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A unique solution to plastic pollution: introducing Ocean Sole UK

Plastic pollution and its impact on the planet is on many people’s minds at present. Thanks to the legacy of the majorly successful Blue Planet II series and publications such as National Geographic’s Planet or plastic? issue, the world is waking up to the problems that plastic waste can cause for the environment and wildlife.

You may have seen my #PlasticFreeJuly post on here recently, or last year’s #NoWasteNovember post — both looking at simple ways to reduce use of single-use plastic in our daily lives. But what about the plastic waste that is already littering the world’s beaches? How can we turn its negative presence into something positive and beautiful? That’s where Ocean Sole comes in…

ocean sole uk dolphin

Removing pollution and supporting marine conservation

It’s not often you hear someone say that their ultimate aim is to be put out of business. But that’s exactly what Ocean Sole UK’s Mark Dougal tells me during our recent chat.

Ocean Sole makes beautiful, colourful animal sculptures from discarded flip flops, which have been collected from the beaches of Kenya.

Many of the 520,000 flip flops collected last year washed up on Africa’s east coast from Asia, where refuse systems in some countries are poor, causing flip flops (many people’s primary form of shoe — owing to how cheap they are) end up in the rivers; eventually making their way into the sea.

ocean sole uk giraffe made of flip flops

A giraffe made from flip flops collected from the beach

“My biggest hope would be that one day there are no more flip flops to collect off the beaches,” Mark says. “Then we’ll be put out of business. But with 3 billion people across the world wearing flip flops, that day seems very far away.”

Once they reach the sea, flip flops — which are made of non-biodegradable plastics — pose a threat to marine wildlife. It is now, thankfully, well-documented how plastic makes its way into the food chain, and how its volume increases significantly as it moves up each level. But plastics can also trap and entangle fish and other sea creatures, and winds and currents can transport them across the oceans.

In the 20 years that Ocean Sole has been in existence, they have cleaned up over 1,000 tonnes of flip flops from the ocean and waterways of Kenya and contributed over 10% of their revenue to marine conservation programmes.

 

Saving the ocean with heart and soul

Mark tells me the work that he’s doing as Ocean Sole’s UK distributor ‘really lights his fire’ and he credits his involvement with the company, and many of his successes with it to ‘serendipity’.

Like so many cases of people who have been inspired to do their bit in helping the environment, the origins of Ocean Sole UK began with the awe and excitement of a child.

“After realising I’d lost touch with travelling, which was something I really needed in my life, I booked a trip to Kenya,” he explains. “The night before I left, I visited my sister and told my nephew where I was going. He pointed out Africa on a globe —one of those globes that shows the different animals that can be found in each country. I asked him if he would like me to bring him anything back from my holiday and he answered; ‘a lion’.”

With this request in mind, Mark sort to find ‘the best lion he could’, for his nephew to take to Show and Tell on his return.

“I told my friend who I was staying with out there about my little mission,” he says. “He told me about a shop a few streets away that sold animals made from flip flops —which sounded perfect.”

ocean sole uk lion made from flip flops

Before even visiting the shop, however, Mark had a chance encounter with the store’s owner at a festival.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was at the bar at a music festival, in the middle of a nowhere, talking to a complete stranger. When I ask her what she did for a living she told me she sold animals made out of flip flops… I knew instantly it was the same place that my friend had mentioned. What are the chances?!”

“From that point on three years ago, I’ve had an awful lot of positive coincidences. I had another friend who was holding an open house art exhibition here in the UK and he asked me to bring some of the animal sculptures along. I brought along 10 and they all sold in one afternoon. That’s when I knew there was something in this.”

ocean sole uk sculptures dolphin and hammerhead shark

Mark has since invested in the company, and despite it being a side project to his full time job, he’s even seen his Brighton flat turn into a makeshift picking and packaging depot for his stock!

“We had a video go viral recently, receiving over 100 millions views! On the Monday morning the guys in Kenya came in to 10,000 emails in their inbox!”

“Here in the UK I had 150 orders in one weekend, and that’s when I realised I was going to have to outsource the packaging. It’s just too much for one man. We’ve now got a brilliant website for the UK side too, and things are looking good.”

 

From strength to strength, from soul to sole…

During the three years that Mark has been a part of Ocean Sole he says the number of artists working on the sculptures has gone from 50 to 90. In total, Ocean Sole provides a steady income to over 150 low-income Kenyans, both in the social enterprise and the extended supply-chain.

I love the idea that one business is helping to clean beaches, recycle plastic waste, encourage people to admire animals through its sculptures and providing local jobs to low-income citizens.

“One of the best things about this is that everyone wants to help.” Mark concludes. And from where I’m standing (in pumps, not flip flops I might add), it’s easy to see why.

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Want to own one of these awesome animal sculptures yourself?
Visit oceansole.co.uk/shop/

Check out the Ocean Sole viral video here.

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5 more ways to reduce plastic waste!

This month is #PlasticFreeJuly, a great opportunity to evaluate our consumption of single-use plastic and to find more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives. The hope is, of course, that a month of trialling such a lifestyle will result in permanent change once we discover that it’s not as inconvenient as we first thought.

That’s why, following on from my Top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste! blog post a few months ago, I’d like to offer five more simple solutions for tackling everyday plastic use.

We all know by now the devastating effect that plastic is having on our environment, especially our oceans; and in particular our marine wildlife and sea birds, who are paying a huge price (in many cases, with their lives), for our inability to properly manage and dispose of the sheer volume of plastic that is being manufactured. So if you’re looking for simple swaps to achieve a greener lifestyle, look no further…

 

1. No more plastic soap dispensers

This one is so easy, and begs the question: why did we ever stop using bars of soap? Sure, I can understand it’s more hygienic in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries to minimalize contact with other people’s germs, but within our own homes and bathrooms? No problem! (Give it a little rinse under the tap first if you’re really concerned about germ transfer).

Just be sure to choose a soap that’s wrapped in recyclable paper or card, to really go green. The soap bar pictured above is from The Body Shop and had paper wrapping. Goodbye plastic liquid-soap dispensers!

NB: Also consider shampoo and conditioner bars instead of bottled liquids. Lush‘s shampoo bar comes highly recommended!

 

2. Ditch the throwaway face wipes

These things are not only dished out in plastic packaging, often smothered in chemicals and contain varying levels of non-biodegradable plastic, but they also end up getting flushed down the loo instead of thrown in the bin; and it certainly begs the question: What’s worse? Landfill polluting our soil and landscapes, or products clogging our water ways?

London’s sewers are notorious for getting clogged with fatbergs, which are often perpetuated by face wipes and baby wipes. Eradicate all of the above issues with one easy change over!

These bamboo wipes by Close, Pop-in are super soft and don’t reduce quality after lots of washes. Billed as baby wipes, I team them up with cloth nappies when tending to my daughter, and have a second set (in different colours I might add — very important for not muddling them up!) for removing my make up at the end of the day.

 

3. Cut out the disposable coffee cups

tea-in-a-cafetea-in-a-cafe

Working in a busy district in London, it blows my mind to think about how many people go through the doors of all the local high street cafe chains and come out again with non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic products. Multiply that with all the other busy districts in the City, all the odd branches and kiosks next to train and tube stations, then add in all the chains in towns and cities across the country; and finally map that idea on a global scale… and I’m pretty sure coffee shops must be some of the biggest offenders in supplying single-use plastic. In fact, we use 7 million disposable coffee cups every day in the UK alone – that’s 2.5 billion every year!

It’s estimated that only 1% of paper cups ever get recycled, that’s because they’re often lined with plastic polyethylene to make them waterproof — which deems them unsuitable for recycling in most facilities (only three recycling facilities in the whole of the UK can actually do it). Also, the fact that they are contaminated with drink presents further difficulties in the process.

Often, this symbol:  is misunderstood to mean the product can be recycled in our household recycle bins, whereas in actual fact, it doesn’t always mean it’s possible to recycle from home. If the numbers 3-7 are written within the triangle, it means the plastic it’s made from can’t be recycled into something else very easily, and requires a specialised recycling facility. If it’s thrown into household recycle bins, it’s destined for landfill.

As an incentive to reduce the use of disposable cups, many franchises are now onboard with offering a discount to customers who refill a reusable coffee cup — Pret offers 50p off, for example.

But what if you’ve left your reusable cup at home? Or didn’t expect to be in such desperate need of a coffee this morning? It’s surprising to think that even a brand as seemingly eco-conscious as Pret (known for it’s high quality foods and vegan and vegetarian ranges) doesn’t even give customers an option to use ceramic mugs/cups if you’re drinking in. Which would be my recommendation here: if you don’t have a reusable cup, sit-in for your coffee this time, and opt for a chain that provides non-disposable crockery for you to do so.

 

4. Choose a manatee over a bag of tea

manatee-tea-strainer-reduce-plastic-waste

While we’re on the supject of hot drinks; did you know that the majority of tea bags are made with non-biodegradable plastics? The stuff is literally everywhere!

Many of the major brands make their tea bags using polypropylene, a sealing plastic, to stop them from falling apart. This includes: Tetley (who have promised a change), ClipperYorkshire Tea and Twinings‘ ‘heat-sealed’ and ‘string and tag’ ranges.

An easy way to banish the bad bits from your brew is to turn to looseleaf tea. Reusable tea infusers, like this manatee (given to me by the lovely people at Bradenton Anna Maria Island Longboat Key) mean you can make a looseleaf tea in a cup instead of a pot (thus saving the energy of boiling surplus water), working in exactly the same way as a tea bag. I’ve spotted these little guys for sale in Pylones stores.

MAKING COFFEE AT HOME? Did you know 55 million coffee pods are used everyday, and most of them end up in landfill?  A single pod may take up to 500 years to break down. Companies like Nespresso boast recyclable pods, but they’re too small to be recycled with household rubbish and collection points are scarce. To go green, swap them out for making coffee with a plunger.

 

5 Give a Guppyfriend a go

I’ve been hearing about Guppyfriend washing bags for a while, and they’re the next purchase on my list for Plastic Free July.

Designed to catch microplastics released from our clothing (yes, even washing your best-loved garments is releasing tiny shards of plastic destined to one day pollute our drinking water!), simply pop your washing into a Guppyfriend bag before putting it into the machine; let it collect those pesky plastic fibres and brush it off into the bin when you’ve emptied your clothes from it.

I know sending the fibres to landfill isn’t much better, but at least it’s not contaminating our water and leave behind plastics prone to ending up in human and animal stomachs. Have you used one yet? Let me know your thoughts and any tips for using it.

 

Got anymore ideas for using sustainable alternatives? Please add them in the comment box at the the end of this post!

 

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Save the kiwi: Old Mout Cider’s mission to save New Zealand’s national bird

I stood as quiet as could be, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I barely dared to breathe out, for fear of breaking the silence in room. Then I noticed it — a twitch and scurry signalled there was life in the faux nighttime of the nocturnal kiwi house, and watching intently, I saw this odd-looking wingless bird curiously exploring its surrounds by hurriedly hopping from one foot to another. I knew in that moment I was witnessing a rare and special scene.

Kiwi bird at night time in new zealand

Kiwi bird foraging in the forests of New Zealand. Image credit: Getty.

It was July 2012, back home, England was gripped by Olympic fever, but I had barely the chance to give that a second thought; for I was enjoying my first ever trip to New Zealand‘s North Island and my days were filled with hiking luscious green mountains, caving under star-like ceilings of glow worms and smelling the sulphur scent emanating from boiling hot geezers. And there was no way I could leave the island without visiting this kiwi breeding centre to catch a glimpse of New Zealand’s captivating national icon.

Today, conservationists are in a race against time to save New Zealand’s national bird. The unique and quirky kiwi is, sadly, on the vulnerable list as its numbers have shrunk by 99% — from 5 million to roughly 50,000. For this reason, I have joined the mission to save the kiwi with Old Mout Cider.

Old Mout Cider is supporting Kiwis for kiwi to relocate kiwi birds to predator-free islands where they will grow, thrive and reproduce. They will also donate 20p to the Kiwis for kiwi charity for each sign up they receive.

Kate on Conservation with kiwi and lime Old Mout Cider

Kate on Conservation joins Old Mout Cider’s mission to #SaveTheKiwi – and you can too!

 

What is a kiwi bird?

There are several features of the kiwi that make it a unique and incredible bird. They are nocturnal and flightless birds, with distinctive feather-like hair and nostrils at the end of their long beaks. Notably, the kiwi also has the biggest egg in relation to its size.

Kiwi are thought to have developed their weird and wonderful features thanks to New Zealand’s ancient isolation and lack of mammals. Without the threats that would have been present in other eco-systems, kiwi were able to safely evolve as ‘ratites’ – an ancient group of birds that can’t fly.

Kiwi bird close up

It is thought they evolved to occupy a habitat and lifestyle that elsewhere in the world would be filled by mammals, and their one-off evolutionary design holds all sorts of biological records.

Despite an evolutionary journey that goes back millions of years to the time of the dinosaur, New Zealand’s indigenous kiwi could soon go the way of its prehistoric ancestor if action isn’t taken now.

 

Kiwis could vanish within 50 years

The kiwi has been around for 50 million years, but despite being distant cousins of the dinosaurs, this distinctive bird could vanish within 50.

Kiwi evolved for millions of years before predators arrived in New Zealand. With no mammals to hunt them, there was no need for wings, to help them escape. When Europeans arrived, however, they brought with them terrestrial mammals that are now a menace for the kiwi.

Just one hundred years ago, kiwi numbered in the millions. In the last 50 years alone, however, the kiwi population has reduced by 99%  — from 5million to 50,000.

Today, an average of 27 kiwi fall prey to larger animals every week – unable to fly away from danger; only 1 in 20 kiwi chicks survive to adulthood on New Zealand’s mainland.

That’s a population decline of around 1,000 kiwi every year. At this rate, without intervention, kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime.

Therefore, it is down to our generation to help save the kiwi bird from going extinct.

 

What is Old Mout Cider’s mission to save the kiwi?

Now is the time to act, to save the kiwi from being resigned to the history books forever.

Old Mout Cider were shocked to find out that the New Zealand national icon, the kiwi, was in very real danger of going extinct. So they hatched a plan to help.

They’ve teamed up with Kiwis for kiwi –a national charity that supports community-led and Māori-led kiwi conservation projects — to help relocate kiwi to a safe environment, so that New Zealand’s most famous bird can thrive once again.

New Zealand-born Old Mout Cider has also joined forces with wildlife enthusiast Michaela Strachan to make the short film, ‘A Forgotten World’.

They are undertaking a remarkable feat – creating predator free islands – to ensure the kiwi’s best chance of survival.

Kiwis for kiwi relocate the birds to islands without larger mammals, where they can grow, thrive and reproduce without fear of being hunted. Kiwi chicks are then raised in a safe environment, protected from danger, until they’re strong enough and ready to be released back into the wild.

The survival rate of kiwis on these islands increases dramatically, to 99.2%!

To ensure their calls can be heard piercing the forest air at dusk and dawn for centuries to come, New Zealand native, Old Mout Cider, is helping to support Kiwis for kiwi’s work and hoping to inspire us all to help save this vulnerable bird.

 

How can YOU join the mission?

Old Mout Cider is hoping to make the people of Britain fall in love with the kiwi and inspire them to save this incredible animal by signing up to its mission. And for everyone who signs up to save the kiwi, 20p will be donated to the Kiwis for kiwi charity.

I’ve signed up to support Old Mout Ciders’s mission and am very happy to discover that this ‘green’ brand has also worked to make their packaging 100% recyclable! Even better!

Signing up to the #SaveTheKiwi mission only takes a minute and is completely free. You can sign up too, and instantly raise 20p for Kiwis for kiwi here: https://www.oldmoutcider.co.uk/help-save-the-kiwi

 

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*Sponsored post.

 

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Great Horned Owlets Rescue: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way!

Great horned owlets, Willow and Wisdom - Photo by Cheryl Aguiar

It’s no secret that I’m a lover of reading. So it was a real treat when first time author and all-round animal lover Cheryl Aguiar sent me a copy of her award-winning nature book, which chronicles her experience of observing a family of great horned owls and finding herself part of a rescue mission to save their two young owlets.

A modern day ‘Pocahontas’, Cheryl’s draw to nature and the great outdoors is a deep-rooted desire that certainly resonates. As does her compassion to help wildlife, one animal at a time.

Kate on Conservation holds Great Horned Owlets Rescue book

Kate on Conservation with author Cheryl Aguiar’s Great Horned Owlets Rescue book

Great Horned Owlets Rescue: Where There’s A Will, There’s a Way details Cheryl’s early encounters with wildlife in the woods where she grew up, and explains how these experiences — including rescuing a newborn baby rabbit and nursing it back to health as a child — inspired her later fascination with animals.

“Throughout the years, my love for wildlife continued to grow, along with many attempts at saving anything from small birds to tiny frogs”, Cheryl writes. “Some were successful and some were not, but I always tried to give them a fighting chance.”

I must admit, I knew very little about the Great Horned Owl before reading this book. Found throughout North America and Canada, these large raptors have bright yellow eyes and distinctive feather ear tufts, which combined with their deep sounding hoots, make them the perfect storybook owl.

Great horned owlet, Willow - Photo by Cheryl Aguiar

Through Cheryl’s tales of her daily (and weekly) visits to the owl family, I was able to learn fascinating facts about their diet (which consists of small animals; rodents, lizards, insects); how, and when, they are fed by their parents; the different stages of their maturity (i.e. when they lose their down feathers, when they leave the nest, etc.) and the challenges they face in their natural environment.

This charming tale takes readers on a journey of the highs and lows that Cheryl, husband Jim, her nearby Aunt and Uncle and close neighbours who share their woods, experience when high April winds bring down the gradually depleted nest that the young owlets have been hatched into.

Their affectionately named parents; Mama and Papa, like many great horned owls, chose to reuse an old nest — possibly built by hawks a year or so previously — and in this instance, it wasn’t up to the job!

Fortunately, Cheryl springs to action to save the little owlets, who find themselves alone and vulnerable on the forest floor as the last light of day is fading.

With her afore mentioned team of rescuers and the expert advice of seasoned pro and founder of Eyes On Owls in Dunstable, Massachusetts; Mark, she is able to give the little owls a fighting chance (and a brand new basket nest!). And so begins this beautiful and dedicated chapter of her life.

Great Horned Owlets Rescue book by Cheryl Aguiar

Great Horned Owlets Rescue by Cheryl Aguiar

An enjoyable read and a great source of information (for example, I had no idea that owl feathers are not waterproof, to enable them to be silent flyers), this is a cute little read and a great way to connect with nature.

To learn more about about Cheryl Aguiar, order her book or view her wildlife photography, click here.

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World Book Day 2018: My recommended Natural History reads!

Happy World Book Day! It’s no secret that I am total book geek, and if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’re bound to have seen that I often share my latest book purchase — or the title I am currently reading (yes, I even have an Instagram hashtag; #kateonconservationreads) — and it’s no coincidence that my book collection is FULL of Natural History books.

Today, however, I want to highlight some lesser known, independent authors whose work has brought me much joy in 2018.

Fiction: The Absence of Wings, written by Mark Stewart

A collection of beautifully written short stories, often inspired by the author’s real life encounters with animals; The Absence of Wings is delicately penned with haunting tragedy encased in enchanting language.

I must admit that my bookcase doesn’t house nearly enough short story collections (which is surprising, given Rudyard Kipling‘s The Jungle Book is one of favourite books of all time), but this is one I’m so glad I own.

Easy to read (and lose oneself in) over and over again, I thought perhaps the best way to share it with you would be to share a reading from my favourite story Snow Bear, read by Mark Stewart’s daughter, Natasha especially for Kate on Conservation readers! Please take a few moments to listen to the video below:

The Absense of Wings can be purchased here:
http://markdestewart.wixsite.com/thescreamingplanet/the-absence-of-wings

Follow Mark Stewart on Twitter: @pendragonmist.

Poetry: ‘Animated Nature’ Selected Poems by Richard Bonfield from 1989 – 2009

I’m a lover of poetry, and huge fan of the great American poet Robert Frost, whose musings of rural life in New England are laced with nature and references to weather and the seasons. Even so, it’s rare for me to actively seek poetry collections; owing to the fact that I’m often enthralled in reference books, learning about the next animal, conservationist or political issue that I’m going to be writing about.

Richard Bonfield is an exception however, perhaps because his work found me. I discovered Richard’s poetry through wildlife artist Pollyanna Pickering, who has illustrated his books and their beautiful front covers. Richard was present at one of Pollyanna’s exhibitions and by chance I got chatting to him — and left with one of the most charming collections of poems!

Animated Nature book by Richard Bonfield

Richard was Born Free Foundation‘s Poet in Residence, and described by Virginia McKenna (herself an accomplished poet) as “one of poetry’s most original and amazing talents”, with his poems described as “extraordinary, deep and evocative.”

This captivating collection swings between profound, beautiful and humorous, and is well worth a read! Here, given it’s the 1st of March, Nick Stephenson reads the poem ‘Hare’. Please take a few moments to listen to this charming poem in the video below:

Animated Nature can be purchased through Amazon here.

Non Fiction: Wild Lives, written by Lori Robinson and Janie Chodosh

One of my favourite new finds, and the book I am currently reading, Wild Lives by Lori Robinson and Janie Chodosh is a fascinating exploration into the lives of some of the world’s leading conservationists.

Featuring 20 extraordinary wildlife warriors who have dedicated their lives to studying and conserving endangered and threatened species from across the globe; including lions, cheetahs, jaguars and dolphins, this book is a brilliant tool of inspiration!

Some of the familiar faces included in its pages are: National Geographic filmmakers and big cat experts Beverly and Dereck Joubert; dolphin advocate Ric O’Barry, who features in the Oscar-winning film The Cove; and lion champion (and author of the book Lions in the Balance), ecologist Craig Packer. This book is brilliant for discovering the wonderful stories of some of wildlife’s biggest heroes!

Wild Lives can be purchased here: http://savingwild.com/lori-robinsons-books/ 

While the mainstream media debates whether or not World Book Day has simply become an excuse for fancy dress in schools, I’d like to use it as a chance to celebrate two of my favourite things: Natural History and learning! Happy reading!

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Poaching, poverty and empowerment through conservation – Guest post by Maasai warrior Philip Ole Senteria

This week I am truly honoured to share the words of Maasai warrior Philip Ole Senteria. Philip provides an authentic perspective of living in a community residing alongside wild and often dangerous animals, and how — despite the poverty in these areas and the threat that poachers bring to both the local wildlife and the local community —  wildlife conservation (teamed with hard work, education and some brightly coloured beads) can empower the Maasai people.

Tree-planting community projects

There is a continued, rapid loss of biodiversity and deterioration of mega fauna worldwide. Poaching leads the list of environmental crisis accelerators; that is being witnessed; a menace that has faced a strong battle, but continues to plunge the local (and global) wildlife into extinction.

Although every effort has been put to action to stop it, the heinous act is still very much alive — particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Poverty is undeniably one of the main reasons why the war against poaching hasn’t succeeded yet. And unless the locally indigenous communities are fully involved in conservation, the world risks losing the small remaining rhino, elephant population among other wildlife endangered.

The importance of indigenous people

There are approximately 370 million indigenous people worldwide. They make up just 5% of the global population, but they hold nearly 25% of the world’s lands and waters, representing 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity.

This shows that these communities have a very close contact with the natural resources that need to be protected. It’s worth noting that, with this close connection, the natural world is then central to the human rights of the indigenous peoples as well as their economic, spiritual, physical and cultural well-being.

Indigenous peoples directly manage the biodiversity setting that is vital for both their survival and their respect of nature. The two are deeply entwined.

But it comes with complex challenges: the development of natural resources and the climate change are threatening the environments on which their livelihoods and cultures depend.

Is poverty a factor?

Poverty impedes conservation because poaching and environmental degradation is often pursued by the poor in short-sighted ways.

When people attain stabilised livelihoods, they are more likely to accept conservation policies. Addressing poverty is therefore a means of directly or indirectly promoting conservation.

Conservationists therefore have to find a more holistic approach that lays the foundation for the long-term success of protecting wildlife, especially elephants, rhinos, etc. here in Kenya.

Oloimugi Maasai Cultural Village

Two years ago I started the Oloimugi Maasai Village project. The main aim was to bring our Maasai community together for the purpose of having a conversation around conservation.

We live in a region very rich with wildlife, but are constantly at threat from poaching and hunting, human-wildlife conflict, etc. Poverty, lack of social amenities — for example: health; schools; general economic instability; are some of the factors contributing to the issues that we face as we try to fulfil a role as guardians of wildlife.

The Village serves as a cultural promotion centre, seeking empowerment and education through and about conservationIncome generated from cultural/wildlife tourism from guests visiting us is used to grow trees, construct gabions to stop soil erosion and to support the community.

The main focus of all this, however, is the BEADWORK project which is part of our initiative to tap into the potential of the Maasai women.

Beadwork offers an important  opportunity to Maasai women. Traditionally, they are uneducated, married at the age of 13, and completely financially reliant on the men or government aid. Their skills with beadwork are a chance for self-sufficiency.

The group, Olkiripa women, which was started as part of the Oloimugi Maasai Project, consists of 25 Maasai women who hand-make all of the beaded items we sell.

This is their primary source of income, and as a group they support their families.

Bead product purchases help these women and their families break a pattern of poverty. We believe that the spectacular beadwork that the women make can be sold to make enough money to feed their families, educate children and invest in conservation activities.

The main challenges we are facing is a lack of marketing and exposure, as well networking to reach the right, relevant markets, individuals and brands. We really hope to get help with this very crucial pillar of our ‘holistic conservation’ foundation laying.

There is a wide range of items they make, such as necklaces, bracelets, beaded dog collars, belts, etc.

In conclusion, empowerment of local communities creates a very suitable, friendly environment for wildlife as there is generally decreased competition for resources. Many global environmental problems are caused by human factors. Poaching can only be ended with goodwill from an empowered society taking in consideration that wildlife depend on 80% of community land for survival.

 

If you would like to support the Oloimugi Maasai Village’s BEADWORK project by purchasing an item, please visit: http://shop.oloimugimaasai.org.

Philip Ole Senteria is a 24-year-old Maasai warrior from Laikipia, Kenya. He is a Law student with a passion for wildlife conservation, eco-tourism, culture and community work. He is the founder of the Oloimugi Maasai Village — a project based on cultural preservation, conservation and community empowerment. The village focuses of teaching the community about environmental issues, culture promotion and empowerment.

The BEADWORK project  aims to empower women through an eco-friendly, economic activity and a pillar of conserving Maasai culture. Philip is looking for opportunities to learn more about marketing and networking to further his work with the Oloimugi Maasai Village. If you think you can help, please fill out the contact form here.

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Top 5 ways to reduce plastic waste!

Following on from my #NoWasteNovember blog post, for which I took part in a brilliant campaign by Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots programme to reduce the amount of plastic waste I dispose of, I’ve received some great feedback from my blog readers asking for more information and suggestions for reducing plastic waste.

plastic bottle pick up - reducing plastic waste

My #NoWasteNovember pledge was to use washable nappies, liners and pads with my new baby daughter — and almost four months in, it’s actually been an easy pledge to stick to, thanks to my early shopping spree with Babi Pur!

In fact, I’ve been so inspired with the ease and lack of fuss it’s caused, that I’m even investigating eco-friendly feminine hygiene products — and the wonderful Eco Fluffy Mama is my go-to guru for all things eco period-related. For any one interested, she has some great reviews available to read here. But for my non-gender-specific, non-parent-specific tips to living a greener lifestyle, check out my top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste below…

1.  Swap plastic straws for reusable steel

Steel straws

By now we’ve all heard the horror stories of plastic making it’s way into the sea — 8 million tonnes of it a year, in fact, is dumped into our oceans — and there are some horrifying videos online of how some of this impacts our planet’s wildlife. From seabird autopsies that reveal stomachs full of coloured fragments of the stuff, to a sea turtle struggling and writhing in pain as a plastic straw is pulled from its nostril; the very real, very emotive reasons to make a change are clear — which is why I love these stainless steel reusable straws.

Suitable for hot or cold beverages, these straws are available to order from ecostrawz and come with a wire cleaning brush so that you can use them over and over again. In some parts of the ocean it’s estimated that there are over half a million pieces of plastic for every square kilometre, so even reusable plastic straws are a no-go for me!

2. Bamboo toothbrushes

bamboo toothbrushes

One billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the United States alone! That’s more than 22 million kilograms annually!

As plastics breakdown into micro plastics, they cause toxins to build up throughout the food chain — which ultimately contaminate the milk of marine mammals at the top of the food chain. Sometimes this is so bad, the contaminated milk kills the young.

Plastic toothbrushes are a major culprit in ocean plastic waste, so making the change to an eco-friendly bamboo brush is a great way to reduce the number of plastic toothbrushes we’re estimated to throw away in our lifetimes (300 approximately). The Giving Brush are giving away their rainbow-themed brush for FREE right now, so there’s no reason not to jump onboard with this one!

3. 100% Compostable phone case

compostable phone case

A new favourite find of mine — eco-friendly phone cases! How many of us hold a phone case in our hands every single day? I’m willing to bet that most people in the western world carry one of these around without even thinking about it! I know it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that this is just another way that we’re buying, using and disposing of plastic, which is why I think it’s such a great idea!

These particular cases are 100% compostable and free from plastic packaging! Plus a donation is made from each sale to various environmental initiatives. Pela currently have a buy one get one half price sale on too.

4. Reusable drinks bottle

stainless steel water bottle

Glass or stainless steel are my top choice in material for reusable water bottles. 16 million plastic bottles go un-recycled in the UK every day, choking our rivers and ultimately destroying ocean habitats for our marine life.

Even reusable plastic bottles are likely to end up being disposed of eventually, and after reading about the risks of some reusable plastic bottles containing the controversial chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) – which is thought to interfere with sex hormones — I personally choose to stick with stainless steel! Thehut.com currently have a 3 for £20 deal on.

5. Plastic bottle pick-up (and join Lilly’s Global Clean-Up Day!)

Lily's global clean up day

The photograph I’ve used at the top of this blog post shows the plastic bottles I picked up on a short 15-minute or so walk to my local shops with my daughter. The amount of plastic bottles that litter our streets, fields and rivers genuinely still surprises me!

Luckily, there are some plastic pollution heroes out there like nine-year old Lilly, who are willing to go that extra mile. Lilly is a Child Ambassador for HOW Global and a Youth Ambassador for Plastic Pollution Coalition and is this year dedicating her birthday as a day for everyone to pick-up plastic from the environment!

#LillysGlobalCleanUpDay will take place on 18 April, and Lilly has challenged everyone to pick-up plastic on this day to help make the world a better, safer place. What an amazing wish for a 10th birthday! See her Twitter page @lillyspickup for the full video. Why wait though? Pick up some plastic and tweet today!

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ConSewvation: Sewing for a cause

I have a confession to make. I’ve unashamedly become an Instagram addict lately. My new favourite social media platform, it’s perfect for sharing wildlife photography, animal art and my favourite natural history book purchases! And, as I’ve recently discovered; shopping!

From the gorgeous canvas print that now resides over my bed to the beautiful hand-drawn Lion King fan art I’ve placed in my daughter‘s Disney-themed nursery, I’ve discovered a fantastic marketplace of individuals and Etsy shops offering unique gifts and animal-themed goodies that I just can’t get enough of. Enter; ConSewvation.

consewvation-elephant-design-turquoise-in-the-garden

After discovering these beautiful one-of-a-kind crocheted elephants on Instagram, I fell in love with both the products and the purpose of ConSewvation.

Motivated by a mission to make these cute cuddly elephants — sold for use as ornaments or children’s toys — to raise funds for her dream of working in the field of conservation; creator Sasha Cole has not only got some serious sewing talents, but an undeniable passion for wildlife that shines through in her craft.

consewvation-elephant-design-purple-white-feet

“I want to go back to Cambodia and work in Phnom Tamao Wildlife Centre,” Sasha tells me. “I did a behind the scenes tour there last year and fell in love with the place. It takes care of animals rescued from cruel captive situations and rescues those that have had attempts on them to be smuggled out of the country. Any animals that can be released back into the wild, they do.”

“I fed lucky the elephant when I was there, so she is my idea behind the elephants.”

consewvation-elephant-design-red-in-flower-bed

Each elephant is unique (Sasha says she never makes the same thing twice!) and I adore the attention to detail. With bespoke characteristics (such as the passport stamp material in the ears of her latest creation, seen below), they really do make for a perfect gift with a personal touch.

consewvation elephant pale yellow design with passport stamps in ears

A self-declared one-woman handicraft shop, Sasha’s recent trip to Cambodia has also ignited her desire to study Zoology as part of an online course by United for Wildlife.

“I have put all of my efforts into sewing to raise funds for my re-training in Zoology and Conservation. Every penny you spend goes back into ConSewvation and helping me to pursue my dream of saving those who can’t speak for themselves,” she says.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center houses the wildlife conservation efforts of Wildlife Alliance; a leading organisation in the direct protection of forests and wildlife in tropical Asia.

As well as caring for and rehabilitating animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, Wildlife Alliance delivers a comprehensive approach for tropical rainforest protection through direct on-the-ground interventions with government rangers and local communities — directly addressing the causes of deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.

“We build rangers’ professional capacity and provide full support for their livelihoods. This enables them to focus completely on their duties to take strong action and creates a culture of Zero Tolerance for Corruption,” they state.

consewvation-elephant-design-baby-blue-elephants-in-ears

A quick read of Consewvation’s blog, and it’s entirely evident why Lucky the elephant was the inspiration behind this lovely Etsy shop: “On the car journey to the centre we were handed a book full of heart-wrenching stories of the animals we were to meet later in the day. First up we had Lucky, one of the world’s most charming and trusting elephants,” she recounts of her time Phnom Tamao. “Being able to get up close with her in person, even feeding her directly into her mouth, made me wonder why anyone would want to hurt such gentle giants.”

With such a compassionate creator and such care in their creation, I chose the little yellow elephant with cute elephant and rainbow details in its ears as the ele that would mark my first Etsy purchase. Luckily, my daughter loves it as much as I do.Baby-Ada-And-consewvation-elephant-design-yellowWe named the little guy ‘Sunshine‘ (as this little bright yellow elephant will bring rainbows to the nursery on rainy days), and to be safe around its small parts (ConSewvation recommends designs are best for ages 3 and up), he’ll be waiting on the shelf for when my little girl is old enough to hear about where this little elephant came from and how he’s helped!

Sasha Cole ConSewvation with elephantFollow ConSewvation’s makes here:
Instagram: @consewvation
Facebook: /ConSewvation
Twitter: @consewvation

Or follow her blog for updates on her studies, creations and fundraising!

Blog: https://consewvation.wixsite.com

I’m sure that Lucky will bring you luck with your fundraising, Sasha!

 

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Tania Esteban chats about her role as a Digital Researcher for BBC’s Big Cats, Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II

Tania Esteban behind the camera

I’m sure that, like me, Thursdays for many of my blog readers have meant one thing this January — Big Cats!

The BBC’s natural history programming has started 2018 on a high, with this exciting new series exploring the secret lives of wild cats. This past Tuesday viewers were treated to a rare insight into an international project that’s battling to bring the Iberian lynx back from the brink of extinction through captive breeding and improving wild habitats.

I was fortunate enough to chat to Tania Esteban (whose work can be discovered at TRE Productions) about her work behind the scenes on the series, which involved researching, setting up shoots, storyboarding, and translating for the crew (Tania credits being bilingual as major advantage in securing her role on the project).

Listen to the full interview on the SoundCloud link below.

After discovering her film A Lion’s Tale through Twitter back in 2016 (it featured on my Top 5 ways to beat Blue Monday post in January 2017), I was incredibly excited to chat to Tania about the film; her first big steps into her career in documentary-making; and the amazing work she’s done with the BBC since completing her Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking…

Kate: ‘Big Cats’ was your first project for the BBC, what did you do for the series?

Tania: It was my first foray into the BBC because it was work experience. At the time I was editing A Lion’s Tale, which was good timing, so I applied for the BBC work experience pool. I thought; “I’ll just apply and see if I get it” — it’s usually quite tricky because so many people apply and I knew I may or may not get it. I was at university when I got the call and they said: “We’d love to do a quick interview with you if you’d like to do work experience”, and of course I said; “yeah, I’d love to!”

The reason why was mainly because I could speak Spanish and they sent me to Spain to do a recce of where they were going to film the Iberian lynx for the third episode, on the conservation element of it. So I was very excited because this was my dream project — I wish I could have worked on it for longer. But I spent a month and a half working on it; doing lots of research and getting to learn the ropes of production. We’d just learnt everything on the [Masters] course, so it was fresh in our minds and a good chance to see whether I could do this in the real world of work.

What did the work experience involve?

I helped the main researcher and assistant producer — the lovely Sara [Douglas]. We went out to Spain and actually flew into my home province — which was hilarious; I told the team that I could show them all the best tapas bars. I did a little bit of filming on an Osmo [a type of handheld camera] — so that’s kind of field notes and getting a general scope of the area so that the producer can look and think ‘right, we’re going to film here and we’d like to do this…”.

I did a lot of translating; liaising with the scientist and finding out key facts that would feature heavily in the story. It was my job to work around the language barrier and make them feel comfortable with the team and ask questions about where we could place the cameras and gain their trust — which I love doing, because I love talking to people. 

BBC big cats

What did you enjoy most about working on Big Cats?

I really enjoyed finding pure science, learning how to set up shoots and the storytelling element and thinking about different camera angles and story boards to help the production.

It was very high security and we had to put protective clothes on so we didn’t spread any disease to the animals and they hosed us down, because they’re critically endangered these lynx. And they’re so beautiful; very small animals. I’d never seen them before so that was very exciting. 

It was really inspiring for me actually, because I never realised how many passionate conservationists there are in Spain. I was quite blinded to that in a way because I’d grown up there, but I’d never really had the opportunity to meet any of these people, such as Miguel who features on the programme.

The conservation work is incredible and I’m very glad that — from the perspective of a half Spanish woman — the conservation work that the team is doing is now coming out and being seen. It was brilliant to see that and to start my BBC role and my work as a researcher on a programme that features big cats — as I was obsessed with big cats at that time, after working on my film ‘A Lion’s Tale’.

What’s it like behind the scenes? Did you learn things that weren’t in the final programme? 

Yes. You see all these things behind the scenes and you’ve got your team there; so you find out all of this knowledge and information that embellishes a sequence. And even if that doesn’t make the final cut, you still have that knowledge with you and you still have that bond that you’ve made with these people. I think it’s very important to keep up those relationships where ever you travel in the world, because you never know.

Like the connections you made during the production of A Lion’s Tale; the likes of Ian Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Will Travers. How did that come about and where did you get the idea for the film?

I was studying the Wildlife Filmmaking MA course in Bristol after completing my Zoology course. I’d know for so many years that I wanted to do this particular MA course; since I was 14 and I saw it advertised. So I planned all my A Levels and GCSEs to get to Bristol and do this course. So when I got it I was ecstatic! And as part of our final year projects we had to choose a story we were passionate about; I wasn’t too sure what that would be — I knew I really liked big cats, but wasn’t sure what the story would be. Then Ian Redmond came in [to the university] and gave an inspiration talk — as always. He was talking about vEcotourism and he said this one sentence — that it was the 50th anniversary since the Born Free film was made and I went; “that’s the story!”

A Lions Tale film poster

Click the image to watch A Lion’s Tale

How did you get to work on the filmmaking side?

I’d recently read how lions had declined by nearly 70% over 20 years, and it’s just terrible when you think about how their numbers have plummeted. People always think that lions are so numerous, and they’re really not anymore — so I thought that’s the connection. So I went up to Ian [Redmond] and said “I’m a huge fan and I’ve got this idea for a film I’d like to make with Born Free; could you maybe put me in touch with Will Travers and Virginia McKenna if they’d be interested. And that really got the ball rolling and I got in touch with Will. Will was absolutely incredible — and I’m such a huge fan of his, so I was terrified of meeting him — and of course Virginia has always been such a hero of mine; as I’m sure she is of yours, and many people. She’s got this incredible presence. I even did a presentation about her when I was at school; I was 10 years old and we had to talk about our biggest heroes, and I chose her.

Everyone who I’ve spoken to who’s met Virginia McKenna has said she has such a positive air about her, and she’s so passionate and she ‘does’. She’s an activist — she acts upon her word.

virginia mckenna at home

Virginia McKenna portrait by Tania Esteban

So once the ball was rolling, I spent six months setting up the shoot and liaising with them constantly and then doing all the storyboards, doing all the research; talking to Victor — who’s one of the rangers out in the Kenyan Born Free offices — and then crowd-funded it. It was just a bizarre, really incredible year of planning this dream shoot and I thought: “right, I’ve got 10 days to actually shoot it, just a tiny percentage of a production.”

Actually getting out there was incredible because I got to fulfil a childhood dream of filming a story about one of my absolute heroes and an animal that’s very dear to my heart.

A Lion's Tale film poster

When I started editing it, I want the piece to be very much a memoir of Born Free and of Virginia McKenna as well, because she has dedicated her whole life to conserving wildlife. And her son [Will] is one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. He never stops. He’s seriously incredible.

What was it like going to the 2016 ivory burn in Kenya for the film — to witness the biggest ever stockpile of ivory to be destroyed?

That was something that I was unsure as to whether it would come off. A lot of people asked “what’s the connection?” and I said “well, there is a connection”, at the very end — there was a different ending that I didn’t use, it’s a personal copy that I keep — it’s Virginia McKenna saying: “it’s not just about elephants and lions; it’s about the whole eco-system; it’s about the whole of nature — protecting it. It got me really emotional actually.

Being at the ivory burn was one of the most overwhelming, powerful things I’ve ever filmed. You’re so focussed as a camerawoman, thinking: “I’ve got to get this shot, and I’ve got to get that shot — I’ve got to get the president as he comes out to light the ivory, and I’ve got to roam around with my gimbal to try and get some of the shots of the rangers and the burning flames…” and then you look up and see this 50-tonne pile of ivory going up in flames. It was the smell actually, more than anything and you could hear the ivory crackling because bits of it were hollow — it was so powerful.

Tania Esteban film the 2016 Kenyan ivory burn

That’s why in the film I used Virginia’s voice, Will’s voice and Victor’s in the film, to narrate it. I wanted them to give a voice to all those people who had been working together to reach this moment. It’s all about emotion in the storytelling. That’s what I tell a lot of people — especially in conservation — because nobody wants to be lectured anymore. You’ve got to get them emotionally or visually arresting images to try and do these amazing people justice.

Just being there was amazing and I’m so grateful to Ian and Will and Virginia for giving me that opportunity to make a dream film.

Amazing! I know you’ve become a bit of a drone specialist; how has that come about?

Drones are amazing! I got started with them about 2 years ago when I saw a video on Vimeo that someone shot in Scotland on a Phantom 2 — a very old type of drone — and I just thought “god, it really does open up a whole new world!”. It was only then that it was beginning to get more commercial and anyone from the general public could start to buy consumer drones and give it a go. So I bought a secondhand one to see if I could actually fly it before I start taking it seriously — and it was terrible, the drone was quite terrible, but if you can fly a bad drone and a smaller one, then you don’t have to worry about the bigger ones.

I remember flying a drone over my house in Spain, and the mountains there have always inspired me, so just to see it from above and being able to take pictures was incredible — a whole new perspective. And that’s where it all started really. I realised it could add a whole new perspective to my storytelling. 

Tania Esteban holds a drone camera

I was at the BBC at the time and I thought: yes, I’m going to do this. It’s quite a lot of money, it costs quite a few thousand pounds to train yourself to get the license and get qualified, but I knew that it would perhaps open up more opportunities for me to go out on location and also to enhance my own videography and film work.

The conservation element of it is quite interesting, because you can use drones for aerial surveying — such as for monitoring orang-utan nests and tree distribution and species. In the forest it was incredible to pan up the trees that just go on and on, and it gives a good indication of the health of the forest when you see ferns on the trees, etc. And I’m always concerned about the welfare of the animals I’m filming — when I filmed elephants in the forest I didn’t get anywhere near them. So it’s exciting; you’ve got small drones like the Spark, which you can fit in your hand, and because of the size of it, the motors don’t make as much noise. That’s very exciting for wildlife filmmakers.

I recently went to Iceland, which is the most drone-able country — the way the landscape changes is like turning the pages of a children’s story book — and the new series I’m working on now heavily features a lot of drone work, so I’m going off to Canada very soon to go fly my drone. My first paid internal gig with my drone.

Exciting! And it’s always important to think about the welfare of the animals. So, tell me about your work on Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II. What did you do for them?

That came about two months after I finished work experience on Big Cats and I’d finished editing A Lion’s Tale. The film came out at the start of November and at the end of November the BBC got in touch and said “would you like to do digital research for Planet Earth II?” Umm, yeah!

Digital research encompasses all the online aspects: all the video clips, all the behind the scenes pictures and all the social media clips and exclusives that people see online. And I was a part of the team that did all the different additional bits to support the Blue Planet II team. Which is probably why I was very active on social media about it, saying “check this out!” and all the random .gifs you probably saw about it.

Tania tweets about Blue Planet 2

We did some digital exclusives for Snapchat for America, which was interesting. My job was to look into all the archive which wasn’t used for Planet Earth, so I got to see all this amazing footage which wasn’t used on the main episodes and edit up clips for the digital platform.

We crafted these different stories with this incredible footage that wasn’t used on the series. Some of it was breath-taking, I hope its used for something in the future. 

For Blue Planet II I did the equivalent, but also got to do some additional interviews with some of the filmmakers involved and the conservationists — so that was good, as it meant I got to do some more camerawork.

I was so desperate then to move on to production — and I saw that Wild Metropolis was commissioned and so I came up with loads of story ideas and pitched it to the series producer and he said “ok, you can be one of our researchers” — which was great, as I could move on to production which was what I wanted, as it’s pure research. It’s been my favourite project to date. A lot of people don’t see these ‘mega cities’ from around the world as wildlife hotspots, but some of the stories we’ve found: wow! It’s coming out in October time, so keep an eye out for that!

What advice would you give to people who want to go into filmmaking and start a career like yours?

You have to be really passionate — and slightly crazy — about wildlife and natural history. I did the science route, zoology and I studied urban bat ecology for a year and did my dissertation on it and then I specialised in filmmaking, because that’s what I wanted to do. You don’t have to do that, I know plenty of people who didn’t, but I think it just gives you this filmic grammar if you specialise in filmmaking.

So yeah, just get out there, find your own stories — the world has opened up now, anyone can own a camera that shoots 4K now. Talk to people about their experiences, travel — it opens up a whole new perspective of your own life, as well as your career. Keep filming and get on social media. .

Tania with Victor and Born Free team after filming A Lion's Tale

Networking is about 60% of everything that we do. I also believe that if you can specialise in a certain area of wildlife filmmaking: gimbal work, long lens work, drone work, time-lapse, thermal — like you saw in Big Cats, the thermal imagery — there’s so many different niches that you can specialise in, I think you should go for it and pick one that you enjoy. I also believe in developing your own style; don’t just copy.

And always remember your roots; the reason you’re doing why your doing your filmmaking work — to make a difference, to inspire people, which is especially true of wildlife work

 

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6

Finding my story: gentle nature

We all have stories that shape us. Tales of triumph, or tragedy — or both — which serve to remind us why we do what we do, or why we’ve chosen to walk down the paths that we find ourselves on.

I have been influenced and my decisions inspired by gentle nature. More than once on this blog I’ve listed the story of Suffolk photographer Julie Ward as the inspiring figure behind my decision to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve in 2008.

Exactly a decade on from my gap year trip, and two decades since Julie was murdered in the Maasai Mara in 1988, I find myself in the most unexpected situation. I always believe in ‘reading the signs’ and serendipity seems to follow me. But this feels like a perfect nod of encouragement at a time when such things are needed.

This week started with ‘Blue Monday‘, the so-called most depressing day of the year. I must admit, every year it does indeed creep up on me. Last year I took the bull by the horns and wrote a blog post; “Top 5 Ways To Beat Blue Monday” and felt suitably inspired. This year, my partner and I booked an impromptu hotel stay in Canterbury — one of my favourite cities — and packed up the car, bundled up the baby and took ourselves off.

Kate in Canterbury

No blog post was written, but some well earned family time was underway after a busy start to January spent planning a major event for our little London business.

Now, most people know I’m a massive book nerd. I read, admire and pore over as many wildlife and conservation books as possible (I’ve even started a hashtag of my recommended reads on Instagram; check out #kateonconservationreads). So it was only natural that I would go book hunting in the charity shops and secondhand bookshops of Canterbury.

Audubon's elephant book

My first purchase of the day was Audubon’s Elephant, a book that explores John James Audubon’s struggle to publish The Birds of America. This felt particularly exciting, given that I’d just written a blog post about the Audubon Society and my time with Audubon Sarasota for National Bird Day and my latest guest post came from a brilliant and enthusiastic birder.

Zafara book

The next book to catch my eye was Zarafa, the tale of the first giraffe to arrive in France. Much like the wonderful book; Jumbo by W.P. Jolly, this book promises an in-depth study of captivity management and animal transportation in the 1800s through the real life story of a much-loved, significant ‘celebrity’ animal.

Having written about Jumbo the London Zoo elephant and his shipment to America just recently, the promise of an equivalent tale of a giraffe being transported from Africa to Europe — and the trials and public reactions en route — was too good to leave sitting on the shelf.

gentle nature book 1998

The most incredible find of the trip however, and what feels like the crown jewel in my visit was walking into one of the most incredible Oxfam bookshops and casting my eyes through the ‘collectibles’ section, only to see sitting on the shelf, a hardback copy of gentle nature!

I treasure my paperback re-print from the year 2000, complete with an additional preface written by Born Free star and Co-Founder of the Born Free Foundation, Virginia McKenna. It was, after all, this copy that I won in raffle by the charity, and here that I first read about Shamwari Game Reserve‘s big cat rescue centre (including the Julie Ward Education Centre), which I would go on to volunteer at 8 years later.

But sitting on the shelf in front of me was an entirely different cover design that I was sure must be from the original 1998 print run.

“This has got to be a 1st edition” I told my partner, excitement dancing inside.

“It’s not that it’s particularly old, it’s just that you never see this kind of thing in secondhand shops. People buy these books because they care.”

I leafed through the front pages to see whether it was an original 1998 print, knowing that regardless, it would have a story attached.

It would have belonged to someone who cared about wildlife, about conservation; someone wanted to see wildlife free and not behind bars.

Someone who wanted to support the family of a young female photographer who grew up in the county next to me, and whose unsolved murder in the Masaai Mara must have touched them.

“No way!” my heart raced faster. This book has been signed!

Sitting there on the page in front of my was an message from Virginia, signed off with ‘Every good wish, Virginia McKenna‘.

To think that back in 1998, when I was eight years old, one of my biggest role models was holding this very book, sharing a special moment with its former owner. I suddenly felt a part of something.

“This is incredible.”

There were more messages and signatures inside the book, most poignantly from Julie Ward’s parents. As a new mum myself, I ran my fingers over the words penned by Julie’s mother, Jan. For Julie.

Needless to say, I purchased the book and it is instantly one of my most treasured possessions.

I have never met Julie’s parents, I wrote a letter to them once as a child; after following Julie’s story in the news. It was a letter writing task at school, and I chose to write to them, to tell them I wanted to go to Africa when I was older and take pictures, because I loved the wildlife photography I’d seen of Julie’s and because she was the only woman I’d heard of at the time who was from the part of England I was, and who had been brave enough to go on an adventure to Africa alone.

Despite her tragic story, she had shown me that young women could be brave and go on adventures, even if they’re from a rural county, rather than a big exciting city.

It was a piece of school work, so the letter was submitted to my teacher and never sent.

But to know that there’s a little bit of the spirit of Jan, and her love for Julie in this wonderful book — it feels like the message has been transferred the other way. From her pen to my eyes.

canterbury street

I said that my goal this year was to reacquaint with my passion for photography as a way to tell the stories of wildlife, to highlight the difference between freedom and captivity, and to share the tales of conservation efforts — and I feel like my spontaneous decision to get in the car and do something different this week was a well-timed reminder that I’m walking the right path.

kate on conservation logo

Learn more about Julie Ward

Want to know more about the Suffolk wildlife photographer and her legacy?

Want to know more about the Julie Ward Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve?

Want to know more about Born Free Foundation?

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