26 September 2013

The future’s bright - the future’s green

I remember the exact day that I became hooked on birds. I was four years old and my family had just moved to North Norfolk. My Dad, Tony, a biology teacher who is interested in all things natural history, went with a colleague to see a male Hen Harrier that had been roosting on Kelling Heath and I tagged along. I’d been looking at birds in the garden for a year or two previously (and have the check-list, full of terrible spelling mistakes and even more horrendous misidentifications to prove it), but this was definitely the point of no return; fast forward 35 years and I am now a qualified ringer and keen nest recorder who has the privilege of working on birds for a living as a BTO staff member.

Male Hen Harrier - the species responsible for Dave writing this post. Copyright Martin Bennett
The path from hobby to career was fuelled by many things. The proximity of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley reserve, just four miles north of my home, did no harm in terms of reinforcing my interest, as did the endless streams of high quality documentaries, particularly those featuring the soporific tones of David Attenborough, which were compulsory viewing in my house. It was people who made the real difference, though – parents (my Mum, Barbara, still collects Blackbird colour-ring resighting data for me), teachers (Dave Horsley and Ralph Wiggins deserve special mention) and friends (Gav Horsley and Nick Acheson in particular) who tutored me and, equally importantly, transported me to the local hotspots. OK, so I didn’t have access to the wonders of the internet, but then I didn’t have the distractions of it either.

Dave's Mum Barbara has been collecting colour-ring resighting data on individually marked Blackbirds in her garden almost every day since March 2007
But this post isn’t about me as I’m rapidly becoming the past; it’s about the future, and that future is looking a little greener. A few days ago, Lorraine Miller directed me to an article on the wonderful A Focus On Nature website, an essential networking tool for any aspiring young conservationist. The piece was a focus feature on five naturalists, aged between 9 and 13, including Lorraine’s daughters Abby and Evie. I already knew that Team Miller were contributing to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme, but I was still amazed at the wealth of other surveys that were mentioned. Four of the five folk highlighted are already training to ring, including prolific bloggers Toby Carter and Findlay Wilde, or seeking trainers (and the photo of the fifth, Harley Wilde, sees him holding a bird at a ringing demo) while Garden BirdWatch, BirdTrack and the Winter Thrush Survey all feature.

Ringing demonstrations are a great way of sparking the conservation interest of the next generation, whether they go on to be ringers or not
This makes me a bit of a late-starter. While I was birding at four, I twitched away my teens and it wasn’t until I hit my mid-twenties that I started actually making a real contribution to conservation by participating in surveys. These guys have got a decade on me already, and most of them didn’t have the luxury of doorstep nature reserves or teachers with time to spend on after-hours activities. These are fast-tracked conservationists and, with green issues seemingly at their lowest ebb on the political agenda, we need them now more than ever.
Dave Leech
Head of BTO Nest Record Scheme

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