Monday, 18 May 2015

Inspiration and Influence - a Personal Power List

This week, BBC Wildlife Magazine published their Wildlife Power List, a list of the 50 people thought to be the most influential in wildlife conservation and with the most potential to change the outlook of conservation in the coming years. 
This set me thinking about who and what has influenced my love and knowledge of nature over the years.
Although there are a huge number of names I could include, and this list is by no means definitive and exhaustive, I finally settled on 12 people including a mixture of well known and historical characters as well as a few personal friends. 

Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough was my first teacher. As soon as I was old enough to know how to operate a VHS tape recorder (for younger viewers, VHS tapes or ‘videos’ came before DVD’s or Downloads and you had to rewind them after watching to get back to the start!) my go-to entertainment on rainy days was a copy of Sir David’s ‘Living Planet’, and his commentary became a soundtrack to my early years. From ecosystems to migration to tectonic plates, this laid the foundation of my knowledge of how the natural world worked, and eventually the tapes themselves became over stretched through too many plays and re-winds.
Sir David Attenborough may have been my earliest influence, but he is also my most constant, and continues to inform and inspire me through his life long dedication and tireless attitude to his work and passion.

Stephen Moss
My direct contact with Stephen Moss came only last year, although his extensive work producing nature programs for the TV has had an indirect influence for many years. I was fortunate to be put in contact with Stephen via a mentoring scheme run by AFON, a network for young conservationists, last summer. Since then, in the role both as mentor and friend, Stephen has helped me develop and tweak my nature writing and to view this activity more seriously. On the flip side, the main reason Stephen makes this list is that the pure and simple enjoyment and joy he finds in contact with nature, from the excitement of an unexpected early-morning-cycle-ride barn owl to the daily rhythms of his local patch, reminds me not to take nature too seriously and enjoy it for the pleasure it brings.

Bruce Middleton
Bruce Middleton is a Ranger with the South Downs National Park Authority and is extremely knowledgeable about the nature and the area for which he is responsible, particularly plant-life. I got to know Bruce through volunteering with his team of rangers on the South Downs and Lowland Heath, initially as work experience whilst still at school. His detailed and freely offered facts remind me in every conversation that there is always more to learn. 

Robin Crane CBE
Robin Crane CBE has been a personal friend for many years. We first met through a shared objective – the success of the South Downs Campaign for National Park Status, back in 2007. Mr Crane CBE, a retired cameraman and producer and lifelong naturalist, was chairman of the campaign and I was a 16year old student writing letters to the local press and my local MP, and attending campaign photo-calls. In the years since, Mr Crane CBE has continued to support me as I develop my career, and continually encourages me to keep reaching for the next opportunity.
Mr Crane CBE makes it onto this list as he inspires me through his determination and devotion, including his long dedication to the conservation of lowland heath and the study of a butterfly species that is a specialist of heathlands; the Silver Studded Blue. 

During 2013 and 2014 I was working for the RSPB as a Visitor Services Trainee. During this time, the RSPB were one of 70 organisations to jointly launch the State of Nature report; a key paper of the state of UK’s wildlife. The RSPB produced a short film of beautiful clips of wildlife around the British Isles accompanied by Elbow’s song ‘One Day Like This’. This film was often played as an inspirational endnote at the numerous training courses I attended throughout the 18 month traineeship. The song always brings memories of pond dipping, moth trapping, nightingales and butterflies and inspires me to get up and get out and make the most of the day.   

CF Tunnicliffe
I think I inherited my love of ladybird books, and indeed some of the books themselves, from my Mum. Particular favourites were the ‘What to look for in” seasons series, and that was all down to the illustrations. Originally painted by CF Tunnicliffe, a renowned wildlife artist, these picture were capable of holding my childhood-attention endlessly as I searched out every detail. Even today I am prone to stop when a particular view catches my eye and exclaim that it is “just like a ladybird book picture!”.
It was through these pictures that my interest in rural life and the associated history and traditions emerged, alongside my already growing fascination with wildlife.
Tunnicliffe also illustrated many books by Henry Williamson such as Tarka, a firm lifetime favourite.

Ewan Clarkson
On my bookshelf is a battered paperback: "In the Shadow of the Falcon" by Ewan Clarkson. As a teenager I read this book countless times, along with it’s book-shelf companions “Halic, the Story of a Grey Seal”, and “The Running Deer” and I still turn to them from time to time. Reminiscent of Tarka, my first introduction to nature writing novels, I was captivated by the clarity and detail of the scenes Ewan Clarkson described. The author’s knowledge of the ecology of the book’s subject is very clear, as is his understanding of the relationship of humans and wildlife, as well as the balance between positive and negative aspects of nature. Through Ewan Clarkson’s work I escaped to a world intricately connected with nature in a way our lives are often not these days, and learnt to appreciate the reality of how that nature can be red in tooth and claw.

Emily Williamson & Eliza Philips
These women co-founded the RSPB, determined to protect wild birds from the feather trade. They stood up for their beliefs despite it being against the fashion of the time, despite being women (which at the time meant a lot less freedom), and they prevailed; the RSPB is now one of the largest conservation charities in the UK and continue to have a hugely positive impact on habitat and wild bird conservation. How could I not be inspired?

Roger Barnes
Not famous, nor seeking of the limelight, my cousin Roger Barnes is far from a household name. Except here in my house. I have grown up familiar with stories about and from this older cousin, often receiving emails with photos or comments about exciting wildlife sightings on his latest trip abroad. These trips are as a guide with his wildlife holiday company. However, some stories are not of holiday trips, but expeditions with a very different purpose. In the 1990’s, Roger made many trips into the rainforest regions, searching for protected species, and even discovering long lost species, in order to protect the precious habitat from destruction from commercial logging. In the days before global connection via smart phone and facing dangers of kidnap, and less than welcoming wildlife, this was bravery for a cause. 

Caroline Lucas
Caroline Lucas is best known as an MP for the Green Party and in the recent election was re-elected in her constituency of Brighton Pavilion with an increased majority. But this has nothing to do with party politics. Ms Lucas MP makes this list as she is the only politician who I have known to literally put herself on the line for her beliefs, instead of playing games and hiding behind vague statements or answers they think voters want to hear. The specific issue that brought Ms Lucas MP to my attention was a protest against a proposed fracking site in Sussex, when Ms Lucas MP joined the protesters on the ground and was actually even  (wrongly as it was later proved) arrested whilst standing up for her beliefs and taking action to support her statements

Owen Paterson
Owen Paterson MP may be a name that people are surprised to see on this list. During his time as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson MP oversaw the culling of badgers with the aim of reducing Bovine TB despite scientific evidence that this method would not work and in fact may well have a negative effect on the spread of disease amongst other issues. He also was known to be sceptical about the human impact on climate change and was famous for ridiculous statements, with perhaps his most famous being his ‘the badgers moved the goalposts’ remark. Therefore it may seem strange that a politician with such a negative influence on the UK’s environment would make this list of inspirational people. But every time I hear his name, I am reminded to check my facts!

Bill Oddie
Bill Oddie, you make it onto this list simply as a thank you, for teaching me along with countless other young people, through the medium of TV, how to bird-watch.

I could have included a long list of other names, from Chris Packham to Neil Oliver to my personal close friends. I am certain there will be other names joining the ranks in years to come. 

It has been in interesting exercise to consider what has influenced me, and considering these values and actions has reminded me to live up to and follow the example of these inspirational people, and if I can, take up the baton from them to inspire others. 

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