‘We need to be braver’: young naturalists on the world beyond COP15

Move 300 young people from around the world are gathering in Montreal for a two-day youth summit ahead of the UN COP15 biodiversity conference. Here, three young naturalists from the UK tell the Guardian their favorite experiences with wildlife, as well as their hopes – and concerns – for COP15 and beyond. Mya and Arjun, who feature in a new Guardian documentary Skyward, which follows the daily lives of the two young birdwatchers, and Kabir, another young British naturalist, are fascinated by the natural world but also alarmed at its decline.

“My big dream is to be an animal presenter”

Mya Bambrick, 20, student at Bournemouth University
I got into nature when I was eight watching Springwatch. I grew up in an urban area in Crawley, West Sussex so I haven’t been exposed to wildlife as much as in rural areas and my family doesn’t care. I pestered my mum to take me to a local nature reserve called Warnham. I sat in a hideout and the kingfishers really captured my interest – you only see them fleetingly, so it’s still very special.

For the first five years I was only interested in birds, but then during the lockdown I had so much time that I looked into everything, especially insects and plants. I realized there was a lot more nature near my home than I thought; even along the roads there are wild flowers on the edges. I started identifying them and showing them to my friends and family. I set up a camera trap and saw badgers, deer and foxes.

Mya Bambrick in the Guardian documentary Skyward Still
Mya Bambrick in the Guardian documentary Skyward. Photo: Guardian Documentaries

It is quite shocking to see how many birds are in decline. I would like my children and grandchildren to see all these birds. Many older birders tell me how abundant the wildlife was – the countryside was full of calls and songs, but it’s more desolate now. It could be even worse in the future if we continue as we do. It’s not a good idea. You have to take the positive conservation stories and hold on to them for hope and motivation.

My big dream is to be a wildlife presenter. During the lockdown I made more than 60 animal videos to make them accessible to young people. A lot of what you see on TV makes it look like you’re only going to see wildlife in remote places where most people can’t afford to go. We need to show little things closer to home. I would love to do realistic shows with stories about things like invertebrates in the garden or redwings flying over your house in the winter.

Cop15 seems to be a lot of talk and no action. It’s good to start conversations, but it’s urgent – ​​everyone needs to make serious decisions and do something. It’s getting to the point where it might be too late. In the next 10, 20 or 30 years, we will not be able to reverse these declines, because the species will disappear.

In conservation, people can be quite traditional and reluctant to try new things. We need to be braver and do landscape-scale restoration work, like the rewilding projects in Scotland and places like Knepp. It’s depressing, but we’re not going to save all species. We can’t just focus on specific species, so we need to think about entire landscapes that will positively affect entire ecosystems. Reintroductions of animals such as beavers and wolves – if done correctly – could have such a positive impact.

I save the birds, knowing I may never see them again’

Arjun Dutta, 19, student at Cambridge University
I was seven years old when I started to take an interest in wildlife. My mum was fed up with me talking about dinosaurs and football so she dragged me to do the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. I remember seeing a green woodpecker, and it got me hooked.

My main goal is to record bird sounds. During the confinement, I was still living in London. The town was quieter and I was able to get some good recordings, especially that first spring – so many birds were singing. I’ve since become a little addicted to recording as much as possible: I’ve recorded 158 species of birds in the UK. My favorite is the one I made with swifts, because that’s my favorite bird. We had some really lovely evenings in 2020, just sitting in the garden listening to the swifts screeching overhead after they successfully bred. I recorded them every night. To me, a howling swift is the sound of summer.

Ornithologist Arjun Dutta holds a microphone to record birdsong
Arjun Dutta: “To me, a screeching swift is the sound of summer.” Photo: Guardian Documentaries

I’m a fairly optimistic person, but it can be depressing to hear old people talk about the frequency of swifts, swallows and doves. I saw a dove for the first time this year, and it might be the last I see. I try to get recordings from them knowing that I may never see them again. It really hits home when you hear from people who have witnessed such dramatic changes.

We cover the biodiversity crisis in my geography class in college, but not as much as the climate crisis. I think there is an opportunity to connect them more in the future – climate activists should also be biodiversity activists. People often overlook the biodiversity crisis, although my course highlighted how Cop27 and Cop15 are linked, and we are encouraged to become aware of what is happening.

I don’t know what I will do in the future, but I’m pretty sure it will have something to do with nature. Everything related to biodiversity is what I like the most. Tigers are probably the number 1 species I still want to see.

To get started in wildlife, it is best to start locally’

Kabir Kaul, 17, studying for the baccalaureate in London
I was about three years old when I saw my grandmother looking at planet Earth. I was fascinated to see so many beautiful animals from all over the world. Later I realized that amazing wildlife also lives on my doorstep, for example, red kites flying over my house every day.

The Ruislip Lido Reservoir is my favorite wildlife spot in the capital. It is a large lake surrounded by brush and moorland, which is quite rare in London. Hundreds of ducks migrate there for the winter, including shovelers and pochards. They migrate from the Arctic and Scandinavia for food. Whinchats, redstarts and tree pipits have all been spotted at the lido during lockdown. They were still there, but when the lockdown came people had time to visit them and really look for them. They were well hidden in the scrub.

Ornithologist Kabir Kaul holding binoculars among the trees
Kabir Kaul: “We have to be optimistic about COP15 and what can be achieved. Photography: Gayatri Kaul

My most memorable bird sighting in London was in 2020, just after the first lockdown was eased. I was driving through Whitechapel on a windy day when I saw two seagulls overhead. Then I saw a larger bird, with a longer neck and much wider wingspan, hovering between the tall residential blocks – I realized it was a young white stork. It was so close to the City of London. I couldn’t believe it, I was speechless. I wasn’t sure where he was from, maybe continental Europe. I informed other bird watchers on WhatsApp but I don’t think anyone else saw it.

If people want to get into wildlife, it’s best to start locally. Don’t waste time identifying different animals and plants if you don’t want to. Just be there in the moment and enjoy what you see – you never know what you might find. Sixty-eight percent of the population will live in urban areas by 2050, so there has never been a more crucial time to appreciate urban biodiversity.

I would like to study geography at university to learn more about the connection between nature and people in urban areas. I would like to get into broadcasting to promote and raise awareness of urban nature. With the inevitable climate and ecological crises, it is easy to be catastrophic, but we must be optimistic about COP15 and what can be achieved.

I am a member of the London Rewilding Taskforce, which supports the restoration of nature in the capital through rewilding. Many amazing projects are already underway, including the reintroduction of beavers to Enfield and water voles to Kingston. I want to involve people from all walks of life in protecting the urban nature that surrounds them.

Find more Age of Extinction coverage here and follow the Biodiversity Reporters Phoebe Weston and patrick greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

#braver #young #naturalists #world #COP15

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *