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National Geographic’s next generation of photographers

It’s no secret that I love photography. I also love ‘conservation education‘, so hearing that the UK edition of National Geographic Kids magazine has announced its overall winner of the National Geographic Photography Contest for Kids 2016 — I had to find out more.

NG Kids magazine UK

I recently covered the Natural History Museum‘s Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners, and find it pretty exciting to think that, one day, one of the children entered into Nat Geo Kids’ competition might find themselves among the elite photographers whose work adorns the walls of the NHM in this prestigious competition. Especially as this year’s overall winner — chosen by judges wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan and renowned National Geographic photographer Reza — belonged to the ‘Amazing Animals‘ category of the children’s photography competition.

Overall winner

Ten-year-old Asher Flenner, from North London, scooped the prestigious award with this photograph of a brown and green anole lizard, entitled Anole on the Netting.

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He snapped the tiny brown and green anole (the size of a child’s thumb) sunbathing on the swimming pool netting while on his holidays in Florida. These little lizards have quite a temper, so Asher had to get close and zoom in without scaring him.

I agree with judge Reza, that the combination of opposing elements that make up this image make it quite fascinating.

“This, for me, is an artwork,” said Reza. “The photographer has chosen to capture these two elements — the plastic net, which is part of modern life, and this animal, which is as old as the dinosaurs. It’s just a genius work.”

“The symmetrical squares make it a very interesting picture,” added Michaela. “It’s aesthetically pleasing and I love that he’s chosen a lizard.”

Category winners

Weird but True

Another fascinating and unusual creature snapped on a manmade surface (this time a car windscreen); I love the strangeness of this snap, titled Hitchin’ a Windscreen Ride and all its minute detail.

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Taken by 12-year-old Thomas Grattoni-May from North Yorkshire, this image was announced as winner of the ‘Weird but True‘ category.

On a family holiday to Alberta, Canada, Thomas noticed this ‘alien-like’ bug on the windscreen of their car, and grabbed his mum’s camera to take a shot. Even after they started to drive away, it clung on, its long antennae blowing in the wind.

Dare to Explore

I absolutely adore this photo by 10-year-old Megan Davies. Called ‘Living on the Edge‘, for me, the picture shows that great wildlife photography doesn’t have to be snapped in exotic foreign locations; as Megan too this shot at the bottom of her garden, in Trefonen.

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Living on the Edge won the Dare to Explore category. Megan thought this little snail looked like it was exploring when she photographed it on a dewy Autumn morning.

Wild Vacation

Eleven-year-old Joshua Ritchie from Dublin won the ‘Wild Vacation‘ category of the competition with this snap, which wouldn’t look out of place in National Geographic Traveller Magazine.

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Titled Walk On, the image shows neat rows of sandals belonging to Buddhist nuns. The nuns had removed them before going inside to eat their dinner. Joshua snapped the intriguing picture while on an exciting holiday in Myanmar, South East Asia.

Tim Herbert, Editor of National Geographic Kids, revealed: “We had nearly 2,000 entries this year and, once again, I’ve been astounded by the quality of submissions. There are so manytalented young photographers out there!Asher’sphoto of thattiny lizard isan extraordinary shot and a worthy winner, but our judges had a tough task going through all the other wonderful images. Well done to everyone who entered this year’s competition!”

The photos taken by Asher, Thomas, Megan and Joshua will all be entered into the National Geographic International Photography Contest for Kids. Their pictures will be representing the UK and Ireland as they compete against other readers from other editions of National Geographic Kids from around the world.

Best of luck to these talented shutterbugs!

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Introduction to Wildlife Photography Day Course — Woodbury Wetlands

Sometimes, to really fall in love with nature; to understand and appreciate it, we need to see it, beautifully framed and thoughtfully presented.

It’s great to read a dramatic, well-researched, personality-led article in the likes of say, National Geographic magazine, but when that article is teamed with a bird’s eyes view of arctic wolves on the hunt; red blood penetrating thick white snow, or a herd of wildebeest scrabbling up the muddy edge of a river bank, frantically seeking a sure spot for their feet to fall, to avoid the the snapping jaws of a crocodile… then the story really comes to life.

National Geographic magazine is one of my favourite sources of photojournalism. Such magnificent storytelling visuals, particularly their abundance of wildlife photography, not only connects audiences with natural history, but also serves as a last frontier for recording near-extinct, species; as proven by Joel Sartre’s Photo Ark project (featured in the Oscar-nominated Discovery documentary, Racing Extinction).

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The power of photography in these such cases cannot be contested. I love photography, and ever since visiting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National History Museum earlier in the year, I’ve been inspired to get back in touch with using a camera and my own desire to dabble in some amateur wildlife photography.

Shooting on a Nikon D80, and occasionally an iPhone, I have joined a social media group through my work (I work for Discovery Education by day), called Discovery Shutterbugs. It’s a fantastic place to share some of my shots with my colleagues, to receive tips and advice, as well as some much needed constructive criticism!

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I’ve managed to fit in a few ‘nature days’ since moving to London in November. Earlier in the year, around Easter time, I stayed at a beautiful cottage with my partner, in a place called Scarning, in Norfolk. Set amongst the idyllic grounds of Scarning Dale estate, we stayed in the quaint Rose Cottage, which had visits from wildlife everyday, and I took the above selection of photographs, which I have since shared on Discovery Shutterbugs, and on my Wildlife Photography page on this blog.

When I’m not able to escape to the country, I have been finding places of nature to relax in around the City, my favourites being Ravenscourt Park (which is on my doorstep), St. James’s Park and the beautiful, expansive Richmond Park.

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After spending a few months reacquainting with my camera, I enrolled on my first ever camera course: An Introduction to Wildlife Photography. Obviously the title sounded entirely my cup of tea, but also, the day’s course would take place in an area of London I’d never been before; Woodbury Wetlands, and is associated with an organisation that (for my shame) I know little about; London Wildlife Trust.

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Woodberry Wetlands is an incredible patch of land, a short walk from Manor House tube station. The reserve stretches 17 hectares and encompasses reed-fringed ponds and dykes that are abundant with wildlife, including birds and waterfowl, bats and amphibians.

According to its website, “Prior to the building of the new river and reservoirs, the Woodberry Down area was in fact not a wetland at all! On the crest of a hill, the area is rather known confusingly known as ‘down land’, hence the name Woodberry Down. 600 years ago the was rolling grass meadows, pastures for cattle and small woodlands, probably home to dear and wild boar, as well as a number of small hold peasant farmers.”

The reservoirs now on the site were constructed in 1833 to meet the growing demands for drinking water in the then suburban London ‘towns’ of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill. By the 1950s, the reservoirs and New River were being treated with chlorine and sodium phosphate gas to ‘clean’ the water, resulting in them being devoid of any wildlife. By the early 1990s, Thames Water put the Stoke Newington reservoirs up for sale, and after a long campaign by local residents to stop them from being filled in, the reservoirs were saved and wildlife began to thrive as chlorine and sodium phosphate ceased to be used to clean the water.

Woodberry Wetlands was constructed this year and the Stoke Newington East Reservoir was opened to the public for the first time, by Sir David Attenborough, on the 30th April.

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Upon finally discovering and taking my first look around this beautiful setting, it was time to begin the course, run by Royal Photographic Society associate Penny Dixie. An incredible photographer, Penny used examples of her own fantastic work (well worth a look!) to explain camera basics; such as shutter speeds, aperture, white balance and controlling your exposure using histograms.

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Naturally, being a day course, it was a bit of a whistle stop tour of the basics, but few of us in the room were competent enough to need or desire any more than that; most had either heard of some of these controls, experimented with them occasionally, or were so out of practice that a good refresher was needed. I fell into the latter category.

But after a good morning of classroom-based theory, we were ready to try out some depth of field work, and sent out into the reserve to complete the following tasks:

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The results of my day’s work (all very proudly shot with my camera set to manual!) are shown below, please click on any of the images to enlarge. I’d love to know what you think, or any tips or hints you’d give me for improvement. I’m really hoping this is the start of a very rewarding learning curve for me!

The Introduction to Wildlife Photography Day Course will be running again in August I am told, so keep an eye out for information here.

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Nat Geo’s Trimates: Primate poaching, problems and protection

I can’t get Racing Extinction out of my head. I think that’s the point of a documentary like that, of course, and it must be working, as I keep coming back to it in my mind.

Racing Extinction

Having also recently watched the powerful film How to Change the World, in which Greenpeace’s Bob Hunter constructs the idea of ‘mind bombs’ (the 1960s equivalent of a viral image or video) to instil a message and influence a state/change of mind; I understood the tactic that Director Louis Psihoyos has employed in Racing Extinction.Racing extinction empire state building

But whilst National Geographic photographs of snow leopards and whales illuminating the Empire State Building or lions and clown fish clambering over the Vatican have captured imaginations all over the globe, the mind bomb that’s gone off in my head is: “what was the chimpanzee feeling when he came back and gave Jane Goodall a hug?’

The poignant moment manages to capture the human-like affection that primates are capable of expressing and makes me acutely aware of how we are not that different to our sentient Great Ape counterparts.

Dr Jane Goodall was selected as number 1 on BBC Wildlife Magazine‘s conservation power list this summer, for her lifetime’s work with chimpanzees – including drawing attention to the tragic impact of the wildlife trade.

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Through her organisation; the Jane Goodall Institute, BBC Wildlife explains that she spends 300 days a year on speaking tours that take her across the globe. But who is this slight, grey-haired woman with such youthful eyes and smile that they almost betray her years of wisdom?

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Everyone seems to have seen the David Attenborough clip  where he shares a special bonding moment with silverback gorillas in 1979, the iconic footage gets shared and re-shared for its absolute magic, but somehow despite this — the plight of Great Apes goes largely overlooked nowadays, in comparison to big cats and critters of the Arctic.

In the 1960 and ’70s, it was different. Under the provision of Dr Louis Leakey; an paleoanthropologist and archaeologist concerned with understanding human evolutionary development, National Geographic funded three separate primate research projects over the two decades, fronted by three extraordinary women: the Trimates

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The Trimates: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas were commissioned to study primates to establish their position in human evolution. Goodall researched chimpanzees, Fossey: gorillas and Galdikas: orangutans.

Goodall began conducting her initial study in Tanzania in 1960, and made significant discoveries with regards to their behaviour, social structures, and was the first to discover that chimps used tools (such as sticks, to fish termites out from inside branches and tree trucks), which was a characteristic believed to be exclusive to humans before her work, and one of the things that separated us from our ancestors.

The second Trimate, Dian Fossey set up a research camp in Rwanda in 1967 to begin her study of gorillas. Her story (and its controversies) is documented in the 1988 film, Gorillas in the Mist.

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I watched Gorillas in the Mist for the first time this week, to understand more about Fossey’s work and the circumstances surrounding her murder in 1988.

The thing that struck me most about the film was the relentless fight she faced against poachers. Although hunting had been illegal since the 1920s in the national park she resided in in Rwanda, the law was rarely enforced by park conservators, who were often paid a low salary and bribed by poachers.

Dian Fossey and a decapitated gorilla

Dian Fossey and a decapitated Digit. Photo by Ian Redmond.

The scene in which the first silverback that Dian had contact with, Digit (called so because of his having a pose-able thumb – or fifth digit – a feature of apes), is killed by poachers is harrowing. Brilliantly acted by Sigourney Weaver, one can only imagine the pain that Dian felt when her beloved Digit was discovered with his head and hands removed by poachers to be made into gorilla hand ashtrays and medicine in the Asian wildlife trade.

The real-life photograph (shown above) was taken by Fossey’s student, Ian Redmond. Now Ian Redmond OBE; a supporter of Born Free Foundation, a contributor to Born Free’s Wildlife magazine, and someone whom I recently listened to at The Service for All Animals, speaking with Virginia McKenna in memory of elephant Pole Pole.

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It always astounds me when these things somehow come together and link in. Perhaps it’s telling of the fact that those involved in the animal rights movements are prolific, dedicating their lives to a cause. Or maybe it’s also a sign that the number of people at the forefront of anti-poaching, anti-wildlife trafficking campaigns are few in number?

I hope it’s the former.

Or perhaps I just seek it. In the summer this year, I visited Lizard’s Point in Cornwall as part of a music mini tour with my partner, and what should I stumble across but a sculpture commissioned in support of the Dian Fossey Organisation and its work with mountain gorillas, raising funds for the cause.

I photographed it at the time, not really knowing much about the organisation or its work, but feeling certain that I would in time. And here we are.

Gorilla

So what of the third Trimate, Birute Galdikas?

Her National Geographic cover story was published in 1975 detailing her work with orangutans in Borneo.  Despite being told by her professors that studying the primates would be impossible, due to their elusive and wary natures, she has continued her work over four decades and today is well-known for her rehabilitation efforts through Orangutan Foundation International.

As with the other two primate pioneers, however, Galdikas’ work is also not without its criticism.

Despite this, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering these amazing ladies’ stories and the education that they bought to the world about our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

It seems national treasure, Sir David Attenborough,  is one of the only Great Ape champions to have escaped such criticism and controversy, but it’s worth noting that the story neither begins nor ends with him alone.

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***

Want to know more about the threats faced by primates today, and what’s being done to help them? Check out: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/primates/

Learn more about Dr Jane Goodall

Want to know what happened when I interviewed Dr Jane Goodall?

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

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So you want to change the world?

I have never been afraid of being an island. In a sea of trends, fashions and hash tags, I have often stood still — believing in the things that have gradually anchored from my childhood to become the core for who I am in adulthood.

It hasn’t mattered to me advocate unfashionable (sometimes anti-fashionable) beliefs alone; in fact I enjoy the challenge: to seek out those who harbour enough empathy to re-align their moral compass somewhere in the direction of recognising the beauty of wildlife and power of the natural world.

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“Revolution will not be organised”
Announces the slogan of the recently released docufilm “How to change the world”. The story of Greenpeace co-founder Bob Hunter explores the mission that Greenpeace’s crew undertook in sailing to a nuclear test zone; how Hunter manages to consecutively drive the group apart, then re-assemble the organisation before standing between a whale and a harpoon, and in front of an Arctic ship carrying seal carcasses.

But I know enough to realise that great things can happen when you irradiate borders to embrace an ally. It’s just that letting other join you can mean watering down: compromising — or worse, leaving yourself exposed. And that’s where being ‘the island’ has an advantage: where being cut off can feel like king.

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“Like much of the world, George Dante knows that the African elephant is under siege. A booming Chinese middle class with an insatiable taste for ivory, crippling poverty in Africa, weak and corrupt law enforcement, and more ways than ever to kill an elephant have created a perfect storm. The result: some 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, more than 100,000 between 2009 and 2012 and the pace of killing is not slowing.” National Geographic magazine.

I feel fortunate, however, in that my cautiousness has served me well. The bridges that I’ve built have connected me to those individuals who continue to encourage and inspire me on my way to really understanding the depths of my desire to make a difference. And to the revolutionaries — the best of the best — ‘anti-fashion’ simply means ‘forward thinking’.

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Vivienne Westwood was amongst the panel at the premiere of ‘How to change the world’: “When Greenpeace was doing all this [pointing at the screen], when all this was happening, I was at home raising my children; wondering what all these hippies were talking about,” she mused. “But then I heard about the Arctic, about Shell and about predictions for the future population rates — how it’s not sustainable — and I woke up. Something has to be done.”

But as an independent, or surrounded by companions or allies, there is so much that needs reviewing, reforming, redirecting that it can be hard to keep yourself from drowning in all the issues you want to see made better. I’m only just beginning to understand how to stop myself from sinking.

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From a reading of St Francis, by Will Travers at ‘A service of celebration for all animals’, 17th October.

“He explained that it’s easy to love animals towards which we feel love and admiration, but we must also love, in his words; ‘wicked and ferocious animals, animals which we find sickening and repugnant, ones which we are spontaneously tempted to crush beneath our feet. Love should not be solely reserved for the things that are dear to us, even slithering reptiles which will never raise their voices in song or sing hymns praising creation’.”

I think the key is to do. To do together, to do as an individual, to do as a team, to do as a crowd: whether captain or crew mate, I think if you put your views into practise, you can be firm in keeping those morals anchored down, whilst holding your head above water.

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‘They did exactly what they were supposed to do: they proved that the Black Mambas: a nearly all-women anti-poaching unit created to protect the reserves rhinos, could keep poachers out of the park. Still, says Mkhabele, “It would have felt good to shoot the guys who keep trying to kill our rhinos.”

“They say women can’t work on the bush. So I am very proud of us here, because we are working in the bush. Without guns, as women. It means we are strong”.’ Nkateko Mzimba, 24 year old member of the Black Mambas. TIME magazine.

A 25 year old woman, I choose to surround myself with this kind of knowledge: to be a part of this world, sink or swim, because I believe in power of education and the power of ‘preserving’ over ‘conquering’. Maybe it helps to be comfortable with being an island, but maybe it brings with it a previously little understood notion; that to stand alone one has to learn how not to be conquered, or invaded by single-track opinions and ignorance.

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“The most important role, however isn’t in the reserve, but in teaching the value of wildlife to residents of impoverished townships surrounding Balule and Kruger National Park where many poachers originate. Many locals see wildlife sanctuaries as the preserve of white and wealthy tourists. They resent the fact that they cannot graze their cattle in the reserves, or hunt game freely like their forebears did.
That’s where the Black Mambas come in. They may not be able to stop poachers with pepper spray alone. But they can stop them with education.”

To combat ignorance is the biggest battle. I try my best to overcome my own ignorance by listening to as much — and as many people — as possible. I find my patience for different viewpoints and different interpretations increases as my desire to understand where lack of knowledge (or lack of understanding) comes from increases also. I believe without doubt that education is the key to feeling empowered enough to be the lone ship on the horizon — the Greenpeace of the ocean, if you will.

And if education spreads far and wide enough, I see no reason as to why this island cannot be surrounded by an entire fleet looking to change the world.

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