This piece was originally published on James Common’s blog Common By Nature. James asked what influenced me to take an interest in conservation and this is my response:
When I was younger, I would occasionally feel jealous of friends who seemed to travel to the outer reaches of the world. They would head into the classroom after the school holidays with deep tans, photos of themselves bathing in warm seas and glamorous tales of mysterious places I knew nothing about. My holidays were nothing like this. They consisted of midges, anoraks and castle ruins. We never ventured outside of the UK when I was young and you could certainly never call anything we did glamorous.
It might sound boring in comparison, but my upbringing was incredible; outings were exciting and holidays filled with exploration and it is those moments which shaped my entire future.
A lot of our time together as a family involved getting outside and into nature and I have the most wonderful memories of these experiences; collecting shells from the beach and accidentally taking home a tiny crab which I tried to keep alive in the bath; pulling up in the car somewhere that always ‘had to have a view’ in order to eat our sandwiches; building dams out of fallen branches and stones to hop across rivers; devising a book which would contain pressed leaves which would help the world with identification; trying to rescue dead jellyfish stranded on the beach; spending hours staring into the large pond in my parents garden, hunting for newts and dragonfly larvae…to us, the outside world was one big playground and the games were made through imagination.
One of my most prized possessions when I was young was a Michelin ‘Eye Spy’ Nature book; a little spotters guide and checklist. I poured over the photographs, only dreaming what it would be like to spot a fox, tick off a stag beetle from my list or figure out which cloud I was looking at. I loved animals and was fascinated with the sea; its vastness and the activity beneath the waves left me totally enchanted and all of this wonderment came through the trips we took as a family and the books my parents kept in the house. I couldn’t imagine actually seeing any of these natural wonders with my own eyes.
This excitement over the natural world has stayed with me and has influenced my life in so many ways. My love of the sea led me to study Marine Science and take up diving. My love of animals saw me work a zoo keeper for years and take an interest in education. And the realisation that it was wildlife that truly enthralled me led me to trying to educate through words and communication. Although these days I could tick off a large majority of the things in my little Eye Spy book and I have seen things I never thought I would, my tick list has simply gotten longer as I have gotten older and that little girl, getting over excited at the sight of any wildlife, is definitely still in there (except these days her hands are firmly placed around a camera instead of a round the pages of a tiny guide). The things we did as children also help our family retain our bond; we still stare into that same pond counting newts, my brothers were told off only a few years ago in Spain for creating a dam on a beach and clambering up rocks is just a standard day out for us all.
The truth is many children simply don’t get outside enough to experience the natural world as much as they should these days and are often given technology as a substitute. But I implore parents to get their kids outside as often as possible, because when I think of my childhood it’s not the toys I remember, but the day my brother and I swung bags filled with water at each other in the sea, the shells my mother and I found and tried to imagine the creatures that once lived in them and the fossils our family spotted together in the rocks at Lyme Regis. These are the moments that inspire children and shape them into the adults who could be the difference between harming our world and saving it.