Beth takes an active interest in the science and ecology behind nature conservation and has graduated with an MSci in Zoology from the University of Nottingham. She is now keen to remain within the scientific realms of nature conservation, enhancing her knowledge with further study or fieldwork. In her spare time, Beth is found with sketchbook in hand, as she finds that combining the creativity of art with the practicality of science helps her to convey her passion for the natural world.
Recently on the AFON Facebook Group, to start a bit of discussion, we were asked what wildlife NGO had been most influential in fuelling our passion for wildlife as youngsters. Many members came back with tales of groups they’d been involved with as children but for me there was no organisation. My love comes from spending so much time outdoors and from the books I devoured when I wasn’t outside.
When I was a child my mum kept horses; which meant my sisters and I spent most of our time at the yard with her. When we weren’t helping with the horses in one way or another, we were free to run wild in the fields; climbing trees, paddling in the river and playing in the mud. When we weren’t down at the horses I would have my nose buried in a book.
I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on but as a child my books were predominantly animal based. The local library provided me with the latest Animal Ark and Dolphin Diaries. One of my most treasured books, even now, is a complete collection of Beatrix Potter stories and I used to fall asleep listening to audio tapes of Mr. Tod and Jeremy Fisher (though never The Fierce Bad Rabbit, as the ending scared me slightly). I tackled White Fang for the first time when I was seven and it left me with a yearning for adventure in snowy forest and with an imaginary part-wolf companion whilst playing in the fields.
Given my ferocious appetite for books I was lucky that my Mum had kept all of her books from when she was a child; amongst the abundance of horse stories and Enid Blyton books were tales of foxes, badgers and seals. In many the animals were not the main characters, but played supporting roles. Even so the stories were set in the countryside, and told of people connecting with nature. The descriptions of the fauna and flora were utterly enchanting and spoke of a time when everyone was a little closer to our natural world.
The best way to experience Nature is to get out and experience it first-hand but that isn’t always possible; whether due to time constraints, location, weather or other commitments. For me the next best thing to do is read about it. The pages of a book can transport you right into the natural world, and allow you to view the world through the eyes of another creature. The calls for humans to reconnect with nature are getting louder and louder; particularly when it comes to children and for those times when they can’t get outside I say give them a book. I fell in love with the animals and the places I read about in books and it led me to want to find out more about them in the real world.
I know some people will raise the argument that books anthropomorphise animals and can give people unrealistic impressions of the natural world. They do; but it didn’t do me any harm. Despite faithfully buying the next Redwall book every time I got some pocket money, I was fully aware as a child that weasels, stoats, crows and rats are not ‘evil’, hares are not all ‘warriors’ and a badger is not automatically either a lord of an extinct volcano or a nanny for all other woodland creatures offspring. Moles do not have religions centered on standing stones, like those in Duncton Wood and wolves in the Carpathian Mountains do not attempt to sacrifice human children in an attempt to gain the Sight. I may have dreamed of developing Doctor Doolittle’s talent to talk to animals, and would willingly have taken part in an alien war to gain the Animorphs ability to take the shape of whatever animal I wanted, but I was aware that these words weren’t real; they were constructs of imagination and words. Not that that tempered my ever growing fascination. Children are not stupid; couple their reading with adventures outside to see Mrs. Tiggy-winkle, Fiver, and if they are especially lucky, Tarka, for themselves and it will fuel their interest in the natural world. They’ll see that the real animals are far more fascinating and complex than the humanised ones within the pages of a book.
The places in these books weren’t perfect worlds either. They opened my eyes to the harshness and cruelty of the natural world; the Laws of the Wild. I felt the fear of the Animals of Farthing Wood when they encounter the Shrikes larder, and the sadness at the loss of their young. I cried when the Black Rabbit of Inle comes for Hazel and though I help out a faint hope that is wasn’t the case, I knew deep down what those bubbles on the water’s surface said about Tarka’s fate.
To help protect our natural world we need anyone who loves and is inspired by it. This love can be expressed in all forms. AFON is proof of that: it’s a network for young conservationists and its members are composed of artists, photographers, reserve wardens, environmental educators, film makers, scientists, writers and chocolatiers. We may do it in different ways but we’re all engaging with our natural world and should be encouraging everyone else to do so in whatever way they can. I think books, particularly Children’s books, can play a major part in this. Sadly, I’m a little unaware as to what children’s books about animals are available these days; my little brother is not the greatest reader, but I hope that they are still plenty available. I also hope that children still hear of Mowgli and the Hundred Acre Wood. If children can read about nature in books, fall in love with it, then they’re going to want to experience it first-hand.
I firmly believe that the creation of writing, of giving an idea, a thought, a dream a permanent form, is humankind’s greatest creation. Words can be dangerous, they can make you think, challenge your ideas, spark the imagination. They can be life changing. Most importantly they can be inspiring and who knows where that can lead.