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Where are the young naturalists these days? The next generation of conservationists

Peter Cooper
bird 300x225 Where are the young naturalists these days? The next generation of conservationists

A Kingfisher (c) Alex Berryman

Where are the young naturalists these days? Their scarcity has become increasingly apparent in recent years, and so worrying that the National Trust published a paper focused entirely on the issue. It was also discussed as a grave concern by both Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham.

It is a big problem. Not only is it an end to the next generation’s contact with nature but without a new wave of wildlife conservationists to protect it, an already fading natural world would become even more helpless – marooned with no one coming to save it.

Despite the doom-mongering there is still hope. Whilst there may be fewer young people watching birds, fishing for minnows and climbing trees than there may have been in the days before the rise of electronic media kept children confined to their bedrooms, they are still there. Often they are unique among their immediate peers in their passion for nature. This was certainly true in my case, where I felt like I was the only one at school who showed more than a passing interest in wildlife, and would rather look for roe deer than play Call of Duty.

But when you consider that there’s about 20 million people under 24 in the UK, a bigger picture of young naturalists scattered throughout the country appears. Below are six examples of such people who have made our natural history their life’s passion. All the greats – the likes of Peter Scott, Gerald Durrell, and of course Attenborough – became naturalists as children. So who knows, perhaps the six names below are ones we should all be looking out for in years to come. A new wave of naturalists determined to preserve and inspire others to enjoy the beauty of our natural world.

Amy Rose, 15

“From the Peacock butterflies that flock to the Buddleia each summer, to the Peregrines that plummet out of the sky in pursuit of their prey at 200mph, I love every aspect of nature, big or small. Watching the daily rhythm of the natural world is a beautiful part of life and is truly good for the soul.”

“My love for wildlife has given me the ambition to become a conservationist and the confidence to join my local Phoenix Group, fundraise for wildlife charities, and become a member of the RSPB Phoenix Forum. I believe nature is beautiful and it is important we leave it that way for future generations.”

Nathaniel Dargue, 16

“I love all aspects of nature, it’s what I’ve been brought up with and have therefore grown to love. Whether it be dragonflies darting about over a pond on a sunny July day or watching seabirds on a boat on choppy seas, if it’s to do with wildlife and nature I’m there! I find sharing my life with nature relaxing, it keeps me sane.”

“It’s this love of nature that prompted me to apply to do work experience with my local RSPB reserve. From there I joined the Phoenix group, mingling with other people my age who also love wildlife, whom I can relate to and have in depth wildlife discussions with. From that I knew my desire to help nature went further. I’d always wanted a career in conservation but this sealed it, so I applied to join the RSPB Phoenix forum and duly got in. I am now a bird ringer (someone who attaches tags to birds so that they can be studied). Furthermore, I took up wildlife photography to try and capture on film the enigmatic characteristics of our wildlife and show it to the world. I strongly believe that nature is an essential part of everyone’s daily lives even if they don’t realise it.”

Jonnie Fisk, 17

“Nature brings excitement and a spontaneity that no video game will ever be able to compete with. Every walk or trip out birding guarantees a surprise, something totally unexpected. A moorland search to see merlins in spring gave me a wheatear and meadow pipit locked in battle, green tiger beetles and a zapping ring ouzel, all unplanned. And that unpredictability of nature is what makes it so exciting and keeps me coming back to it.”

“Going down to my moth trap after a warm night is like Christmas morning, every bird survey comes back with notes on bird behaviour I’ve seen. A quick shortcut through the park could delay me by hours as I look at a freshly grown orchid or new migrants. Submitting my moth or bird records is the easiest and simplest way I can help our wildlife.”

Alex Berryman, 15

bird 2 225x300 Where are the young naturalists these days? The next generation of conservationists

(c) Alex Berryman

“I have always had an interest in nature, whether it be searching for eagles in the highlands of Scotland or crawling through the leaf litter in my very own back garden in search of bugs. From this I suppose it was only natural that I developed an interest in wildlife photography.”

“I have always focused on photographing birds perhaps because they are amongst the most diverse and accessible species in the UK. For me, having the subjects accept me is a wonderful feeling, and one that can not be matched by playing video games like the perhaps other teenagers.”

“In the UK a lot of people complain that our native flora and fauna is dull and holds no interest for the newest generation of naturalists. However, this could not be further from the truth, and disproving it is one of my aims when attempting to photograph the birds of Britain.”

“I like to focus on colour in order to show people that in the country we call home, there are spectacular species of birds to be found. One such bird is the kingfisher, a species that many just view as a blur whizzing past a river or canal. I have spent many hours, days even, watching an empty branch from my hide, hoping to catch a glimpse of these beautiful birds. With patience I have managed to get within two metres of kingfishers, and it is encounters like this that inspire me to get outside and photograph Britain’s wildlife as much as possible!”

To see more of Alex’s photography, visit www.alexberrymanphotography.co.uk

Lucy McRobert, 22

“It’s safe to say that since I became a self-confessed nature-addict I have been ridiculed by many a peer and friend. There’s no denying it – binoculars are never going to be a fashion statement. However, nature is full of contrasts, contradictions and excitement that I find fascinating: the factual, the entertaining, and often the downright ridiculous. Children and adults alike, as a rule, do not connect with nature through science; more needs to be done to emphasise that nature conservation is not just about ecologists examining an animal in a habitat, but also exists as a socio-cultural aspect in our hearts, minds and imaginations that can be examined through the creative arts such as photography, videography, fine art, creative writing, and even history and geography.”

“With this in mind, since graduating from the University of Nottingham I have played a key role in setting up an organisation dedicated to promoting this holistic view of nature conservation to young adults aged 16 to 30: A Focus On Nature. In partnership with many companies, including Opticron, Swarovski Optik, WildSounds, Christopher Helm Publishing and Northshots Photography, and several leading British conservation organisations, we are offering young people the chance to become part of a growing network of young, professional conservationists. A successful application can result in a prize of books or binoculars, mentoring from a professional in their chosen field, and the chance to participate in projects to enhance a CV.”

For more information on how to get involved or an application form, please contact lucy@afon.org.uk or visit www.afocusonnature.org.uk

Adam Canning, 22

“From such an early age, I’ve had a fascination with nature. My love and passion for it has grown over the years, which was encouraged by my family. Children’s BBC certainly had a part in it too, with wildlife-related programmes like The Animals of Farthing Wood. Of course, I also grew up watching David Attenborough documentaries and Bill Oddie’s ones too. Where I live must have also been a fuel for my passion. I inhabit a semi-rural-suburb of Birmingham; I have ancient woodland, the River Rea, fields, farms and country parks around me.”

“I love nature, because to me, what you see is what you get and nothing really changes with it. It makes me feel alive and happy. It must be said, there are some animals that are just captivating and enchanting, from long-tailed tits fleeting around trees, calling to one-and-other, to spotting a fox walking about your street or a kingfisher perched on a branch.”

“I got interested in documenting nature when I was 10, first using a 110 and 35mm Film Camera. When I was in high school I did a BTEC First Diploma in Media Studies as I started to get an interest in filmmaking. Inspired by Springwatch, I decided to combine my love of wildlife with my love of filmmaking. At 16 I enrolled on a National Diploma course in Media Moving Image and went on to completing a HND in Media Moving Image.

Whilst I was on the National Diploma, I founded my independent production company called Nature on Screen, and put a mini camera in my neighbour’s garage roof to film inside a squirrel’s drey! In doing that, it sparked interest with BBC Midlands Today, and I was interviewed for the programme’s version of Autumnwatch. As a result of my filming The Secret Life of Birmingham Squirrels, BBC Birmingham gave me my own ‘feature webpage’ for the nature section of their website.

At 20 I was offered to make a monthly set of videos for Reader’s Digest Magazine’s website, and I jumped at the chance! The online series lasted for over a year with two series, where I highlighted conservation stories and what wildlife to look out for each month. It helped spread awareness of the Natural World, thus helping Conservation in some way. Most recently I made a festive film, featuring Worcestershire waxwings!

To see more of Adam’s wildlife films, visit his website at natureonscreen.webs.com

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  • Ben Adams

    Fantastic! It is great to see young people interested in nature, something you rarely see nowadays with the invention and expansion of Nintendo and Microsoft.

  • Pacificweather

    The evidence for young naturalist used to be the decline in the bird population caused by children with such an interest in nature that they would steal eggs from nests to display in their bedrooms. Now they no longer are so destructive, the evidence for their interest has disappeared. They are now so well hidden from Chris Packham that the trails they make in my local wood cannot be seen from his hide and you only managed to find six who were rash enough to publicise their interest for a short article in a national paper. Like sparrows, they are out there, but only the really determined (usually labeled “parents”) know of their existence.

  • JJ

    Young naturalists are in decline because they can’t steal bird eggs? Clearly you are off to early start with the weekend drinking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lesley.matthews3 Lesley Matthews

    when they removed the nature tables from the classrooms of the primary school, young naturalists almost disappeared. Most 15 year olds (and any age up to 40) wouldn’t know the name of a tree or a bird or a flower any more.

  • Pacificweather

    I think you started on the bottle before me. Read it again.

  • futurebatwomen

    I’m 18 and recently applied to study zoology at university. I think the problem is so few people are exposed to the natural world and the lack of funding and jobs.

    I’m lucky my dad and granddad brought me up with visits to museums and walks on moorland, and I didn’t have exposure to gaming and TVs until I was in my teens but I know that so many others have lost interest in that because of Nintendo etc.

    The lack of job prospects when I leave university is also worrying, I may have to forgo my dream of becoming the next David Attenborough purely because I cannot afford to spend my life studying and travelling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.wotton Roger Wotton

    Natural History has been downgraded as a subject of study. We
    must now follow the needs of “Modern Biology” that is focussed more on humans than
    on finding wonder in all the extraordinary plants, animals and micro-organisms
    with which we share the Earth. How marvellous to read of the views of the young
    people quoted in the blog post.

    Although we must look forward, and not back, the explosive growth
    of interest in Natural History in the Nineteenth Century brought us wonderful,
    descriptive books and very fine illustrations. So many are worth reading and
    some have fascinating back stories. Most of us know about Charles Darwin’s
    powers of observation and of original thought but how many have heard of Philip
    Henry Gosse who was a strong influence on E Ray Lankester and many others?


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