Chris Packham Interview: Are we losing our connection with creepy crawlies?

This summer, Chris Packham helped Intu shopping centres launch their ‘Big Bugs on tour’ initiative, which aims to bring more than 30 million shoppers back to nature. Shocking research by Intu revealed that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than British wildlife, sparking the idea to unleash 12 super-sized, indigenous bugs on intu shopping centres nationwide.

Chris Packham interacts with a 7ft long lifelike model of a Swallowtail Caterpillar and a Hornet at the launch of Big Bugs on Tour at intu Lakeside

Photo credit: Matt Alexander/intu

Now, before you start envisaging live critters worthy of horror movies (anyone says ‘super-sized bug’ and immediately picture Jeff Goldblum turning into a fly…), I can assure you these enormous insects are family-friendly models — and are pretty cool to look at. (NB: I’m not saying Goldblum’s fly isn’t cool to look at. It’s just these creepy crawlies are less… creepy).

Having opened at intu Lakeside in July, before moving to 12 further locations over the next year, the displays aim to help fill in the blanks when it comes to our nation’s knowledge of bugs.

I was shocked to learn that one in six children (16%) have not seen a single bug for six months, while 25% have not seen a caterpillar in over a year.

Perhaps even more surprisingly though, especially given the recent focus on the importance of bees as their numbers have declined; is that the study revealed that 21% of children were unable to correctly identify a bee while 10% did not know honey came from bees!

Unfortunately, adults did not fare much better in the study, with one in four unable to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp and an equal 25% unable to correctly identify a grasshopper!


Q&A with Chris Packham

“More needs to be done to reconnect people with nature and Big Bugs on tour is a fantastic initative to wake people up to the importance of nature in our lives.” Chris Packham explained in our recent interview.

A real life Azure damselfly, one of the big bug species that will be going on tour

I used the opportunity to take a look back into his own childhood, and the bugs that he encountered — and why they’ve made this an issue close to his heart.

Kate on Conservation: Why is the Big Bugs on tour campaign important? What are you hoping it will inspire parents and children to do?

Chris Packham: Hats off to intu, because they are shining the light on indigenous bugs and encouraging kids to connect with nature and explore the wildlife in their garden. I love Big Bugs on tour because it’s not only impressive with the size and accuracy of the bugs, but also a very imaginative way to engage with customers about wildlife and also reaching an audience that we wouldn’t necessarily speak to on Spring Watch.

I also like how they are working with schools to get them in centres and face-to-face with all the bugs, and learn to appreciate not just the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybirds, but the crawly ones which are equally important in our ecosystem.

K: Do you have any memories of encountering bugs as a child?

C: The front gate of my parents’ house had a bush which was the home to lots of different coloured ladybirds, which I would catch by standing on the wall. 

K: Why is it good for children to explore the bug life in their garden?

C: It’s really important for kids to explore the bug life in their garden because it’s been proven that being connected to nature makes you happier. New research from intu shopping centres found that 67% of people said that being connected to nature makes you happier, but one in six kids have not seen a bug in six months.

K: What might they find looking in the garden for insects?

C: Lots of exciting things! For kids, the first safari they do is in their garden, from my opinion. Kids can find everything from ladybirds, bees, beetles such as the stag beetle, all of which are on display at intu’s Big bugs on tour.

K: What is your favourite bug? And why?

C: Hornet – they are fantastic insect predators. They are misunderstood though, it’s easy to live alongside them. 

Big Bugs on tour; and when to catch them!

Intu’s campaign to reconnect kids and adults to nature comes as reports show children are now better at identifying Pokemon characters than British wildlife, despite a £10 million pledge from the Government to encourage children to get closer to nature.

big bugs on tour intu shopping centres

Over 35 million people shop at intu centres every year, so Roger Binks, customer experience director for intu, hopes that bringing them face-to-face with these giant British bugs “can make a real impact in how they interact and reconnect with nature, and ensure they are happier than when they arrived.”

One of the most encouraging conclusions from the study showed that 78% of parents want their children to be more connected to nature (86% thought their children spent too much time looking at screens), with nearly half (49%) saying they are worried about the decline in insects, but didn’t know how to help.

Bee hotels

I’d suggest creating a bee or bug hotel (find out how here), or planting flowering, bee-friendly plants in the garden would be a good start (as well as avoiding using any pesticides and bug killing chemicals!).

Hopefully this can help with the very sad news that over a third of adults say they see far fewer bugs in their gardens now than five years ago.

The 12 British bugs being exhibited across Intu shopping centres nationwide between now and September 2019 are:

  1. Azure damselfly
  2. Black ant
  3. Honeybee
  4. Hornet
  5. Ladybird
  6. Meadow grasshopper
  7. Swallowtail butterfly
  8. Swallowtail caterpillar
  9. Nut weevil
  10. Rose chafer beetle
  11. Stag beetle
  12. Greater water boatman

For more information go to: www.intu.co.uk/BigBugshttp://www.intu.co.uk/BigBugs.

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Wetnose Day 2017: A good reason to get tongues and tails wagging!

September holds a very special event on the animal lover’s calendar… I’d like to tell you all about Wetnose Day.

In support of animals in desperate need in the UK, Wetnose Day is the animal-focussed equivalent of Red Nose Day, and sees fundraising events and crazy challenges taking place up and down the country on September 29th – October 1st 2017 — as well as plenty of ‘poses with noses‘!

Posing with noses at the PR launch of Wetnose Day 2017

Wetnose Day was established in the year 2000, to help promote the issue of animal welfare and to raise much needed funds to cover essential food and medical treatments for animals in desperate need in the UK.

It serves as an annual event to draw attention to the year-round work of Wetnose Animal Aid; which helps the lesser well known rescue centres and small groups are the country that get little publicity.

Sir Paul McCartney lends his support to Wetnose Animal Aid

Wetnose Day aims to encourage schools, workplaces, vets, groomers, dog clubs, riding schools (in fact everyone!), to pose with a nose and raise over £100,000 for dedicated rescue centres nationwide and the animals they care for.

Celebrating Wetnose Day 2017 with dog rescuer Gary Edwards, author of ‘Tales of an underdog

Many of these vital rescue centres need support, as there is no government aid, or lottery grants or any other financial assistance, and many do not have £5,000 worth of funds to be become Registered Charity.

Andrea and Gavin Gamby-Boulger set up the unique not for profit organisation having themselves run a boarding/dog rescue centre for 13 years in Norfolk; they sold the kennels to set up Wetnose Animal Aid.

Founder Andrea Gamby-Boulger speaks at the PR launch of Wetnose Day 2017.

Since then Wetnose Animal Aid has raised close to £50,000 and given to small animal rescues centres all over the UK, as well as organising award events to celebrate those otherwise unsung heroes across the UK who dedicate their lives to care for abused, sick and unwanted animals.

“Our team is committed to raising funds to help the animal rescue centres who do wonderful work caring for sick animals, including wildlife, but never get the recognition they truly deserve,” Wetnose Day Founder Andrea Gamby-Boulger says.

“As an ex-kennel owner, I know how stressful it is to care and rescue animals and work 24/7 with no holidays — and to be called out at a moment’s notice.”

The cause has received strong support from leading celebrity and animal campaigners, such as Paul McCartneyBrian May, Tom Hardy, Chris Packham, Paul O’Grady and Amanda Holden, which enabled them to raise thousands of pounds for small and medium-sized animal sanctuaries; ensuring food costs were covered and veterinary treatment went ahead for animals in desperate need.

Britain’s Got Talent’s Pippa Langhorne and her sing-a-long pooch, Buddy, performing to promote Wetnose Day

“Society in general has, for a number of years, been under severe financial stress, which in turn has seen animal welfare suffer as some people may no longer be able to afford to look after their pets,” Andrea explains.

“Wetnose Day plays its part in highlighting animal welfare in the UK and providing vital help and financial support for small animal welfare groups who are at the forefront of animal rescue and care. The knowledge and skills these animal rescue teams have is phenomenal and now is the time to help them.”

Find out how you can get on board to help fundraise — or buy your very own ‘wet nose’ by clicking here.

Like this? Read more about dog rescues here.

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The Great British Badger Debate

I have a confession to make. For all my pride in living in London, I’m really a countryside kid.

I don’t mean that I grew up grouse-shooting or fox-hunting — my background is nowhere near as privileged as that — but I’m countryside enough to have grown up in East Anglia, to have experienced getting stuck behind a tractor on pretty much every family drive we ever went on; to have seen muntjacs scampering through the woods on a regular basis in my childhood (usually dashing away from the dog that my nan and I would walk in Thetford Forest most weekends) and at least one of my brothers had a friend whose family ran a farm and would invite him to shoot birds of some description at one time or another.

There are plenty of fields full of cows and pigs where I grew up. We took school trips to a local farm and Harvest Festival was a big deal at school each Autumn.

Camping as a teenager

High school camping trip, as a teenager in Norfolk

At that level, the politics and welfare issues of it all fall away to whether or not the area you live in stinks of manure from the fields, or whether or not your school friend will let you feed polos to the horses when you go round there for tea. (Apparently that used to be a thing. I have no idea whether that’s still a thing. I’m not that countryside anymore.)

I suppose the plight of Britain’s badger has felt like a divisive one to delve into for me. Though I never announce it, and have certainly never mentioned it on this blog before, I haven’t eaten meat or dairy for a while now. Living in the City, it hasn’t been that hard to leave behind the immediate awareness of ‘school friends going without if their families weren’t making enough money from the farm’ to throwing myself entirely into supporting animal rights issues and decidedly detaching myself from the root cause of such appalling animal welfare conditions by changing my diet.

So I suppose I understood where author and anti-badger cull campaigner Dominic Dyer (whose background is in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) was coming from when he told his audience at Waterstones book store in Cambridge on Thursday that he ‘is not anti-farmer’.

“I’m angry,” Dominic explained, “I wanted people to know I was angry. I’m not anti-farmer though — I didn’t want to just attack farming. I do point out that the farmers are the victims of this; the supermarket price wars [reducing the cost of milk], the movement of cattle after the foot and mouth outbreak, the spread of TB [bovine tuberculosis], etc.”


Dominic was discussing his book ‘Badgered to Death‘ in a talk with League Against Cruel Sports’ Vice-Chairman Charlie Moores. The book offers a great beginner’s guide to understanding the long history of this delicate and politically divisive subject (culling badgers as a solution to stop the spread of tuberculosis in cattle), delivered clearly, simply and passionately.

Personally, when reading his book; an in-depth exploration of the issues surrounding the spread of bovine TB and the subsequent persecution of Britain’s badgers, I found it increasingly difficult to sympathise with a campaign to slaughter (often inhumanely) Britain’s largest surviving wild carnivore, rather than vaccinate them. Especially when the evidence shows that over 95% of bovine TB infection spreads from cattle to cattle (not from badger to cattle!), and largely due to the intensity at which they are farmed (i.e. the high numbers making up the dairy herds, the limited space they are given, and the fact that they are kept indoors for longer periods of time).

Perhaps the most astonishing piece of take away information from Dominic’s book is that an annual TB testing system for cattle was put in place in Cardiff, supported by tighter movement and biosecurity controls, and a badger vaccination trial; and the result was that the number of cattle slaughtered for TB in Wales has fallen by 45% in the past five years! Today, 94% of cattle in Wales are TB-free!

I cannot understand why; when the solution is already rolled out in Wales, England doesn’t follow the same practice and stop the cull?


Badgered to Death is a great introductory insight to the people, press and politics that come into play concerning Britain’s controversial culling of badgers. It feels like a complete and well-rounded view of the motivations behind the badger cull, and — as the author pointed out at the recent talk in Cambridge — it has been written as ‘a quick-moving, easy read; not a scientific journal’. An approach he says he took so that the book could be used to help those that support the anti-cull movement explain how they feel by sharing it with others and handing it over to MPs (apparently Theresa May has already been sent a copy).

The book also explores the media coverage given to the cull; and its significance and influence, as well as the role (or sometimes lack of) that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play in fighting against the culture of culling.

While it is clearly written from a very personal stance (capturing the last three years of Dominic’s life, so he told the audience at Waterstones), this book takes care to point out the differences of position and previous conflicts that might make the author uncomfortable, rather than simply omitting them. Including the public apology he issued to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which was one of the points discussed with Charlie Moores.


For all the years I lived in East Anglia, I never saw a badger. Not even a dead one at the side of the road. I visited the Natural History Museum earlier this month, and took a walk around their mammal collection to have a look at a badger — having had my curiosity piqued after reading Badgered to Death — and I couldn’t even find a stuffed specimen there. I have no idea how a badger scales up, or what shades are present in their fur; but for some reason I feel a natural affiliation to the creature.

It seems I am not alone. I recently entered a pub in Surrey to find the bar scattered with photographs of badgers and an East Surrey Badger Protection Society newsletter on every table. I asked around and discovered that the pub’s backing of the badger was a source of pride for the regulars. How utterly refreshing, that a pub wants to support animals!


I have a sneaky feeling that a certain supermarket’s Christmas advert, featuring British wildlife such as badgers, foxes and hedgehogs bouncing on a trampoline will also go some way in igniting a national pride in the badger. Well done John Lewis.


But for all the celebration, as Chris Packham writes in the foreword of Badgered to Death: “For many reasons we had come to love the badger, to cherish and admire it, to protect and celebrate it and of course many still do. But the reputation of this essential member of the UK’s ecology has been targeted by a smear campaign which has been swallowed by the gullible and fuelled by those with vested interests. You see, in spite of all the science and all the truths that it outlines, the badger has become a scapegoat.”


At the badger talk I attended, Dominic pointed out that the badger’s story is a certainly a very British one. “Britain is quite unique. Nowhere else on earth would you get people going out into fields in the middle of the night to protect an animal you rarely see.”

I asked him how he hoped the book would contribute to the ‘great badger debate’. I want it to inspire normal people to do something was his reply. “We hear the words ‘civic society’ used a lot now. Whatever it is about, animal welfare of something completely different, I want to encourage people to speak out.”

Badgered to Death is available to buy on Amazon now, visit: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Badgered-Death-People-Politics-Badger-x/dp/0993040756

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Eating man’s best friend

When I was 11 years old, my mum collected my older brother and I from school and announced we were going on ‘a magical mystery tour’. With a vague recollection that this was the name of a Beatles album, I was completely clueless about what on earth she meant. It turns out, at the end of this ‘tour’, there was a little dog that we would be taking home with us! I named him Chaz, after a character from Rugrats.

Kate and Chaz

For almost 15 years now, this little man has stolen my heart. I wrote in a diary entry on the 21st November 2001: “Today is the best day of my life! We got a puppy!” And whilst most of that diary is quite comical to look back over now, I still stand by my enthusiasm on the day we bought home a flea-ridden, wormy little puppy that was so unclean I thought his fur was blond (until a long soapy rinse revealed the area around his neck was actually white!). It took a bit of work to get him tidied up, but he’s lived a happy, cosy and loving life ever since!

It’s no secret that I love and respect all animals – but none have a place as close to my heart as ‘man’s best friend’. In the years that I’ve had Chaz in my life, I’ve gone through the entirety of high school, watched all three of my brothers get married, completed my A-Levels, become an Auntie (five times over), travelled to South Africa on my gap year (and spent three months working at the incredible Shamwari Game Reserve), achieved a first class degree (with a year’s study in Australia!), gone through countless loves (and heart breaks!), moved to London and begun forging a career here, met my wonderful partner and accepted a marriage proposal! It really is true to say, my loyal little dog has been there through every milestone in my life, and I can’t imagine what it will be like when he’s gone!

So, I completely empathised with every word that Gary Edwards said about losing his beloved pet dog Norton at the beginning of his book Tales of an ‘underdog’ and how it inspired him to dedicate his life to rescuing dogs.tales of an underdog

“Norton was more than just a dog… to me anyway,” Gary writes. “He had been my faithful little friend for 13 years, and although I have always had dogs in my life, I guess that there are always those ‘special ones’, who touch our very souls”.

I don’t know whether it’s true what they say about ‘only those who have owned a dog will truly understand’; I hesitate to agree with a sentiment that seems to be excluding to many – I, afterall, have never been in close proximity with, say, a dolphin, but I can certainly appreciate their intelligence, their complex social bonds and their sentient ways.

But those who have had the privilege of sharing in the life of a dog will know how aware these creatures are: how they can pick their master out in a crowd; how they know what time of day you get home from work; how they can be protective in an unusual circumstance, such as when you’re home alone for the first time in a while; how they can display something akin to empathy when tragedy strikes or they find you crying.


Like many people, I’ve heard of the dog meat trade that takes place in countries such as China. But before I delved too much into the facts and figures, I was curious to know just what people thought about the idea of dog meat as a delicacy, and tested the waters on my Facebook page with an image of meat-based meal identified as dog.

I must admit, I was a little surprised to find the only reaction I received (which gained some support), was that it was wrong to assume that one may be repulsed by eating dog meat. Setting aside how emotionally charged I can sometimes feel in conversations, such as this (it’s very important to me to take emotion out of it and try and understand different viewpoints so that I can attempt to debunk any myths, and perhaps more importantly, question myself!), I asked why the person I was talking to held that view point. A very fair response was that I was ‘confusing how something is killed, with whether or not it’s ok to eat it.’

Can we separate how something is killed with whether or not we should eat it?

So, can the two be separated? My initial response in this conversation was that the morality of whether or not to eat an animal is intrinsically linked to how it is killed, as it is the deciding factor in whether it is killed. [For the record, I don’t eat meat and I only buy dairy free milk and cheese, etc.!]

If the demand for dog meat creates a trade in which these animals are subjected to terrible abuse and even torture, is it not the demand that’s creating the problem? China (home to Yulin Dog & Cat Eating Festival) does not have any animal welfare laws and so animals are routinely abused in slaughtering practices. As Gary explains in his book, from the moment of being captured, dogs destined for the meat trade —often pets stolen off of the streets, some even make it to market with their collars still on! — are kept in cruel conditions.

“Many dogs that are rescued from the meat traders suffer the most appalling abuse, often with hacked off limbs, and other injuries. During transport, the dogs are hidden in the back of lorries, and even in three wheel tricycles in hidden compartments. The heat, even during the night, is horrendous, and many dogs die even before reaching their final destination. The dog traders tie their mouths so tightly, using twine, rope or ligatures, that they are unable to pant in order to regulate their body heat.”

Perhaps focussing on their suffering is still perceived as ‘irrelevant’ to the question of whether or not we should eat them, but there should at least be room for the thought that dogs are domesticated at the hands of man, and so have evolved to trust us, to serve as a companion.

As Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy point out in their book When Elephants Weep – The Emotional Lives of Animals:

“Evidence of emotion in captive animals and pets is often discounted as irrelevant. The argument goes that these animals are in unnatural situations, or that what domesticated animals do is irrelevant to what animals are really like… That captive and domestic animals are in an unnatural situation is not a valid objection to taking observations of them seriously, for humans are in just as unnatural a situation. We did not evolve in the world in which we now live, with its deferred rewards and strange demands (sitting in classrooms or punching time clocks). All the same, we do not dismiss our emotions as not existing or authentic to us human beings because they do not take place in small groups of hunter-gatherers on an African savannah where human life is thought to have begun.”

Returning again to my entry point for studying the dog meat trade, the book Tales of an ‘underdog’ goes on to reference a fundraising event for dogs that had been victims of the dog meat trade, organised by Angels for the Innocent Foundation. The event, a comedy night organised by Anneka Svenska and hosted by Bill Oddie, is one that I’d attended last year.


Anneka has rescued and re-homed dogs from all over the world, including more than 15 dogs rescued from the meat trade in Thailand. Earlier this year, she joined Humane Society International’s #STOPYULIN Campaign alongside Ricky Gervais, Chris Packham, Professor Green and many other celebrities.

Humane Society International rescue dogs from the meat trade in Asia, especially in Korea, where The Boknal dog meat trade takes place. This week, Anneka Svenska presented a short film by GreenWorldTV in association with Angels for the Innocent Foundation, to bring an exclusive (and shocking) preview of the dog meat industry in Korea. ‘EATING FRIENDS’ features Humane Society International Wildlife Presenter Nigel Marven, Born Free Foundation‘s Policy Advisor Dominic Dyer, and other campaigners across the world to uncover some of the truths about the world of Korean dog meat slaughter…

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Conservation: the cons, count downs and continuations

Unsurprisingly, BBC Wildlife magazine is a favourite of mine.

I’ve long enjoyed the columns and comments from BBC animal activist favourites, such as Simon King, Chris Packham and formerly Bill Oddie.

imageIn the summer, I read the magazine’s list of Britain’s top 50 conservation heroes with much interest and curiosity, furiously researching the names I hadn’t heard yet. I even managed to get my prized copy signed by number 4 on the list, Sir David Attenborough.

imageAttenborough found himself two places behind Chris Packham, who sat in 2nd place. A regular on Springwatch, a vocal opposer of the abuse seen on television shows such as I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here!, and a staunch campaigner against the bird hunting season in Malta, Packham seems to represent a great example for the generation who will eventually step into the giant footsteps of the likes of Attenborough and list-topper Jane Goodall.

imageBut something didn’t sit quite right for me.

In the very same issue, which contained bold statements from Sir David (he suggested that human beings are a plague on the planet), Packham is given an entire page to air the comparatively main stream and highly anti-conservationist view that zoos work well to educate the masses.

Zoos. Work well. To educate the masses?

10410128_321599458004605_7335837426737654323_nAs someone who KNOWS, first hand the damage that zoo environments inflict upon animals and the hard work that organisations such as the Born Free Foundation have to do to reverse just some of less-long lasting psychological effects these creatures are left with (and sadly most of the damage IS long-lasting and irreversible), I couldn’t believe Packham could advocate such things?!

Until I read his admission that his wife runs a zoo.


Within his own blurb, on the same list that places him as the 2nd greatest conservation hero at present, Chris is quoted as saying “The worst are those putting the ‘con’ in conservation; organisations that care more about blindfolding their members than making a real difference.”

imageWould that not be zoos then, Chris?

I’ve written before about the way that zoos and safari parks are unquestionably entangled with education, and how, perhaps, it’s about time that relationship is subjected to a little questioning after all; and so, I felt that rather than repeat myself, I should shed a little light on where we could be focussing our conservation efforts instead.

Did you know that there is not one sustainable shark fishery on the planet? Why does education not teach us that? I never learned it from a zoo either.

shark fisheryOr that we’ve lost over half Africa’s lions in last 30 years. If we carry on at this rate, the African lion will be wiped out in 35 years.

So what can we do to enhance children’s education that’s not just a trip to the zoo to understand the relative scale of an adult male lion, regardless of environment and lack of opportunity to exercise natural behaviours?

imageTeach the message of Racing Extinction for a start. The documentary is already making its way into classrooms up and down the country, alongside various classroom resources and teachers’ aids, and in my (independent) opinion, that’s progress.

imageSecondly, we could improve schoolchildren’s knowledge of the work that’s being done to counteract some of the problems being faced in the natural world.

Will Travers joined a host of special guests at the London premiere of Racing Extinction last month, and discussed his own involvement in these areas…

This is exactly the kind of thing we could do with starting a conversation on.

Will Travers is the President of Born Free Foundation, which he founded with his mother, actor Virginia McKenna and father Bill Travers 30 years ago, and so his involvement is hands on. But there is also the important fact that everyday people are tackling conservation issues in everyday ways.

IMG_0118Just before Christmas, I joined the final 2015 instalment of the ongoing demonstrations against Taiji Cove.

This time, over a hundred people gathered outside the Japanese Embassy for most of the day and evening of the 18th December, culminating in a Racing Extinction-style building projections, in what could be seen as a call to arms for the next protest.

imageI will be joining this movement on the 16th January, alongside others who feel they want to make a difference (come say hi if you find yourself there – it’s open to anyone!), because the big changes really can start with ‘the little people’.

imageContinuing to look ahead to January and beyond, I will be focusing my attention on studying the concept of “StableCon” (Conversation through Stabilisation), so please keep an eye out for further info on this – perhaps most excitingly, however, I have joined Born Free’s Activate team, so perhaps my writing will begin to have wider impact (one can only hope).

But before I depart to pastures new in 2016; let me leave you with this one thought – A wildlife hero of mine once told me that to make the biggest impact on the issues faced in conservation and the natural world, all we’d need to do is have a conversation. If we talked to three people, and they in turn talked to three people, and each of those three talked to three more people – we could reach the ears of the whole world with 103 conversation starters. Whatever I do in 2016, I hope to be one of those conversation starters… Who’s ready to be one of the other 102?!

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