Thoughts from influential nature conservationists…
Since leaving university in 2016 I’ve been lucky to continually work in a field that I love. So much so that I confess, I’ve never really thought of my career as ‘work’ in the usual sense.
A lifelong biological recorder with an interest in finding, observing, and enjoying wildlife, five years ago, I was delighted to begin work at the Natural History Society of Northumbria, first as their Communications Officer and later as their Senior Naturalist. Throughout that time, I’ve been able to combine my strong interests in digital communication, public engagement and of course, natural history, working on everything from citizen science projects, large public events, regional publications, natural history courses and so much more. One of the joys of working for a small organisation is that no two days are the same and for me, the last few years have been one rolling highlight.
In recent year I’ve been delving deeper into the intertwined world of citizen science and biological recording. Botany is a major passion of mine, so it was certainly a highlight to be asked to become a vice-county recorder for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) back in 2021. Something which later led to me receiving the ‘Newcomer Award for Biological Recording’ from the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). A surprise, to say the least!
How do you define nature conservation?
For me, nature conservation is about far more than protecting special places, restoring lost species, or buying up vast tracts of land. All of this is vitally important, sure, but there is much more to it than that – it is about people too. To me, conservation is about changing attitudes, encouraging curiosity, and empowering people to learn, observe and above all appreciate the natural world. Individual action is just as important as the collective and for me, public engagement, citizen science, education and mass awareness are vital cogs in the wheel.
A magical experience that encourages further interest, an interesting discovery which piques curiosity or a hobby, nurtured to become a passion; all of these can generate the kind of change we need to protect the natural world and inspire more people to act in their own unique way. To this end, I wouldn’t call myself a conservationist. Rather someone who likes facilitating positive engagement with nature.
What’s the good news about wildlife and nature at present?
There are lots of positive stories about nature at present but for me, the most notable is a rekindled interest in nature among the wider population. The lockdowns imposed as a result of Covid-19 had many dreadful moments but for many people, they led to a sense of appreciation for nature and the local environment – for what it can do for us, and in turn, for what we can do for it.
All of this means that there are many more people out there ready and willing to engage positively with conservation. In whatever ways they do that, nature must surely benefit as a result.
Beyond the obvious of habitat loss and species decline, what’s your greatest concern in UK nature conservation at present?
Perhaps my greatest concern at present is our collective tendency to think in silos – to think of wildlife as something that exists solely on nature reserves or protected sites. Doing this creates a divide between people and nature when in fact, wildlife is all around us.
We are getting better at this for sure, but until more people recognise the need for change at a landscape level, on farmland, in the hills and even our gardens and urban streets, wildlife will continue to dwell on the peripheries. Integrating conservation and the everyday must surely be the way forward and change needs to come in all parts of society.
If you had a limited budget on nature conservation in Britain, what would you prioritise and why?
I would prioritise the democratisation of funding, ensuring that small, local initiatives received their fair share of the pot. Community projects, small, local societies, smaller organisations, and independent conservationists are equally worthy of support as the larger NGOs, and all are capable of meaningful action. By supporting grassroots conservation efforts, I truly believe we bring about far larger change.
And if I had some cash left over? I would prioritise environmental learning at all levels: in schools, at university and further afield, including environmental professionals. We cannot very well protect something we do not understand, so supporting naturalists to develop their skills seems a no brainer to me. Field skills and species identification seem to have fallen by the wayside in the sector, so I would like to see them revived.
How do you feel about your input to the subject – what if anything has it achieved and would you do it differently if starting again today?
It has taken me a while to find my footing in the sector but if I have played even a small part in encouraging others to look closer at the natural world, I am proud of it. In my career to date, if all I have done is encouraged just one person to look closer at the natural world, admire it, and perhaps even take their first steps towards protecting it, I am fully content.