t.
RGS Conservation Lecture
At school I helped to organise an evening of lectures on environmental issues, covering climate science, innovative strategies to encourage sustainable social change, and using film to save some of earth’s most awe-inspiring creatures: elephants and rhinos. Tickets for the evening were sold out, and we had a full audience of pupils and their parents from the area.
I’m hoping that this will be a precursor to more similar events in schools in the area, and the start of some form of collaboration between local schools to address environmental issues in the county.
After the announcement of Japan’s decision to leave the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling, several protests around the world were staged to demonstrate the level of international opposition to the practice. Dominic Dyer, an animal rights campaigner and a friend of mine, asked me if I’d like to give a speech at a protest he was organising in London. The moratorium on commercial whaling was established more than 30 years ago, after the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign that is seen by many as the start of the modern environmental movement. Several whale populations are starting to recover numbers today, despite countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland continuing to hunt whales by exploiting loopholes in the moratorium. However, now Japan has announced that they will abandon the IWC entirely and resume commercial whaling. This, in light of the other increased pressures that are being put on our oceans, is completely unacceptable. Besides, given we are now starting to realise the immense degree of emotional intelligence these creatures possess, we cannot justify the amount of pain they must be subjected to when pierced with an exploding harpoon (taking up to 25 minutes to die).
Surrey Wildlife Trust Youth Summit This will become a bit of a recurring theme in this blog post, but this year I’ve noticed a new, increased drive in many NGOs in the conservation sector to involve young people. The first particular example of this was Surrey Wildlife Trust’sf first ever Youth Summit, where they invited young people from all the schools in the area to meet up for a day of talks and workshops. The first keynote speaker, Nick Baker, raced through what he was meant to talk about and dived into an examination of a fascinating host of invertebrates found in the reserve’s pond. Sophie Pavelle then took over and discussed how she manages to create wildlife film content that appeals to an audience that would otherwise have no interest – particularly in our own generation. It looks like another summit is set to be held in March 2020 so if you’re 16-18 and live in the area then you can sign up on their website.
Thoroughly recommend it!
Something else came out of the summit: I’m now a youth ambassador for Surrey Wildlife Trust! I have hopes in particular to do some social media takeovers for them (I’ve done one so far on badgers). Keep an eye out next year.
A Week as a Vet at Bristol Zoo
Bristol Zoo, it turns out, allows students to do work experience with their vet team! For a couple of years I considered being a vet, and was really keen to see what being a wildlife/zoo vet was like, given that would probably be the area I’d want to move into. So I spent one week of my summer holiday in Bristol, taking blood samples from mangrove snakes, doing physio on flamingo chicks and surgery on a pygmy chameleon. Although I now don’t think I’ll pursue a career in veterinary medicine, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The figure that I look up to most, isn’t – although it seems almost blasphemous to say so – Sir David Attenborough (he does come in at a close second).
I’m not alone in seeing Chris Packham as an idol, and I think that he’s a significant source of inspiration for a lot of the wildlife campaigners in my generation.
So it absolutely made my year when I got to speak up on stage with some other young campaigners at Chris’s talk at Birdfair this year.
We spoke about different aspects of the climate and biodiversity crises: their urgency, their effects on people around the world, and how the next year is of particular importance for tackling them. Strangely, it seems that many who visit the Birdfair, despite a love of birds and birdwatching, aren’t especially engaged with these issues – in fact they’ve come under some fire recently for all their plane flights to far-flung corners of the Earth on birding trips. On the other hand, although Chris has always helped to give young people a platform, this was one of an unprecedented number of talks/panels featuring youth held at Birdfair this year. Again I think this is evidence of that desire on behalf of the conservation community to get us more involved in their work, and help to raise our voices. It is important that this is done in a meaningful way rather than a kind of tokenism, but this shift is very welcome.
In September I had the pleasure of being part of the volunteer team running the Now For Nature Conference at the Natural History Museum. This conference, organised by A Focus on Nature, brought together over a hundred young conservationists, campaigners, writers and film-makers to listen to talks and participate in workshops led by experts from the sector and other young people (many fulfilled both criteria!). It’s so important when working in what is, ultimately, a pretty depressing field at the moment, to bring together like-minded, passionate people.
I was thrilled to be invited to speak as part of a panel at the Royal Geographical Society this year, at their Voices for the Wild Event. The rest of the line-up consisted of a exciting variety of speakers: explorers, authors and endurance athletes. Myself and three other young people were interviewed by Simon Thomas (Blue Peter & Sky Sports presenter). The other panellists had all, in some way, been involved with the Wilderness Foundation, who were hosting the evening and raising money for their projects. They had stories of how the foundation had sparked a passion for saving wildlife, or helped them to overcome depression and addictions. The foundation achieves this through ‘wilderness therapy’ – using the scientifically proven powers of nature to improve mental health. After some pretty moving anecdotes, I myself was firmly convinced of the huge impact that this charity has.
RSPB Conservation Weekend and Youth Council
Having been so tied up in A levels, university applications and campaigning, one of the disappointments of this year was that I wasn’t actually able to get outside as much as I wanted to. One chance to force myself to outdoors arose in the form of the RSPB Youth Council conservation weekend. The Youth Council consists of 10 teenagers, and while I’ve been a member for about 4 years now, 8 of the other members have left and been replaced by a brand new batch. This weekend was an opportunity to get to know each other and share some ideas.
We were based in the RSPB’s brand new reserve, Franchise’s Lodge, in the New Forest. This isn’t due to be open to the public for several years yet, so it was great to be able to camp out there (in what was, with the exception of the ubiquitous rhododendron, pretty pristine deciduous forest). A particular highlight was my first Wasp Spider, a striking species which builds a distinctive zigzag stripe down the middle of its web that reflects UV light to attract insects.
C4 interview & SoN report
The State of Nature report is a hugely important document that gathers scientific data collected by thousands of volunteers and scientists across the UK, and analyses it to produce trends for species populations, in an attempt to understand how wildlife is faring in our country. It also tries to identify the major factors driving those declines and positive projects that are successfully combating them.
Since the last report in 2016, a lot more data had been gathered, and the news – as expected – wasn’t great. It showed that one in seven species was threatened with extinction, 41% of species were experiencing moderate or serious declines, and 2% were already lost from our shores completely.
This year the report wasn’t launched by David Attenborough as per usual, but instead by some young conservationists from across the UK. They wrote the foreword and helped front it in the national media. This again is evidence of the ambition of the conservation NGOs (over 70 of which contributed to the report) to give young people a platform. As part of this, I was interviewed with Bella Lack by Jon Snow live on Channel 4 news. It was a pretty nerve-wracking experience, but I don’t think we did too bad a job. It was an incredible opportunity which I’m very grateful for; as a young person passionate about these issues but with a relatively small and localised influence, it often feels like the only people that you’re reaching are the already-converted.
It’s been conventional for the last few years to send a member of the RSPB Youth Council to the Annual General Meeting to give a report on what the council has been up to. This year I took a turn at delivering the speech, also incorporating a perspective on the wider youth environmental movement and the progress it has made in the last year.
This was held at the QE2 Centre in London, and attracted a couple of hundred of the most dedicated members of the RSPB, many of whom had been so for almost their whole lives. The evening before there was a dinner for those speaking, where I got to meet some brilliant volunteers who were receiving awards for their hard work. One of them, a man called Neville, had been volunteering for over 60 years! I also got to catch up with Dara McAnulty, who was receiving the RSPB Medal for his contributions to conservation (an award whose previous recipients include Sir David Attenborough and the Prince of Wales!), and Miranda Krestovnikoff, TV presenter and the President of the RSPB, who I’d met Scotland a couple of years ago.
I think many of the members who attend the AGM are quite worried about how little young people care about nature, but I hope that Dara and I (as well as the other youth council members who ran a stall at the event) managed to reassure them that there are plenty in our generation who care as deeply as they do.
After the announcement of yet another general election, the conservation community saw the need to step up their campaigning. Of course, being registered charities, no party-specific lobbying was allowed. Instead, UK Youth For Nature launched a campaign with several aims: to get strong environmental policy at the heart of every party’s manifesto, to raise public awareness of the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises and the importance of the general election in determining how we deal with them.
Unfortunately it did seem that the narrative of the election focused almost exclusively on Brexit, despite our best efforts to shift it onto the continuation of human civilisation. However, together with Possible and UKSCN (who launched a petition that gained over 200,000 signatures) we managed to get Channel 4 news to host a televised debate, exclusively on climate and nature, between party leaders. Well… most of them.
As a trailer of sorts for that, myself and a few other people spoke in a short feature about the terrifyingly short timescales we face to solve the environmental crises, and the importance of the next governmental term.
And indeed the next year is crucial, so whatever government we now have, it is vital that we apply huge pressure in 2020 to lay down the policies needed. More on this soon – watch this space!
Over the last year I have become involved with two new organisations in particular: Youth For Our Planet and Reserva Youth Land Trust. As you can tell from the names, both are examples of the wave of youth-led organisations springing up all over the place, harnessing the energy and passion of the millions of young people who care about the future of our planet.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet up with some of the rest of the UK-based council for Reserva, and the founder, Callie Broaddus, who had popped over to the UK straight from COP 25 in Madrid. One evening was well spent back at the Royal Geographical Society watching Bella Lack deliver a powerful speech up on stage, as part of an evening hosted by Steve Backshall raising money for the World Land Trust. I’m really looking forward to getting more involved with both organisations next year -there are a couple of very exciting projects in the pipeline.