6

Sea turtle conservation and my first National Geographic Kids cover story!

There’s nothing like the excitement of new life. Scooping out the final handful of cool sand to reveal the first couple of pristine, squishy white eggs, it was a complete thrill to know that soon there would be a mass of tiny loggerhead sea turtles hatched out and running toward the sea.

sea turtle eggs in nest

Watching the Sarasota sun rising in the sky as we completed documenting and recording every detail of the nest, I felt the wave of sickness in my tummy starting to shift too. It was morning sickness. Like the tiny little lives flourishing inside the eggs of the sandy nest we’d been recording, there was a tiny life flourishing inside of me too.

Even without eating breakfast, the 6am sea air churned my stomach. But it was worth it to join the Mote Marine Laboratory‘s turtle patrol team. I was on one of my first field assignments for National Geographic Kids magazine; to explore the local marine life in Florida, and I didn’t want anything to get in the way!

Kate on Conservation turtle nest monitoring

Photograph by Mark Sickles

Joining Mote’s sea turtle nest monitoring team on Venice Beach, Sarasota was a fantastic assignment. Finding the newly dug egg chambers, having the opportunity to actually see the eggs — and then protecting the nests from unsuspecting beachgoers who may accidentally stand on them — was a very moving experience.

As a soon-to-be mum; seeing the effort that these incredible turtle mothers go through to find the perfect nesting spot to give their young the best chance at life brought a tear to my eye! (ok, lots of things brought a tear to my eye when I was pregnant, but this truly was special).

Mote team with patrol vehicle on the beach

Out and about with the Mote team

I learnt that over the previous year’s nesting season, Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program reported that Longboat Key through Venice hosted a total of 4,588 nests (beating the 2015 record by 2,103 nests), showing this thriving nesting area’s importance to the local sea turtle population.

Shifting sands and moving nests

Sometimes, when the nests are in a spot that may be affected by human impact, such as beach nourishment, it’s necessary for the Mote team to move them.

A nourishment project takes place where there is a need to place fresh sand on the beach. It takes a while for the turtles to get used to the new sand, because its texture and height can be different and create obstacles.

Following the previous year’s nourishment project on Venice beach, the turtles would not come very far up the sand. There were almost three times as many false crawls (where a mother comes onto the beach to lay her eggs, but returns to the sea without actually nesting) as there were nests.

A false crawl on Venice beach, Sarasota

A false crawl, where a mother turtle has turned around and returned to the sea without nesting

in 2016, the team had to relocate 200 nests! Which meant moving up to eight a day. This is no easy feat when there’s a tight deadline to move nests by 9.30am, before visitors and tourists come to the beach.

Apparently it takes an hour to find all the eggs, dig them all out of the sand, and put them all back in at the new location. Of course eggs have to be moved extremely delicately and carefully, as the team don’t know exactly when the eggs were laid overnight.

mote team moving sand

To make the task even more complex, when a new nest chamber is dug, it must be exactly like that which the mother created.

“You have to measure it perfectly and dig a new one exactly the same,” Mote’s Kirsten Mazzarella tells me. “And you have to find a spot that’s not going to have a predators and a place that doesn’t have any lighting to draw them in the wrong direction. You don’t want to move them to a worse spot than where the mum laid them.”

Mote’s Kirsten tells us all about the nest relocation programme. Photo by Mark Sickles

Mote feel very strongly about creating nests the way that mother’s intended, as they try not to interfere with nature. Moving nests is not something they like to do, as usually the mother has picked the best natural spot and they may be moving it to a less desirable area. If the mother has picked a bad site, they don’t like to move this either, as that’s nature’s way of saying the genes were not meant to be passed on.

“We take care of human impact, but not nature’s impact,” Kirsten explains. “We used to move the nests that were too close to the water higher up the beach, but now if the mother turtle gets it wrong, we allow nature to take its course. The only time we actively move a nest is when a nourishment project of the sand is actively taking place. That requires the nourishment people to get a special permit and then contact Mote to do the work.”

Turtle treatment and recovery

Mote work hard to reduce human impact and help the turtle populations in other ways too. They own one of only three wildlife hospitals in Florida with special facilities and training to care for turtles suffering from fibropapilloma tumors.

Because scientists are still learning how the disease is transmitted among turtles, they must provide a separate facility just for animals with these tumours.

Grace the green turtle gets ready for surgery

Grace the green turtle gets ready for surgery to remove her fibropapilloma tumours. Photo by Mark Sickles

Tumours can grow on the surface of the flippers, inside the mouth (affecting feeding), and on the turtle’s eyes. All tumours are removed by laser surgery, though the animal must have at least one salvageable eye after removal of the tumours in order to be released back into the wild.

It was an incredible and emotive experience to be allowed behind the scenes in this amazing facility, which really is changing the lives of these beautiful animals. The care and attention delivered by staff is admirable, and I don’t quite know what the outcome would be for the injured and sick turtles if it weren’t for Mote.

turtle hospital feature in Nat Geo Kids magazine

It’s also fascinating to discover how far the facility has come and what they have learnt in the day-to-day handling of its patients.

Up until 2010, they used to have to keep turtles in the centre for a year after their tumour-removal surgery, to ensure they were not contagious. If they had a re-growth of any tumours, they would have to start that clock again.

This meant that some animals were being kept at the facility for two years and more! But in 2010, Sarasota had an outbreak of red tide (a harmful algal bloom), which saw the hospital inundated with patients, so they made the decision to release turtles with the disease as soon as they healed from surgery.

Over time they learnt that the virus comes out in times of stress, so keeping them in captivity to ensure they were healed was actually creating a vicious cycle where they ended up getting more tumours instead of recovering.

Kate on Conservation with Nat Geo Kids cover story

I learnt so much about Mote’s projects and Sarasota’s different species of turtle (loggerhead, leatherback, green turtle, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley) on my trip — all of which are mentioned in my Nat Geo Kids article. If you’d like to read about them and much more about the turtle nesting patrol and turtle hospital (I’ve tried to keep the content of this blog post quite different from the article), the May issue is out now!

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Want to know more about my work with Nat Geo Kids?

Want to know more about Nat Geo Kids inspiring natural history learning?

0

Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Awards 2018: inspiring eco-warriors


Nothing is better for the soul than spending a few hours listening to children talking about the future they imagine and how they are working towards it. Last Friday’s Roots and Shoots Awards gave me the opportunity to do just that.

Portway School's display at Roots and shoots 2018

Portray Junior School at Roots and Shoots 2018

It was a privilege to attend this inspiring award ceremony for a second year, and to learn about the different projects that schoolchildren are working on across the UK to help care for people, wildlife and the environment — the three prongs on which the Roots and Shoots programme is built.

Rockwood School's display at Roots and Shoots 2018

Rockwood School’s display at Roots and Shoots 2018

Now present in over 100 schools across the globe, Roots & Shoots is a youth service programme for young people of all ages to foster respect and compassion for all living things; to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs and to inspire individuals to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment.

Held in the Barbican Centre in London, the event saw a packed out room teeming energy and inspiration. As the children showcased their schools’ green initiatives and the eco-friendly activities they’re orchestrating, it struck me just how passionate and switched on they are when it comes to making informed choices about their impact on the planet.

Harrow Way Community School with their display at Roots and Shoots 2018

Harrow Way Community School with their models of the school’s eco-friendly activities

From planting vegetable patches to recycling Lego sets, and from monitoring local air pollution levels to creating and sending care packages to dogs in Romania, the compassion showed by these young people was truly admirable.

This year, a new addition was included in the day’s programme of events; a ‘Trashion’ Show; for which clothing designs were made from recycled and up-cycled materials and packaging. Here are some of the superb entries!

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So much creative talent was displayed during the Ethical Fashion Show, and I could only admire the eye-catching styles and brilliant bravery of the entrants as they sashayed down the makeshift catwalk.

The day of course culminated in honouring this year’s Roots and Shoots Award winners, and the incredible effort they have all shown.

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I’d like to take a moment to give a special mention to Ella from James Allen’s Girls’ School for winning the Most Outstanding Photograph Award for her picture of rain water in a lotus flower, taken in Ubud, Bali.

The award was sponsored by National Geographic Kids magazine, and my colleague Alex was on hand to present her with her prize. We’re looking forward to welcoming Ella into the office when she becomes a Nat Geo reporter for the day!

Roots and Shoots Most Outstanding Photograph Award winner Ella. Award presented by Nat Geo Kids magazine.

Most Outstanding Photograph Award winner Ella from James Allen’s Girls’ School

A special well done also to:

  • Chloe Bonner, who won The Jane Goodall Award for Individual Endeavour
  • Children’s Hospital School who won the Most Outstanding Group Award
  • Harrow Way Community School, who won the prize for Most Outstanding Group in Touch With Nature.

There could be no better way to end such an inspiring event than to hear a few words from Dr Jane Goodall herself. First greeting us all in chimp language, she went on to excuse the absence of her beloved toy monkey, Mr H, who is this year 29 years old, has visited 63 countries and been touched by millions of hands across the world!

The original Mr H is currently in transit back to the UK from Borneo, but a similar design was on hand to help in his absence!

Jane Goodall speaks at Roots and Shoots Awards 2018

One of my favourite anecdotes from this year’s closing speech — and one I had never heard from Jane before — was about her favourite tree. The name Roots and Shoots was of course inspired by trees, which Jane described as ‘magical creatures’.

“My fave tree, Beech, is in Bournemouth where my sister lives,” she said. “He’s over 100 years old and I used to swing from his branches growing up.”

When you think of trees as the ultimate givers of life — providing energy, shelter and clean air to the world around them — it’s easy to see why Dr Jane would take such inspiration from them!

Kate on Conservation with Jane Goodall

Thank you once again for allowing me to be a part of this brilliant celebration of education, empowerment, environment, people and wildlife!

If you want to know more about Roots and Shoots and how your local school can get involved, please visit: www.rootsnshoots.org.uk

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Learn more about Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots

Learn more about Dr Jane Goodall

4

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.

0

Travel, adventure, parties and… natural history! – Guest post by Adventure Ed

Starting the year with a focus on achieving success in 2018, young adventurer and bird specialist Eddie Williams, aka Adventure Ed, from California offers his perspective on making conservation cool and reaching new audiences with his one of a kind YouTube channel.       

adventure ed title card I have started a Youtube Channel that combines travel with environmental education in a way you may have never seen before.

Before I explain the details, I want you to ask yourself this question: How are you unique? I believe this is a question everybody should ask themselves. Though it is extremely cliche, everyone is unique in his or her own way, and if you realize your uniqueness, not only will the world be more colourful, but you will remember your purpose in life.

I am unique, like everyone else. I am a 27-year old guy who likes doing the things that most guys my age like doing. I like working out, watching football, going to the beach, and going to parties with my friends. Like many others, I enjoy the outdoors, but my fondness for nature is not average. Nature has dictated the course of my life so much that I now work as a wildlife biologist with a focus on birds. Not only do I study birds but I am also a keen recreational birder (birdwatcher). In case you do not know about the hobby of birding, it is when people actively observe birds in their habitats.

2018 year of the bird adventure Ed

Birding, as you might imagine, has some solid stereotypes. People think it’s “too simple” or “boring” or “awkward”. People joke that birding is for a dork still living in his or her parents’ basement or for a strange hippy lost in his or her own world. These stereotypes are not only often given to birders but also to people who actively observe and appreciate nature in general.

Back to the original question: how am I unique?  Well, I am a 27-year-old birder. The vast majority of birders are much older and many are senior citizens.  But I like to think that is not the only way I am unique because I believe that I defy the stereotypes of birders. I may enjoy a bit of weirdness and awkward humour, but like I said earlier I am just like everyone else at the end of day. I am no nature nerd, but a nature stud… Okay, that was a joke, as I don’t want to brag too much about my beautiful plumage! (Another bird joke). Throughout my entire life I have wanted to share my passion of nature and birds with other people and show that it is not for dorks or hippies but is really cool and interesting. My love of nature has become contagious and I have found that people can appreciate anything as long as you make it cool.

For example, in my early twenties I spent two and a half years traveling, studying, teaching, and doing ecological fieldwork in Australia and Central America. I met thousands of younger travelers who had never heard of birding or had assumed the usual stereotypes. But after an introductory bird walk and hitting up a beach party with me, pretty much every person I met learned to appreciate birding. My personal belief is that there would be more young birders in the world if they were properly exposed to birding.

adventure ed twitter bird pic

Just like anyone who travels I fell in love with the vagabond life. I visited many tourist destinations throughout the tropics that were developing rapidly and thought about the environmental impacts of the tourism industry in these places. I wondered how many of the other young travelers attending the beach parties actually thought about their environmental impacts.

I never really watched Youtube until a while after I came back to the USA and I discovered an entire community of travel vloggers sharing the world with each other. I realized that Youtube was a way to reach out and spread a message to people all over the world no matter what the size of the audience. It’s a potential way to make a difference in the world and a creative outlet to embrace one’s uniqueness. So I decided to start my vlog channel that combines travel with environmental education. It is called Adventure Ed.

Adventure Ed will show you my adventures around the world where I go birding, do other outdoor activities, and explore the young traveler party life. I will give budget travel tips, educate about birds and natural history, and give a perspective on environmental issues surrounding the places I visit by interviewing locals.

My ultimate goals are two-fold. The first is to get millennials more in touch with nature and expose the hobby of birding to people who have never been exposed to it before.

The goal is not to convert everyone into a birder but rather to make them appreciate the hobby and the general observation of nature. By using myself as an example and defying the stereotypes I hope that younger people see that nature is cool. Most young people think that partying is cool, so it is one way I will relate to my target audience. I encourage everyone to go out and have fun like the cool kids (in a legal and controlled manner) as long as they take time to appreciate the natural world around them.

The second goal is to educate about environmental issues surrounding tourism. I want tourists who are going to beautiful destinations to party to realize their potential environmental impact. Instead of ridiculing young party-goers, I join them, and advise that they consider their impacts.

Yes, this is a radical way to do environmental education, and that is my full intent. My main target audience is millennials, but there are aspects of this channel that will interest everyone.  If you do not like watching the beach parties, then maybe you will love the footage of exotic wild animals and learning fun scientific facts.

I started my channel a few months ago and my following is currently very small. I am brand new to videography and my videos are rough around the edges, but I am working hard to improve my skills. Fortunately I have a job schedule in which I work long stretches overtime and receive long breaks, which allows me to travel frequently and film content. This winter I am visiting Thailand, Panama, and Vietnam, where I hope to have a lot of fun and see a lot of cool wildlife.

If you are interested in learning about budget travel, nature, and environmental issues, I suggest you take a look at the channel. If you like the content, all I ask is that you click the subscribe button.  My goal for the end of 2018 is to get to 1,000 subscribers.

 

Subscribe to Eddie’s YouTube Channel and help him reach 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year by clicking here.

Adventure EdEddie is a 27-year-old wildlife biologist from California who specializes in birds. His YouTube channel combines travel, environmental education, and pure fun. He provides budget travel advice and shares his passion and knowledge of science and nature. He explores both the natural world and party life, two activities not usually associated with each other. He says his ultimate goal is to get more millennials in touch with nature.

 

6

National Bird Day: How can we teach children to love birds?

Today is National Bird Day, which has naturally started me thinking about the way we live alongside this diverse and beautiful classification of animal. We are so used to seeing garden birds hoping around the bird table and perching on fences — and this is especially true of my childhood, spent growing up in beautiful Norfolk — that it can be easy to become so accustomed to these fascinating creatures that we barely notice them going about their daily lives. Even the so-called alien species that Sir David Attenborough spoke of in his Wild Neighbours lecture are a commonplace sight across London‘s parks.

Ring-necked parakeet in Richmond Park

Ring-necked parakeet in Richmond Park, photo by Kate on Conservation

But last year I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to reflect upon the beauty of birds, when I joined Around the Bend Nature Tours at Sarasota’s Audubon Center in Florida, during my press trip on behalf of National Geographic Kids magazine. Around the Bend Nature Tours provides nature experiences for schoolchildren and families at parks and preserves across the county, and the aim of my day with them was to join a group of children in at the Celery Fields to spot and identify various species of local birds.

Looking at feathers, bird skulls and egg shells in the curiosity box, to help with identifying bird species.

The Celery Fields are 300 acres of county-owned flood mitigation area, and have proven to be one of the premier birding hotspots on the southwest coast of Florida. They boast 220 species of bird throughout the year, across flooded fields, freshwater marsh and open water.

Sarasota Audubon launched a special initiative for schoolchildren — the Celery Fields Explorers Program — five years ago, and since then, more than 4,000 schoolchildren have joined their program of environmental education.

It was one of these such field trips that I had the privilege of joining.

We took our binoculars and bird identification charts out onto the deck and enjoyed the long-range vistas on offer. Important factors to consider were the birds’ size, colour, shape and habitat. Together we spotted the eye-catching white outline of a Great Egret, searching for snails in the marshy mud.

Great Egret

A flash of bright colour revealed itself to be the purple and blue hues of a Purple Gallinule darting across the reeds. Its yellow legs and red and yellow beak make it a fascinating and distinctive bird to watch. It proved a favourite amongst the children.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

Training to become young ornithologists does not stop with learning basic bird spotting skills, however. One of the most memorable parts of my day was seeing the children investigate specific bird characteristics by looking through the box of feathers, beaks and skulls, and using their ID charts to help identify which bird species they may belong to.

Ann Cruikshank led the students in touching and feeling the items, which were passed around the circle. The physical aspect of holding these curiosities had a real impact on the children’s learning. Most of the items came from birds who had deceased naturally in the environment and been collected by staff, or they had been donated by the local wildlife hospital after an injured bird passes away; facts which were quickly pointed out to the children.

Studying the shape of the skull up against illustrations of different species of local bird

Through examining beaks and feathers, we were able to discuss what the birds may eat by considering the shapes of their bills and how noisy their feathers are (i.e. would they able to hunt effectively?). The bones and skulls also helped to determine the features that help a bird to fly: light, hollow bones; wing span; wing shape, etc.

A Limpkin, with its distinctive long bill

Catching sight of a Limpkin at the end of the activity gave us a perfect opportunity to take part in the ‘What does it mean to be a bird?‘ exercise. For this game, children become Limpkins and are challenged to discover all the difficulties that Limpkins and other birds face for their survival.

Finally, with a refreshed and renewed interest in the lives of birds, I completed my day at the Celery Fields with a look around the education center. Notice boards of bright tapestries of birds; a children’s corner including animal track identification; recordings of bird sightings and a map of the 300-acre Celery Fields all adjourned the walls and added to the sense of endearing care for the birds in the area.

After such an heart-warming and informative day, there was no way that I could leave without pledging my support and buying an Audubon Society badge!

audubon society badge

 

What is the Audubon’s society?

The National Audubon Society is a nonprofit conservation organisation that protects birds and the places and habitats they live in, now and for future generations. Since 1905 they have used science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation to protect bird species throughout the Americas.

Named after natural history artist John James Audubon, the organisation looks to fulfil his vision of a world in which people and wildlife thrive. I discovered the following information in Florida’s Kennedy Space Center‘s Nature and Technology exhibit.

Audubon Society KSC

It reads: “John James Audubon is the most famous of all American natural history artists, renowned for his adventurous nature, his artistic genius and his obsessive interest in birds. In 1820, he set off on his epic quest to depict America’s wildlife, floating down the Mississippi River with nothing but his gun, artistic materials and a young assistant.

Unable to find secure financial backing in the United States, Audubon went to Europe in 1826. There he found both subscribers and engravers for the project. Over the next twelve years, Audubon divided his time between London and America. When abroad, he supervised the engraving and coloring of the prints. In America he traveled in search of birds to paint, arriving at the east coast of Florida in 1831 to find water birds and tropical species.”

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Want to read more about birds?

Like this? Read more about my press trip to Florida

7

Jane Goodall – Special interview: Roots & Shoots 2017

I hate hearing that ‘We’ve borrowed the Earth from our children’; I hate it because it’s a lie. We’ve not ‘borrowed’, we have been stealing, and we’ve made so many mistakes and it’s not the young peoples’ job to put it right. We have to work with them to fix it… we’re holding your hand so that together we can make it better.” 

Dr Jane Goodall’s words from March’s Roots & Shoots Awards ceremony rang in my head as I entered the regal surroundings of Windsor Castle; where Roots & Shoots Annual Summit was taking place for a fourth consecutive year.

Jane Goodall Windsor Castle

Roots & Shoots is a youth-driven initiative to assist young people in setting up and working together on self-chosen projects centred around people, animals and the environment. Its success speaks for itself, with at least 100,000 active groups of all ages initiating projects all over the world!

Knowing the difference in ages between the recipients of the Roots & Shoots Awards (largely projects created by primary and secondary schools) and the global delegates at the Annual Summit (most around university age), I wondered how much Jane’s sentiment or optimism would change around those more aware of the momentous tasks that lie ahead. The truthful answer? It didn’t change a bit!

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual summit

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual Summit, photo courtesy of BESUREIS

Before watching presentations by delegates from 22 different countries (of the 100 that Roots & Shoots programmes are now present in – a milestone met three weeks ago!), I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr Jane and find out more. Easing into the afternoon of the fifth and final day of the summit – which Jane admits is one of the busiest weeks of her calendar – we sit in an impressive lounge room in George’s Hall over tea and take all things Roots & Shoots and the future…

What is the inspiration behind Roots & Shoots?

Dr Jane Goodall: I was learning all about the problems facing the planet and as I was travelling around raising awareness about the chimps and the problems in Africa I was meeting so many young people who were either depressed, or angry, or just apathetic. And when I talked to them, they more or less said the same thing: ‘we feel this way because you’ve compromised our future and there’s nothing we can do about it’. And of course we have compromised their future, but I think there’s something we can do.

So it all began with 12 secondary school students in Dar es Salaam from nine schools in 1991 – and they wanted me to fix all the problems that were around, but I said: “No I can’t, I’m not Tanzanian, but go and get your friends who feel the same [and] we’ll have a meeting” and from that the programme was born, with its main message: ‘every individual matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference every day.’

Do you still find that those who are secondary school-age [often considered ‘the golden age’ before you lose teenagers to apathy and distraction] are still involved now?

Oh, that’s my key target audience, because you get them just before they go away – ok some go to university, but a lot won’t – so it’s your last chance to actually catch them while they’re in one place.

Jane Goodall and Kate on Conservation

Sharing positivity with Jane Goodall over educating and empowering future generations

How would you encourage children to think of their impact on the environment?

Tell them to join Roots & Shoots! Seriously! And then, it depends how old the child is, but for older children — then you start asking questions… I’m going to eat a certain kind of food; “ok, did it harm the environment when it was made? Did it involve cruelty to animals, like in intensive farms? Is it cheap because there was child slave labour?” What do you wear is the same thing: “How was it made? Where did it come from?” And then think about the effect that all these little choices have.

I know so many parents who say: “of course I recycle, my children make me!”. Some kids will literally read every ingredient on a label to see what’s in it — and if it has something in it that’s bad, like palm oil, they won’t let their parents buy it. And if you put millions of those kinds of ethical choices together, you move towards a better world.

 

How do the projects differ across the globe?

Well, in some places they live near the ocean – so they tend to do projects like, they’re especially worried about plastic bags, or maybe they want to help turtles guard their nesting sites and watch while the little ones go back into the ocean when the eggs hatch. Sometimes they’re groups living in the Amazonia jungle, and then they’ll do something perhaps to help whatever kind of endangered primate lives there. Everywhere they’re doing tree planting, everywhere they’re collecting garbage, trying to clean up the world.

It really just depends – like in Asia there’s a lot of concern about the palm oil plantations, but that’s spilled across, because we need to find out which products have palm oil in them, so that we can avoid them, and in order for that to happen you have to persuade the government to enforce labelling. So there’s huge projects in America and Australia to get the government to insist that products have labels saying what’s in them.

Chowbent primary school roots and shoots

Roots & Shoots projects in action at Chowbent Primary School


Are there any specific aims or goals for Roots & Shoots for the year ahead? 

Just going on growing, and also working on global campaigns so that the kids can feel really involved with each other. Recycling cell phones or planting trees can be a global campaign… where they can network on social media.

What is your favourite part of working on the Roots & Shoots programme?

The enthusiasm and energy of young people once they know the problems and you empower them to take action. They’re just imaginative and filled with energy – and so excited about what they do.


Listen to an extract of my interview with Dr Jane Goodall here and learn how recycling old mobile phones can reduce the need to mine for coltan, which can have devastating effects on gorilla habitats, and the children forced to mine for coltan.

Interview conducted on behalf of National Geographic Kids Magazine – keep an eye out for the rest of the interview in future issues of the magazine.

Learn more about Dr Jane Goodall

Want to know more about Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Awards?

Want to know more about Great Apes?

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Rhino’s Up: One six-year old’s fight to protect the last Northern White Rhinos

Working in conservation and education will always feel like a blessing to me. To see how children react to the issues facing the natural world around them, and to discover time and time again how they seem to intrinsically care about the environment and the wildlife they share it with — it truly fills me with hope and positivity.

One such story that’s started August off on a positive note is that of six-year-old Frankie and his fundraising mission for Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Frankie (pictured above) is on a mission to save rhinos after discovering that there are only three northern white rhinos left in the world.

He decided to launch a fundraising project called ‘RhinosUp to raise £48,000 – the amount that a poached rhino horn might fetch on the black market.

His plan is to create a living sculpture in the shape of a northern white rhino out of bee-friendly plants. Frankie hopes his flowerbed — made in partnership with Fauna & Flora International — will encourage people to think about the plight of rhinos and spread the message that poaching has to end.

Read the full story (and watch Frankie’s video) on National Geographic Kids’ website here.

National geographic kids rhinos up article

Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO said: “I am making a special trip to the UK to meet with Frankie. I am amazed at what this formidable young man has managed to achieve at such a young age.”

“If only the world were made of more people like him, we would not be facing the extinction crisis that we currently are. The northern white rhinos need all the help they can get, and what Frankie is doing will make a huge difference in how we protect them and for the survival of the species.”

Well done Frankie!

For more information on Frankie’s ‘RhinosUp’ project, and to donate online, visit www.rhinosup.com

 

Want to know more about rhino horn poaching?

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Calculating extinction; finding ways to get children thinking

‘The sixth mass extinction is already underway’ the Guardian reports. ‘We only have 20 years to halt it’ the Telegraph adds. A new study by the University of Lund, Sweden, and the University of British Columbia, Canada has advised that the best ways to reverse the impact we are having on the planet is to stop using air travel, to give up the car, have fewer children and switch to a vegetarian or plant-based diet. Trading tumble dryers for hanging clothes out to dry and switching off lights are also factors that we can contribute, to do our bit.

It’s great when these stories come back around and remind us to think about our impact on the planet, but to me, nothing says it better than the incredible documentary; Racing Extinction. Now that the initial hype of a documentary release has died down, I found myself wondering about the impact of the school resources that I worked on whilst at my previous job at Discovery Education. Do they still have the same momentum without the film release? Because they need it!

racing extinction species campaign

Educating children is the key to improving the condition of the planet for future generations. Giving them the chance to see the mistakes of the generations before them, and empowering them to not only avoid those mistakes, but improve upon them, is an incredibly powerful tool.

For this reason, when I was approached through my job at National Geographic Kids to suggest a challenge for gifted children, as part of Potential Plus UK‘s 50th anniversary, I felt it was a good opportunity to think about what the last 50 years that the programme has been in existence have meant for natural history.

Creating a Maths challenge, I suggested a method for estimating the amount of species decline, which included researching the rapidly increasing rate of extinction — and looking ahead over the next 50 years to estimate how many more species we are likely to lose if things don’t change.

The challenge was included in the ’50 Challenges for 50 Years’ Book, which was launched on the organisation’s Family Challenge Day and given to the gifted and talented children to try at home with their family.

potential plus calculating extinction

Check out the challenge on Potential Plus UK’s website, and give it a go yourself. As well as testing your maths skills, I’m hoping it serves as a humbling opportunity to see the need to protect species — and the consequences we may face if we don’t.

More about my work with Nat Geo Kids

Want to know what happened when I met Dr Jane Goodall on behalf of Nat Geo Kids?

Want to know more about Nat Geo Kids inspiring natural history learning?

Discover my work in conservation education with Discovery

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Making Nature exhibition

Making Nature is an exhibition I recently visited at the Wellcome Galleries in Euston. It provides an intriguing look at the evolving relationship between humans and nature.

Though I can’t say that I related to every part of the exhibition, I would recommend it as a welcome introduction to considering humans and their place (or rather, perceived place) within the natural world.

Organising

Separated into four themed rooms, Making Nature attempts to guide visitors through the complex journey of the last century or two that has seen us move from studying nature to ‘creating’ it. The first signpost on that whistle-stop tour was ‘Organising’.

This room was dedicated to early studies and illustrations of nature, including botanical study. It examined where and how nature was placed within those studies, early books and art work, and how that initial work evolved into more formal study of taxonomy.

Taxonomy; the science of classification – in this case of organisms – is truly reflective of how we position ourselves within a kingdom of wildlife (usually we humans place ourselves at the top of such a structure). I think that was the point being made in a darkened alcove of the room, playing video footage and rolling subtitles about humans’ search for intelligent life in outer space, and declaring that we should look a little closer to home; in parrots.

Admittedly, this display seemed a little out of place amongst all the old sketches and classification charts, but it had a good point — that parrots are vocal communicators like humans, and capable of speech, but we’ve only just begun to consider them as a species to communicate with.

This was highlighted by the story of Alex the Grey Parrot and Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who conducted research into the cognitive abilities of parrots. Find out more about them here: http://alexfoundation.org

Displaying

The next room looked at our need to ‘progress’ from illustrations to true-to-life displays of animals. Not far from the early ideals of man being at the top of the pyramid of life, the ‘displaying’ room examined various curiosities in man’s attempt to hold, house and recreate nature for our viewing pleasure.

Beginning with Crystal Palace’s famous Victorian dinosaur park — home to stone recreations of the imaginings of what real life dinosaurs would have looked like (created using fossil finds of the time; though not always accurate) — leading on to the more common displays of the day; the diorama display.

The pain-staking details of many diorama displays try to capture the colours, atmosphere and scale of the natural world and have provoked a progression in taxidermy; to aim for ‘action poses’ attempting to recreate natural behaviour. Quite unlike the portrait-style emotionless taxidermy you largely find in the infamous Hall of Mammals at London’s Natural History Museum.
London’s Natural History Museum’s significant architecture was also examined in this room. Originally built as a ‘cathedral to nature‘, the outside of the building was once adjourned with a figure of Adam at the top of its arches, to signify man’s place at the top of the kingdom’. The biblical figure of Adam no longer remains

Observing

The purpose of displaying is to, of course, allow for observation. As humans we moved from an interest in static displays and illustrations to the desire to observe real life animal behaviour for ourselves. And so comes an examination of the era of the zoological gardens and eventually ‘the zoo‘.

This area of the exhibit examines the early popular attractions of London Zoo, including a once much-admired performing elephant and London’s ‘infamous polar bears’ — immortalised in zoo merchandise such as postcards and plushie toys.

One of the evolutions in the history of zoo that I can never quite get my head around was the conscious movement to irradicate a sense of natural environment from the zoo enclosure. Described in this exhibition as London Zoo‘s movement to champion architecture that ‘contrasted the animals and made them stand out’, this seems like such a dark and misguided interpretation of animal observation to me.

Famous architects were employed to remove nature from the surrounds, which ultimately removes the chance to see animals’ naturalistic behaviour. The very thing the zoo was supposed to provide.

This room made me think about an episode of popular US podcast Radiolab, which examines a period in the late 1970s where zoo architect David Hancocks re-examines a gorilla enclosure after a discussion with renowned gorilla expert Dian Fossey about what the animals’ natural environment would look like. His experiment to bring a naturalistic environment into the gorilla enclosure is considered the first link between zoo enclosure and the mental health of the animal’s inside them (listen to the full episode here).

I was somewhat disappointed that this room didn’t contain any mention of opposition to zoos, or the concrete architectural designs of enclosures like the one shown in the photograph above. This snapshot of a concrete prison, devoid of enrichment and anything that even slightly resembles life in the wild was even available to buy as a postcard in the gift shop. It made me think of Born Free Foundation‘s report on elephant captivity; Innocent Prisoner.

Making Nature‘s insight into ‘observation’ also included a modern-day video about the process of landscaping a zoo enclosure to fulfil the need for animal enrichment, but also for spectators to feel ‘involved’ — as the interviewee put it, “so they can get up close enough to the animals to feel scared”.

Again, I was disappointed that there was no mention of opposition to zoos, as if the exhibition worked on the assumption that we all feel the desire to observe animals in the same way. There was even a video of a sorry-looking tiger kept in house; wandering between bedroom and bathroom, looking in the mirror and yowling. The idea was to try and decide whether the tiger recognised itself in the mirror. I couldn’t bring myself to sit down and watch.

I was also surprised to see that — although there was mention of London Zoo once having a famous performing elephant — there was nothing on circus’ and the history of observing animals in this kind of environment (and once again, a lack of seizing the opportunity to look at both sides of the argument here). It would have been good to examine some of the complexities and mistakes we have made over our history of observing wildlife, as well as simply noting our penchant for seeing animals up close. I added this feedback to the feedback wall at the end of the exhibition.

Making

The final room in the exhibition was probably the most fascinating to me; examining human impact and influence on wildlife; specifically genetic engineering, using animals in laboratories for scientific experiments and testing, and domestication.

Compared to the former examples of ‘making nature’, domestication is one that we have grown so accustomed to that it seems less ‘dark’ and extreme — that is, until I saw it laid out in such a clear and confronting manner. From rows of horses teeth, to colour coded budgies to an examination of the ‘perfect’ white rat, regarded as the desired pet of high society Victorian women; it’s weird to think how much we’ve interfered with nature.

There was also a focus on how we use animals outside of the meat, dairy and clothing industry, such as in the days of using the African Clawed Frog as pregnancy test (for 30 years the frog species was used as the most accurate and efficient pregnancy test! Eighteen of the reptiles were introduced to the US in 1937 for this purpose. If a pregnant woman urinated on a female frog, it would produce eggs within 12 hours; this provided the model for the modern day pregnancy test testing urine).

Although some of how we use animals is incredibly uncomfortable to acknowledge, there were some extremely important examples of how we’ve intervened with nature to help humans live alongside it more effectively — such as modifying mosquitos so that they no longer spread diseases like dengue fever. And then there’s the matter of de-extinction.

I’ve read some fascinating articles in both BBC Wildlife magazine and BBC Earth magazine about scientists developing the technology to harvest DNA from specimens of extinct species and using that to create an embryo to be carried by a similar, surviving species.

Woolly mammoths are always the buzzword when it comes to the topic of ‘de-extinction‘, but as yet the capabilities of growing a mammoth embryo are not sophisticated enough to not require a surrogate mother (female elephants are not large enough for the job). It seems that that may about to change before too long however, after the success of a baby lamb grown for four weeks in an artificial womb.

 In the meantime at least, Making Nature shows us the very real and current project to bring back the passenger pigeon.

Natural History Museums around the world are collecting DNA from their specimens of passenger pigeon to try and gather enough to genetically modify an existing living embryo (presumably that of another species of pigeon). Remarkably, the exhibition included a vial of some of this extracted DNA.

The plaque beside it, written by The Long Now Foundation reads:

“This tiny vial captures an extremely unusual moment in the story of the extinct passenger pigeon. DNA samples are being collected from 19th-century passenger pigeons in museum collections, in order to assemble sufficient genetic diversity to be able to ‘resurrect’ the extinct species. While this project is in its infancy with much uncertainty surrounding it, if successful, the passenger pigeon would be the first species to be recovered from DNA alone.”

Now that truly is making nature!

Like this? Read more about my support for a Natural History GCSE

Can you complete the calculating extinction challenge?

 

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Time to teach Natural History classes? Calls for a new GCSE

There’s nothing like waking up to sunshine creeping through the window and the sound of early morning birdsong.

I love the hustle and bustle of chaotic London; it’s become my home over the last four years —but when it comes to downtime, I only want to get back to nature.
Kate on conservation sitting outside

April has been a wonderful month. It began with a week-long trip to the countryside; no phones, no internet, not even so much as a SatNav or a watch!

Now, I’m usually someone who loves technology — my job in children’s educational media is so dependent on sharing information online, and of course I love my gadgets for blogging — but making a deliberate effort to put all that aside and make room for nature is also really important to me.

I grew up in Thetford, East Anglia, so am well-versed in exploring the early signs of spring in the trees and plants of Thetford Forest. I kicked off last April with a trip to Scarning Dale, near to Thetford, and loved it so much that I had to return again this year.

A truly idyllic setting, it provided the chance to watch the birds through the window, to see tadpoles hatching in the pond at the bottom of the garden, and to take the relatively short trip to the North Norfolk coast to see colonies of Atlantic grey seals lazing at the sea’s edge with their growing young.

The changing attitudes to Natural History study

To lose myself even more in my countryside surroundings, I prepared for my trip by visiting my local secondhand book shop in London, which has one of the best Natural History sections of any book shop I’ve known!

I picked up a book called ‘Animal Lover’s Book’ by Enid Blyton, thinking that her comfy — somewhat twee — writing style that I remembered from my childhood would provide just the right level of cosy nostalgia for a trip back to where I grew up.

The book is a complete gem! Beautifully illustrated, full of information on British wildlife, quaint poems and boasting ‘full colour plates’ mixed throughout its chapters; there’s a kind of charm that’s hard to find these days.

Printed in 1957, it was of course wonderfully dated, in just the way I was looking for, but one of the things that really struck me was the level of effort and detail that had gone into providing additional information for children wanting to learn more about British wildlife.

“I am sure there will be children who want to know a few more technical details than are given in the main story,” assumes the author, “and these notes are mainly for them.”

I’m trying to imagine seeing something similar in modern day children’s books.

The author goes on to provide further facts and illustrations of every animal included in the book; badgers, foxes, mice, newts, lizards, deer, rabbits, hares, moles, shrews, etc, etc.

The illustrations show male and female sketches of the species’, and information includes everything from the family names of each species to the number of subspecies belonging to those families that reside in Britain. Pretty impressive for a children’s storybook!

My trip down memory lane brought home the changes in attitudes towards the natural world even more, when I returned from my holiday to read a Guardian article published at the start of April, which highlighted the view that:

“a majority of children no longer climb trees or play by streams and ponds, have become largely unfamiliar with even common wildlife, and are leading enclosed lives that are potentially harmful for their emotional and physical development.”

The article draws attention to a recently launched petition calling for the development of a GCSE in Natural History, referencing the fact that words such as ‘acorn’, ‘adder’, ‘ash’, ‘beech’, ‘bluebell’, and ‘conker’… (the list goes on), have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary to make way for words such as ‘analogue’, ‘broadband’, ‘bullet-point’, and ‘chatroom’. My, times really have changed since Enid Blyton wrote that book!

Calling for a Natural History GCSE

The petition, started by nature writer and radio producer Mary Colwell, emphasizes the UK’s outstanding nature writing, art, poetry and film, and how integral to our culture and heritage this has been.

Of course, I completely agree with the concept that “it is vital to understand the contribution nature makes to our lives physically, culturally, emotionally and scientifically both in the past and today”, as written in the petition’s blurb.

natural history GCSE petition

It reminds me of working with Discovery Education to promote the incredible documentary Racing Extinction. After working with a team to edit the film into manageable, self-contained clips suitable for classroom projects (mainly aimed at secondary school students; i.e. those preparing for their GCSEs), I delivered an assembly to primary school children to introduce them to some of the endangered species present within the documentary.

A simple set of questions where pupils had to choose the correct answer between ‘manta ray’ and ‘polar bear’ provided a great ice breaker for getting pupils to think about the environments that these animals might live in and the characteristics / adaptations they may possess.

Kate on Conservation racing extinction assembly

To focus on British wildlife, as well as the exciting exotic animals seen in Racing Extinction, I invited Dominic Dyer of Born Free Foundation to talk about the wildlife that children can experience in their own daily lives. And it captivated them.

The experience of directly educating children in this way about the incredible natural world around them really cemented in me the desire to continue working in children’s education.

I have been fortunate enough to spend the last six months doing just that — creating primary school resources for National Geographic Kids, including a wealth of material about animals and the natural world.

These free lesson resources provide information about wild animals from across the globe, and I really hope that they are able to one day contribute to a stronger Natural History study within the school curriculum.

Nat geo kids website animals resource

If you would like to sign the petition to see a Natural History GCSE introduced into the school curriculum, please follow the link here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/176749

More about my work with Nat Geo Kids

Want to know what happened when I met Dr Jane Goodall on behalf of Nat Geo Kids?

Want to know more about Nat Geo Kids inspiring natural history learning?

Discover my work in conservation education with Discovery