The sharp, dry crunch of conifers and dead leaves beneath the rubber soles of my King Kong wellies, the startling, cackling call of the nearby magpies, the smooth sheen on the back of a seven spot ladybird nestled in the palm of my hand, or the sudden discovery of an inquisitive shield bug on the shoulder of my woollen jumper; entwined within the earliest memories of my life are some of the most exciting and beautiful experiences I have ever had the pleasure of beholding – and all of these are connected in some way or another to wildlife and nature.
The specific age that I started to be interested in and have an ongoing passion for wildlife is unknown to me, but I do know that it is as far back as I can remember- so I can be sure that it’s been for a fairly long time!. Sunk into the seat of an armchair, watching open mouthed as Sir David Attenborough explained the possibility of a metre long dragonfly whilst a graphic CGI form hovered around the room like some miniature helicopter is something that stands out for me – even now I still have Life in Cold Blood, Life of Mammals, Life of Birds, Life in the Undergrowth and Trials of Life on DVD in a dusty glass video case, rather battered from being constantly pulled out of their cases and shoved into a DVD player to be watched again and again and to relive the fantastic experience. These beautifully narrated, exotic films, plus colourful animal books filled with exquisite drawings and detailed photographs of charging buffalo and roaring lions are what ignited my love of nature- but as wildlife enthusiasts we all know that just reading about wildlife is simply not enough to fuel the fire you get to explore their world and experience their behaviour- you have to get outside!. So every park day became an expedition, and piles upon piles of conkers, leaves, acorns, dried insects and even bones began to fill odd containers and corners around the house, although their volume gradually decreased as unfortunate red faced persons continually acquired a variety of differently shaped bruises, from various fossils and spiny conker shells! (What a mouthful!). Spiders have always been a big interest of mine, having spent many happy hours trying to catch different species, identify them and then watch with joy as they ran over my hands with lightning speed.
As I got older, this collection of all things big and beautiful began to take a more observational shape, it wasn’t so much about how much I collected anymore, it was about what I collected now, and whilst before birds had always been the ever so interesting but ever so hard to reach subjects that resulted in a fast but too late turn of the head, now could be watched for hours in weaving, patterned flights as they soared through the clouds, courtesy of my first pair of black binoculars. I remember going on a particular trip with my family and actually jumping for joy at the sight of two Red Kites spinning in and out of each other’s flight path in what I later learned was the courting of a male and female, although my parents didn’t exactly show any excitement at this, having looked in the wrong direction at first as a result of my frantic pointing, and therefore having missed the entire spectacle.
As a young naturalist, being so immensely close to nature for almost my entire life has had a great impact on me as a person; wildlife has helped with stress (exams and tests and other emotional horrors!) by being a place of refuge, a place where you can go and experience the taste of freedom for a short while. Above all it is a thing that I love to do, and therefore the following up of an interest to a hobby to a career would be the journey of a lifetime. The feeling you get when discovering an alien sector of the natural world (in terms of what you’ve seen and experienced already) is indescribable; a sort of buzzing, rushing explosion of happiness and excitement, culminating in a furious desire to just tell someone! And always reminding me of some scene tucked away in a Roald Dahl book.
I remember the first time I set eyes on a blue jay; there he was, strutting his electric blue feathers and jumping around full of adrenaline on the wispy, bendy branch of a tall oak tree- that was a moment of pure excitement, of furious scrambling for a notebook and binoculars at the same time, that’s what wildlife watching should be all about.
I must admit that a key factor of me growing up that has pushed this intense interest in all things green is something that I don’t think many people would expect as being a key cause of this- my religion…yep, I said it and you heard it (or read it even!), as you may know if you have read my blog, my religion is that of Islam, and as a Muslim what many people don’t see is the continual reminders in our religion to protect and preserve the environment – which from a young age meant that I could be encouraged by this with the knowledge that I was earning good by pursuing my hobby!. Having such a passion for nature equals the obvious: it would eventually spill over into the hustle and bustle of school life.
This has had some rather varied and somewhat interesting results in terms of responses! – I remember once standing up in front of the entire class to give a short talk on my favourite past time: wildlife watching…now you could tell that it wasn’t the most popular subject in the world at this moment, mainly because the two words, wildlife and, watching, had never really come together in one sentence in all my time at school- and wanting not only to break this silence on nature, but also needing a subject for my English speaking assessment; I had put together this talk. I actually thought that overall it had gone very well, but sadly no one seemed to remember the more important points of the talk, such as how to recognise Great Crested Newts, or waking up for the Dawn Chorus, or how to set up a Hedgehog Home, or even simply setting up a wildlife tracking camera- all they talked about afterwards was how goofy you would look in binoculars! And this is the problem in many schools, ‘it’s not cool to love wildlife’ , therefore even if there are kids here that do feel, to a certain extent, fascinated by the natural world- they will tend not to show it in any shape or form, that this fire exist within them!, and will hide it- I must say I am also to some extent guilty of this, but it is my most sincere wish that this is changed for the better.
In response to this I’m writing a talk at the moment on the ‘importance of being different’, which I will attempt to give at my school, to explain to kids my age that standing out, being different and taking charge of what you want to do and not being a sheep in the flock (in a good way of course!) is not only a fantastic way to be confident in yourself, but also allows you to grow as a person and be well rounded. This is really important as a young naturalist in this day and age, the need to be different and be accepted as being different and having an interest that will better the world as we know it.
And we finally come to my blog, I actually started writing this blog a very short while ago, mainly because I had a real need to share with people my experiences (god I’m using that word a lot!) of the wildlife I’d seen, but also because I wanted to speak out against the wrongs that have been done to the natural world and make my views heard as a young person who cares about the environment. Since then it has allowed me to meet other natural history bloggers my age and to understand some of the more complicated procedures that are being carried out to do with the environment.
I hope to carry this on for many more years to come, as I have mentioned; the ascension from an interest, to a hobby, to a career…would be the journey of a lifetime.