Whenever people learnt what I studied at university, I was always astounded by their default response: “So…you must want to work in a zoo, then.”
Perhaps it was that misleading word ‘zoo’ in the title, or maybe I just look the type. But if I had a penny for every time my job prospects were announced in this manner, I’d be a very rich zookeeper indeed. It was this exact sequence of conversation – this time held with a taxi driver shuttling me to Newcastle central for the beginning of another uni term – that ignited a passion for involving myself in science media.
Mr taxi driver was an incredibly nice man (albeit a little ecologically misinformed) who was very concerned about my future. If, he asked, I was not going to work in a zoo, what on earth would I end up as? I ventured my ambition to become a conservationist, to which he informed me with the utmost certainty that I would have to emigrate as there was “no wildlife in Britain”. Horrified by this statement, I spent the remainder of our journey together proving him otherwise. However, the truth of his ignorance simply resided in the fact that he had grown up in India, where ‘wildlife’ was a term associated with creatures who were either large, poisonous, possessed sharp teeth or all of the above.
Yet even having been born in Britain, we too are guilty of misinterpreting what it means to be ‘wild’. The majority of our native fauna are either elusive or relatively small, and therefore easy to forget. If there was a rhino stomping about your back garden, it would be a little harder to ignore – yet we have a plethora of beautiful and exciting wildlife species right on our doorstep. We have territorial stand-offs taking place on your bird table to rival those of the African Serengeti; the hedgerows and railway lines our very own rain forests. People worry about poaching and deforestation that decimates the Amazon, but have no idea that we too are losing our wildlife at such an alarming rate.
I was always passionate about the natural world; from a very young age I was constantly getting myself into all sorts of trouble, running wild around the fields that backed onto my house searching for animals. Much to my Mam’s despair I was forever ruining clothes, coming home exhilarated and muddy with hair resembling the birds’ nests I scaled trees to find (the infamous incident the fire brigade were called to rescue me from such exploits is still a touchy subject). I devoured natural history books like they were going out of fashion and painstakingly drew my findings into endless field notebooks. And that passion never subsided. For me, Zoology was a natural choice to study at University and even after four years of intense work, I still love it. But I quickly learned that other people – even some of my course mates – didn’t share this view, and like Mr Taxi Driver had no idea what was out there.
I learnt what I believe to be the most important lesson of conservation: that without public engagement, without education or even just a little bit of inspiration, our efforts will likely fail. If we don’t communicate our research in a way that is exciting, accessible and inspires thought, then we have failed as conservationists. Because how can people feel passionate about something they don’t know about? If they don’t know what to look for?
So that was the drive behind this blog. I want to share my enthusiasm for the jungle that lives within our garden fence, and share my experiences to show that yes, Britain is where the wild things are!