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?


Reflecting on a gentle nature

Lately, I have found myself in a reflective state of mind. Reflecting on my work, my goals, the small successes of the campaigns I’ve joined (Sea World agreeing to end the breeding of its captive whales); the near misses (the slow progress of the UK government in deciding whether to close the domestic trade in ivory); and the complete misses (never getting to see Tilikum free of his Sea World enclosure, CITES not delivering lions with Appendix I protection, etc.).

I suppose it can weigh heavy.

In need of a little pick-me-up, my thoughts went to the beginning —in fact, before the beginning —to the chain of events which began the ripple that would eventually flow into the creation of this sea of words; articles; posts.

It begins with the memory of murdered photographer Julie Ward, whose book, ‘A Gentle Nature’, I won in a raffle many years ago.

Below is a vlog I made a few years back, explaining who Julie Ward is and a little bit about her tragic story.


This is the book mentioned, which captured my interest in the Born Free Foundation and wildlife photography and was one of the inspiring factors which made me travel to South Africa to volunteer.

gentle nature

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I had chosen to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve because it is home to two Born Free Foundation sanctuaries for rescued big cats, and one of these rescue centres was opened in Julie Ward’s memory.

Shamwari friends with Kate

Celebrating a job well done with my fellow Shamwari volunteers at the Born Free Foundation”s Julie Ward Education Centre.

Since that vlog was filmed, a further development arose in the Julie Ward murder case, where new DNA evidence brought detectives a step closer to finding her killers.

The following video shows a news report from BBC News in the East of England. I must apologise for the quality of the video and give pre-warning that to get the most from the video, it will require viewers to turn the volume to full. It was recorded on simple digital camera by my ever-supportive parents, and emailed to me during my year in Australia, so that I could watch it online from overseas.


Back in 2013 I even designed my own mini Go Go Gorilla to send out to Born Free‘s Julie Ward Education Centre at Shamwari.

The basic elements of my design were my Shamwari work t’shirt from my time as a volunteer there, the Born Free Foundation logo, and an image of Julie ward herself. Such were the reaches of their influence.


It’s wonderful to reflect on my own locality, and how where I grew up ultimately had an influence on ‘how’ I grew up. There are so many wonderful figures who have inspired my path into gentle nature and compassion conservation.

Those that I’ve followed throughout my life are: the late Joy Adamson (writer of the Born Free autobiographical tale of Elsa the lioness, and its sequels) and George Adamson (Joy’s husband, who had a lifetime of incredible conservation work in his own right, rehabilitating captive lions, such as Boy and Christian back into the wild) and the late Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (who founded the Born Free Foundation with their son Will Travers, and whom played the roles of Joy and George Adamson in the Born Free movie).

I would also, like many people, have to cite David Attenborough in my list of conservation heroes whose footprints I would love to walk in. I am so grateful that, in blogging, I have found a way to honour those idols and to continue to grow in the shared goals; in all their triumphs, near misses, and total knock-outs.



Bringing 2013 to a close…

I must admit, I kind of assigned myself to the fact that the auction at the end of the Go Go Gorilla Norwich trail would probably signal the end of my Kate on Conservation blog. It has always been a humble blog; what began as simply an example blog site to be submitted as part of my Internet Studies course during my study abroad year has continued long past the duration of time I had ever expected or intended. Whilst other blogs I have seen start up have grown into hugely popular sites, with huge followings,  I kept my niche and my idea simple and to the point; I believe in conservation, I believe that we all need to take active steps – no matter how big or small – to ensure the future of our planet, and I believe in the work of the Born Free Foundation. So if I’ve managed to make  just a few people aware of the Born Free Foundation, their work, or the fantastic work going on at Shamwari Game Reserve, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people. Click here to see the complete report.

Although achieving around 3,500 views in total is not a huge audience, it is certainly more than I had expected in the beginning, and the blog has spanned many different directions – which is perhaps why it hasn’t achieved the potential heights a blog can reach – I haven’t always had a concise direction; aside from reporting on the work of the Born Free Foundation, I have also looked specifically at Shamwari Game Reserve, conservation issues in South Africa, the global work of Born Free, the Julie Ward case, Worldwide Experience’s Voice of Conservation competition and an account of the Norwich Go Go Gorillas trail, and a few other things in between! It may seem a little random at times, but I assure you, all these subjects are related.

Before I bid a fond goodbye to 2013, and enter the uncertain future of whether or not a blog of this nature has a place in my life over the coming year, I can’t leave without sharing the last few updates of 2013, and filling in the blanks on where my conservation journey and efforts have since headed and where they will go from here:

My Top 5 updates for the last quarter of 2013…

1. The most exciting and significant event of 2013 was starting work for Discovery Education, part of the Discovery Communications family.

Having only graduated in the summer, signing this contract in November was far beyond my expectations of where my career would be headed. I am a sub-editor, working on Clipbank – a service that brings educational resources, largely in video format, to secondary schools. I feel privileged to work for such a fantastic company, and to combine my passions for media, language and education so early on in my career journey.


2. A day in the life of a Game Ranger…

Discovery Education is part of the Espresso Education group. Prior to joining the Discovery Communications team, I was working under Espresso Education’s Channel 4 Learning branch. During my first week there, they set up an initiative called “Espresso Academy”. These voluntary lunchtime lectures run once a month, and give employees of any level or role the chance to share something they feel passionate about, something they have knowledge of, or something they have done – with the common aim of sharing “knowledge, for knowledge’s sake”.  I became the second employee to host one of these events (after the person who started the whole initiative) and chose to speak about Shamwari, and becoming a Game Ranger. See my full set of slides here.


3. Bringing wildlife awareness to young audiences

As an auntie of 5 children aged 0-6 years old, I always enjoy finding storybooks that will introduce animals to their thoughts and vocabulary. I’m not going to force my views and opinions on them, or instill my ideas of taking action and donating time and money to the cause of conservation on children so young; it’s something they need to discover for themselves if that’s going to happen. But I think they’re never too young to learn that different animals exist in different parts of the world.

So I was particularly intrigued when my previous landlords (whom I lived with at the time of the Go Go Gorilla auction) introduced me to Anthony Browne books, inquiring as to whether he had been commissioned to do any of the designs. He wasn’t involved in designing any of the Norwich gorillas, but when I looked through one of his books, I understood why they had made that connection, and it did leave me quite reminiscent of the campaign.


I was also contacted later in the year by Booktrope, asking me whether I review books on my blog. Whilst I didn’t feel that a review of children’s book was exactly in-line with my blogging message, I felt that the connection of bringing an awareness of animals and conservation to young audiences warranted including a bit of information about the book on here, and it is set in Africa, telling a story through the eyes of African animals; so what’s the harm? (I’m also quite flattered that someone would notice this blog and contact me!)


The email I received from them is as follows: (please click to enlarge, or visit their website for more info). zip goes wandering

4. I now own my own Go Go Gorilla!

With great thanks to my family, this year for Christmas I was given a miniature ceramic Go Go Gorilla, decorated with one of the designs that featured on one of the full-size Gorillas that was on display in Norwich before being sold at auction. My mother came with me to the auction and I joked about how I’d love to own one. Whilst mine wasn’t quite as expensive as those sold at auction, the proceeds did go to Break and the Born Free Foundation, and it was a wonderfully thoughtful gesture.


5. Designing a Shamwari Gorilla to send to the Born Free Julie Ward Sanctuary.

Finally, I used my spare time over the Christmas holidays to finally get around to designing that blank Wild in Art ceramic gorilla figure I’d previously posted about. I used my earlier designs as inspiration, and whilst I very much enjoy art, I found moving from paper to 3D model quite difficult. Nonetheless, my design is complete and ready to send out to Shamwari, as a gift to the Julie Ward sanctuary. Hopefully I’ll hear back from them!

photo(9)Thank you to everyone whose read my posts and taken an interest! Remember you can keep up-to-date with the Born Free Foundation as follows:



And you can find me at:



or by using any of my Blogroll links.


The Julie Ward Case

For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently living in Australia as part of a study abroad year for my degree, so English news is not always readily available. Luckily my family back in the UK have been keeping me informed of all the important things, and I discovered today that there has been new development in the Julie Ward case (see my earlier blog post for more info ).


image from telegraph.co.uk

The case has apparently been re-opened with the discovery of new DNA evidence perhaps bringing detectives a step closer to finding her killers.

The following video shows a news report from BBC News in the East of England, I must apologise for the quality of the video and give pre-warning that to get the most from the video it will require watchers to turn the volume to full. It has been recorded on simple digital camera so that I could watch it online from overseas.


Julie Ward – Gentle Nature

For the interest of my readers I have made a short video explaining who Julie Ward (one of my inspirations for my love of conservation) is and a little bit about her tragic story.

gentle nature

This is the book mentioned, which captured my interest in the Born Free Foundation and wildlife photography.

Other inspiring figures that interest me are: The late Joy Adamson (The writer of the Born Free biography and sequels) and George Adamson (Joy’s husband) and Bill Travers and Virginia Mckenna (founders of the Born Free Foundation , whom played the roles of Joy and George Adamson in the Born Free movie).

Also, I have a profound interest in the work of David Attenborough and the exposure that he has given to so many corners of nature.