The youth nature spotlight series is intended to give readers an insight into the lives, aspirations and motivations of the intrepid and inspirational young people doing great things for nature in the UK. Each post will focus on a different member of the youth nature movement with featured individuals being asked to nominate others they feel worthy of recognition. This series is run in tandem with New Nature Magazine, and you can check out additional interviews in our upcoming editions.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is James Miller, I’m 16, and I’m an aspiring wildlife presenter from Surrey. I make short documentaries about certain species and post them online to try to inspire others my age to take an interest in nature, and hopefully do more to protect it. In my spare time, I also do wildlife photography, art, and writing. More recently I’ve started to get involved in campaigns and conservation issues and write about some of the topics that are prominent in the public interest at the moment, such as the badger cull. All animals interest me, but in particular, my niche is probably nocturnal wildlife.
How did you first get involved in nature presenting?
A couple of years ago I won the Cairngorms Young Nature Presenter Competition, a national contest to find a young wildlife presenter. I had to make a short documentary, which was judged by a panel before being opened to a public vote. As a prize for winning I spent a week in the Cairngorms, watching wildlife and learning how to present with Iolo Williams and Miranda Krestovnikoff. That inspired me, and since then I have tried to regularly make my own videos and improve on my presenting technique.
What first inspired you to get involved in nature conservation?
My interest in nature started off as a curiosity about anything that moved. As I grew, I was captivated by exotic animals I saw on TV, watching every Deadly 60 episode at least twice. Soon I realised that I had some pretty incredible creatures on my doorstep. As I moved onto social media, I was also opened to a whole new world of people doing amazing things to help the planet. This combination of my fascination for wildlife and all of the incredible people I’ve met have inspired me to get involved.
Do you take inspiration from any particular prominent figure?
That’s a very difficult question to answer – I find so many people in the conservation world inspiring because everyone’s motivation is trying to make the world a better place. If I had to choose one prominent figure, it would be Chris Packham, because he continues to do so much to raise awareness of some of the more ‘controversial’ issues threatening our wildlife, when he has already risked (unfairly) losing his job in the BBC for his involvement.
What would you like to do in the future? Career aspirations?
It is my dream to become a nature presenter. However, I do know that this is a very difficult field to get into, so I plan to get a backup option – I don’t know yet what form this will take, perhaps veterinary sciences.
Do you have a favourite natural history book?
It’s difficult to say – I’ve read many good ones. Robert McFarlane’s writing is amazing, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is spectacular, and Britain’s Spiders: A Field Guide is an infinitely useful book. Perhaps Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy just has it for me, but by a small and indefinite margin. I’ve heard that there are plenty more classic books by authors such as Alfred Russel Wallace that are really worth a try, so perhaps I’ll change my mind.
Just for fun
If you won the lottery today, what would you spend the money on?
I’d like to think that I’d give it all to worthwhile conservation charities – I would be hard pushed to choose which ones. Perhaps I might be tempted to spend some of it on a new zoom lens for my camera – I’d have to try hard to resist.
Do you have a favourite species? If so, why?
I am fascinated by all different types of animals, but there are a few that I particularly like.
People always joke that I am obsessed with badgers. I think obsessed is a bit of an exaggeration, but I do like badgers because they are pretty reliable to watch – they emerge nightly throughout warmer months, and they’re always in the same spot. This allows me to get to know them better than most other animals. It’s also relatively easy to empathise with them – their faces and postures show their emotions so well.
Can you recall a particularly memorable wildlife encounter?
Two years ago I was sitting near an old tree, waiting for some foxes who I suspected lived in a hole underneath it. After an hour or so, I lost patience and stood up to walk home, when I heard a screech from above me. In the top of that same tree I had been watching, two fluffy Tawny Owlets were perching on the rim of a hole and screaming for food.
I returned regularly over the next few weeks at dusk to film their development and eventually saw them fledge the nest, providing incredible views. I only glimpsed the adult once.