Sunday, 28 April 2019

Post 498 - A review and a thank you

Hey everyone, this is one of those posts that is a little overdue, a post where I want to thank someone for lots of support since my very early days of blogging and for a lovely gift.

There are lots of people I've met through my blog, virtually and some in real life, and it is very hard to say just how much everyone has inspired and supported me over the years. All the little comments on the blog or on twitter, little snippets of encouragement have meant so much to me. Some people have been very generous with their knowledge as I've been growing my own understanding of the natural world.

Birdwatching London will be in my bag when I
visit the capital!
One of these people who I've yet to meet is David Darrell-Lambert and today I want to thank him.

David has been very supportive as long as I can remember. Lots of nice comments and tweets and always willing to help with a bird ID if I've been struggling. We've tried to arrange meets ups a few times but somehow our paths have never quite crossed.

Recently, well in honestly a little while ago now, I got a DM from David offering to send me a copy of his book - Birdwatching London. Well, I'm from Yorkshire so it's hard to turn down "owt for nowt" so I gladly accepted his generous offer.

What a lovely book. It's almost pocket sized so it's easy to take on a trip and I'll be making sure I have it whenever I head down to London. In the book David covers 38 sites around the capital where you can do some good bird watching. I don't get to London that often so it's really useful for someone like me to know where I can go to escape the hustle and bustle and get a bit of a nature fix. Through this book I've learnt there's even a little nearby space to visit if I've a bit of time to spare when I'm waiting for a train - though I have to wait until next year now as they're building a new visitor centre at LWT - Camley Street Natural Park.

This is the Landmark London Bird for me -
always like to see these exotic beauties when I visit.
The main part of the book is a description of 37 different sites across London and one easily accessed coastal site from the capital at Southend-on-sea. It's published in association with the London Wildlife Trust and it's got all the information you need to be able to find the sites. I like that it doesn't provide Grid References and the best places to park like my Yorkshire Wildlife Trust guide does for its reserve, instead it tells you the nearest tube stations. That just underlined a couple of differences between home and London to me, the difference in scale and public transport!  David describes each site, a little about its history, and what you can see where at each site covering seasonal changes too.

In between the site write-ups are features on Landmark London Birds, species such as Peregrine Falcon, King Fisher, Ring Necked Parakeet. These little added inclusions are lovely and tell you a bit about each species, a bit about their history in the capital,  sometimes a bit about David's personal experience of that species or how best to find them.

Thanks David - and I'm sure I will!
The book has lots of wonderful photos by David too including species I never thought you'd see in London such as Bittern and Avocet.

So thank you David for all your kind words and support whilst I've been blogging and discovering nature. Thank you too for the wonderful book which I will enjoy and will make sure I use when I visit London.

If you'd like to do the same you can pick up a copy here - https://www.nhbs.com/birdwatching-london-book

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Post 497 - More Power to the Young People - Young Forces of Nature

Hey everyone, as i mentioned in my last post I said I'd post up the content of an article I wrote for New Nature a little while ago now just outlining some of the ways you can help nature when you're not old enough to vote, so here it is...

Young Forces of Nature - New Nature - Issue 19 - June 2018

Nature is incredible and needs our help!

 Do you sometimes sit at school frustrated by others in the class trying to make fun of your love of nature? Ever heard the argument that young people are only interested in celebrities, computer games or social media? Do all the reports of wildlife declines and habitat disappearing concern you?

So what do you do when you have to be in school, you’re not old enough to vote or to work, but you’re passionate about our natural world? How can we change perceptions of young people? How can young people help wildlife?


Sometimes it takes a little help but I’ve found there are lots of ways that people my age can get involved and make a difference. All of the things I’ll talk about here I’ve done since I was about ten, and I only turned fourteen (fifteen now!) this spring. I think anyone with a passion for nature could do similar things, and for the sake of our natural world I’d say that they should.

So what sort of things am I on about?

Technology. 
Well let’s start with technology. Yes, it’s true. Young people like computers and computer games. Me too. It’s very hard to escape them unless you’re a hermit. Whilst I like the weeks when I go on holiday and get away from technology for a while, we have to use it. It is such a powerful tool. I wouldn’t be communicating with you right now without it. For me tools such as blogging and twitter opened up contact with a big range of nature loving people and organisations, just simply through sharing my passion and the things I would see on my walks. So a really easy thing to do is to use technology to tell other people all about your passion, share information about the places and species that you love. The mainstream media is so full of dull, miserable or worrying news that I found people really liked simple positive stories about someone young exploring the world. Sharing your stories on social media may help to inspire your friends too – The Wildlife Trust’s 30 days Wild is a perfect way to start this type of thing as they suggest lots of easy ways to get out and connect with nature.

Taken on a phone - well, I didn't have much choice!
To make the most of blogging and twitter you probably want to do a bit of photography too. You don’t need lots of expensive gear unless you really get into it. Phones on cameras work well for lots of things. I’ve had some really nice sunset shots from my phone. Flowers and insects are good subjects for phone cameras too. You can get clip on lenses too which are quite cheap and can give great macro shots. Photos really help to get nature in front of people and encourage them to appreciate and protect it.

Citizen Science
This is a big thing now. It’s important, simple to do and again most of the time a smart phone is all that you need to use. You can download apps to take part in projects like the Great British Bee Count and help scientists understand what is happening to our bee populations. You just use the app to identify bees and record where you saw them. Froglife have a Dragonfinder app to record all things reptilian and Butterfly Conservation have one for their Big Butterfly Count.  Apps like iRecord will let you log anything you find too. Contributing to projects like these will help us to know what needs most help.
Litter picks are one way to volunteer

Volunteering
If you like this sort of thing there are probably projects near you that you can volunteer to help with more surveying. I’m involved with one near me called The Wild Watch which is surveying 50 species across the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They’ve laid on training sessions for volunteers too so that we know what to look out for, where and when. I’m doing reptile, riverside and invertebrate surveys this year.

And lots of reserves welcome your help

Volunteering is a great way to get involved with lots of nature based projects and I’ve seen lots of places where young people are welcomed from Local Nature Reserves through to projects and opportunities run by the Wildlife Trusts. I’ve seen people my age helping out at RSPB Reserves telling visitors what’s been seen and about the site. There are all sorts of ways to help, and you learn a lot in the process. I’ve helped clear grass and saplings from reserves (and got to   (The film is linked on the side bar of my blog ----> ) 
feed a massive bonfire at the end of the year), sown wild plants in meadows, helped with moth trapping events and lots more. All sorts of opportunities can present themselves. Last year I was asked to be youth patron for the Wild Watch and through that I got to make a film encouraging the children of Nidderdale to get involved in an Owl survey.

Getting political.
Here’s a couple of things I was surprised you can do. The government has a website where you can start petitions. I was able to set one up asking the government to keep or improve the laws we have now as part of Europe when we exit the EU. I was amazed I could do this. All I needed was an email address and not to be campaigning about something that there was already a petition about. I got over 7000 signatures which wasn’t enough to get a response from the Government, but I was pleased with it for a first attempt and I got lots of people thinking about the same issue.

It is also quite easy to write to your MP. I’ve written to mine now a few times, enough that he knows me now and I got a letter from him congratulating me on an award I had won which he read about in the local paper. I’ve asked him about issues like subsidies for Grouse Moors and recently as there is a big housing development quite near me I asked him about building in wildlife friendly features into new houses and including wildlife corridors in the developments. It wasn’t something he could answer but he sent my letter to the right Minister and I got a response from them. It only pointed me at a load of legislation that I need to read and try to understand, which I will try to do and write back, but at least they know that people care about these issues. The more of us that do this the more likely we are to get improvements for nature.

Speaking up for young people and starting your own projects
At the YNU 2017 conference
It’s great to see a lot of projects for young people but there are a lot of societies that are more focused on adults. Some want to change and know that it is important that they make themselves appealing to young people. I was invited to the Yorkshire Naturalists Union Annual Conference in 2017 to have a stand and talk about my blog and photography. I met loads of great people who were really interested in what I was doing. I also got to take part in several discussions about getting more young people more involved. One comment I made that seems to have stuck when they were asking what we thought young people want from a society like this was – “Have you tried asking young people”. I wrote up an article for their magazine about the conference and got some nice emails back from some of the senior ‘Grey beards’. I was the only person there my age, but I think it made a difference.


At Haggewoods Eco-explorers project
Start your own projects
Something that did happen as a ripple out of the article about the YNU conference was I was asked to come and discuss my ideas about engaging young people in nature through technology and film making. The Hagges Woods Trust is a great project near me which has turned an old barley field into a very young wood meadow. It may be young but in a few years the difference in bio-diversity is amazing. Talking to them they knew a film maker and have the space to run a project so we talked it over and they then made an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. They got the money! Sometime this June and July different groups of young people (primary, secondary, scouts and guides) will be coming to the meadow and will be learning about wildlife and making films about it. As I said at the start sometimes you need a little help from people but you can still be quite young yet make a big difference.


Fundraising
Catching up with Lindsay at Potteric Carr after the
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust AGM with my 2018 calendar
I wanted to leave this till last as lots of people do fundraising for lots of causes so it’s not always easy to do. People can get a bit tired of other people asking them for money. So I’ve tried a couple of different things. For the last two years I’ve sold calendars and I’ve split the proceeds with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. I like doing this for a few reasons. I get to promote my photography, I get to repay some of the kindness and support the YWT has offered me, people get something nice for their money and I use the money I make to invest in more photography equipment. I’ve seen others make and sell bird boxes and other things to raise money.

My 2018 Calendar.
There is always the direct approach too. I’ve done a sponsored walk before for a local animal rescue centre but that was quite a while ago. This year not only is The Wild Watch having a year of the Owl but so is the BTO. Well as the BTO is another charity that has been very supportive and helpful to me, and since Owls are a family favourite, I thought I’d have another go. This summer I’m walking the 52 mile Nidderdale way. I’ve set an ambitious target of raising £2,000. I’ve not pushed this hard yet but at the time of writing I’m up to £300. 

I don’t think I’ve ever written an article this long, but I’ve sat watching and listening to a lot of people this year that don’t care much about nature, our planet and its future. I was glad when New Nature liked the idea of the article so that I could try and inspire other young naturalists out there to do more, to let them know that there are lots of things they can do to help. I think it is so important and think what a force for nature we’d all be if everyone who read this did just one or two of the things I’ve written about.    

We’re young, but we do have a voice and we can make a difference.

Thanks,
Zach




Sunday, 24 March 2019

Post 496 - Power to the young people!

Hey everyone, been a bit of a while since I've posted but after recent events I felt it was time I tried to get busier with some blogs again.

The 15th March was a day of hope, a day when the ripples of the actions of one amazing young person, Greta Thunberg, reached the around the world and were multiplied by many more. I love Greta's approach and plain speaking which you can see in the video below.

What I saw on the news and social media about the 15th March was amazing, the biggest youth led action for the climate and the natural world I’ve ever seen. In the UK Many young people I know that have been campaigning on these issues for years were are part of it, joined by thousands of others. To see that more and more young people are becoming aware of the issues and are prepared to take action to help our planet is very uplifting and hopeful

I wasn’t one of them though, I wasn’t there.

Why not? Because I would have felt I was a fraud.

I’ve not been able to engage in the school system for a while now. I’m currently home tutored. So how could I strike from something I’m not part of? This has been down to me not being able to cope with a very big and busy high school and was the one thing I’d struggled most with because of my Autism/Aspergers. So had I joined in it wouldn’t really have been striking in honesty.

But this isn’t about me and my problems. It’s about the world and the problems it’s facing. The fact that more and more young people are willing to take action is amazing.  The act of rebellion of not going to school has jarred the system, seems to offend British sensibilities and prompted even the Prime Minister to comment on the movement, though her words ring less true than those of the young people concerned about the plight of the planet. Many negative comments about the strike are centered around you need to get an education to be able to tackle the problem, or that young people are just doing this to skip school. I don’t think it takes a lot of education to realise that the way that generations before us have led their lives has led to the problems we face now. I don’t think it would take long if the politicians and critics engaged properly with young people to realise they do have integrity, that they are passionate and want real change. They are frightened for their future if change doesn’t happen.

Our lifestyles are causing problems for lots of
creatures we share the planet with, insects are
especially vulnerable and populations are crashing
Engaging with the traditional systems in the traditional ways isn’t going to bring about change rapidly enough to help our planet. I don’t want to wait until 2022 and the next (scheduled) general election to vote. I’ll be old enough then, but will there be a candidate that will be standing on the issues I’m concerned about? Will they win? And then if they do they will have to battle though Parliament to make changes. Do we have that time?

I don’t think we do have that time.  Our respected model of democracy isn’t designed or geared up to make the fundamental changes we need quickly enough. We need to raise our voices and act in different, more urgent ways.

On the basis of the shameful attendance by MP’s on the Climate Change debate in parliament recently it still seems they don’t take the issue seriously.  Yet more and more reports are emerging about our impact on the world, recently we’ve heard about the collapse of insect populations, the Environment Agency warned about the need to use water more wisely if we don’t want to run out of it.
I hope that many of the young people involved in the strike will continue to take action, continue to raise their voice, continue to be heard. I’ve written before about lots of ways people not old enough to vote can help the planet so I hope that as well as protesting many will take direct positive action too.

So as I couldn’t take part I’m going to take my own actions, today that action is that I am writing to Michael Gove. I passed him a copy of the #PeoplesManifestoForWildlife recently and I’m going to ask him what he thought about it, what ideas in it he liked and will act on. This week I’ll dig out the article I wrote for New Nature and post it on my blog highlighting some of the ways young people can help make a difference.

This isn’t going to have the impact that March 15th had on the world, but it’s my little pebbles dropped into the pool of action. I bet Greta didn’t realise how far the ripples of her action would reach. I think it is amazing what has happened as a result of her actions and I really hope she gets the Nobel Prize that she’s been nominated for.

I also hope more and more young people take action, add their ripples, and that together they make waves big enough to bring the change our planet so desperately needs.

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Post 495 - #Iwill4nature - an epic launch

Hey everyone!

It's been a while since my last post, sorry about that, in honesty it's because I've been struggling a bit especially with school. But not to dwell on that too much I know what I'm dealing with since my Autism diagnosis last Autumn and I try not to let it stop me doing the things I love.

London Zoo's Galapagos Tortoise enclosure with
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of state for the Environment
One of the things I was determined to do was to attend the #Iwill4nature launch. Back in Post 493 I covered how I was lucky enough to be made an #Iwill ambassador. Basically #iwill is an initiative to encourage youth social action. This year is especially relevant to me as the focus is on the natural world. The #iwill4nature year coincides with the DEFRA #yearofgreenaction and this week was a joint launch event for them both.

I had the date in the diary since just before Christmas but it wasn't until the end of last week that I knew that I was going to be speaking. I quite like speaking and I guess as I did some amateur dramatics and performing when I was younger I'm reasonably comfortable in front of crowds. Saying that it was a big subject to cover and I hoped I'd nailed some key messages.

#Iwill ambassaors and Mr Gove feeding Dolly, Polly & Priscilla
The #iwill team had sent me all the information about the event, hosted by the Zoological Society of London at London Zoo, so I knew there were going to be other speakers there including the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, and the Director General of the Zoological Society of London Dominic Jermey, and a few other #Iwill Ambassadors. On the train on the way down I learnt that I was to be part of a photo call with Mr Gove, and that I'd be doing that in the tortoise enclosure. Until I'd gone around the Zoo I didn't realise they were Galapagos Tortoises! So we got to the Tortoise enclosure ahead of Michael Gove and had chance to get to know Dolly, Polly and Priscilla. They're all around 28 years old and were bred at Zurich Zoo and are part of a conservation effort to help these creatures. They weigh about 100kgs so we were told to mind we didn't get our feet underneath them in case they sat on them! We saw a fascinating bit of behaviour that these majestic creatures have retained from their evolution on Galapagos. If you stroke their legs they extend their necks and raise themselves up almost on to their tip toes stretching out their legs. This is called 'finching' and stems from a reaction to birds, finches in particular, coming to feed on the parasites that would live on the Tortoises in the wild. They'd stretch up like this to give the birds full access and to provide a handy service for the tortoise, but of course the birds don't mind as they get a feed! Even though they don't have parasites in captivity they still retain this behaviour.

Passing on the manifesto to
Mr Gove!
After this was the launch event and as we were waiting to start there was a bit of time to talk to each other. During this time I had an opportunity. If you remember in the Autumn last year there was a #PeoplesWalkForWildlfie and a few of us got to take the #PeoplesManifestoForWildlife to No 10. Well the hope was to present it to Michael Gove but he was busy that day. So happily I had taken a copy along with me and in a quiet minute ahead of the event I managed to have a quick chat with Mr Gove and pass him a copy!

Then we got into the event and the speeches. One of the first things was a video address from Prince Charles who is the patron of the #Iwill campaign. Then we had speeches from Michael Gove and Dominic Jermey. It was nice for me that one of the photos I'd taken at the Kew event has been adopted as a campaign poster and that it was the backdrop for the speeches. After Mr Gove and Mr Jermey it was the turn of the #Iwill ambassadors to take the stage. The only disappointing  part of the evening was that Michael and Dominic left before the Ambassadors spoke, which was a shame.  But, there was a great audience of lots of organisations that want to help young people have a voice and give young people chances to take social action.

In the background my photo with Yetunde and Princess at
Kew in front of a magnificent Ginko biloba
Yetunde introduced us all and set the scene. I was next up and my talk was well received, I got a bit of a laugh when I mentioned that I was glad to catch up with Mr Gove and pass him the manifesto after missing him at Downing Street. I was followed by Dara who gave an amazing speech, very articulate and very passionate. Nayha finished the ambassador's speeches with another amazing speech. I think we collectively managed to get across the message that young people are passionate about the natural world and will take action to protect it, if they are given the chance to experience and appreciate it. Many of the organisations there have pledged to help make sure this happens.
My turn to speak!
After some more networking and getting some very nice comments about the speeches we made the evening came to a close and I headed off to Kings Cross for the train home. It was a truly amazing evening and I'm so grateful to #Iwill for the opportunity. I came away proud and enthused to make more of a difference, to continue to take the message to other young people that we should care and that we can make a big difference. I look forward to helping out over the #Iwill4nature year and beyond.

Before I sign off I  thought I'd finish on a different, but I think appropriate note. On the way to the event I'd taken the chance to visit a place I love in London, Camden Market. I've been going there for years, it's a family favourite when we are in London. I love the street food, the music, the buzz of the place. I guess as I've been going since I was little I'm comfortable with all the sights, sounds and smells. So as it is close to London Zoo it was a natural place to visit on the way there and to get some lunch. There's a place you can sit once you get your food from the stalls and the Pigeons and Starlings are quite tame, even a bit cheeky. Not everyone likes that but I love it. The little guy in the tweet below hung around most of the time I was eating, even with all the hustle and bustle and with other people eating shoo-ing some birds off. It was one of those lovely moments where you unexpectedly get the opportunity to connect with nature. The Starling stood there chirping, whistling, clicking, going through its repertoire of sounds, serenading Dad and I as we ate, or so it seemed. I got a little video of it which I tweeted. I think it was quite fitting that this little chap singing his heart out was by far my most popular tweet on the launch of an initiative about promoting social action to encourage engagement with and care for nature.Nature does need to take centre stage!


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.