A Focus On Nature

Issues in conservation

A Year in Focus. By Matt Williams

Matt specialises in climate change policy, communications and youth engagement. He has worked and volunteered for the RSPB in a number of roles,  is a founding member and former Co-Director of the UK Youth Climate Coalition and recently co-authored a letter that was published in the Sunday Times, with 100 signatories including Sir David Attenborough, calling on the Government to maintain the role of the natural environment in the national curriculum. During 2013-14 Matt is working in Borneo, Indonesia, as Communications Manager for the Orangutan Tropical Peatand Project.

It has been over a year since I was officially accepted as part of the A Focus on Nature scheme. And it has been absolutely incredible.

Hearing about (on Mark Avery’s blog) and then becoming part of A Focus on Nature has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me, for six reasons.

1. Mentors

I’ve had the chance to meet incredible people. I was very generously put in contact with two mentors. David Tipling who is, according to some, the UK’s foremost wildlife photographer. I’ve been out photographing with David a couple of times and plan to do so again (on my return from Indonesian Borneo where I’m currently working for the incredible Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project).

As a result, my photography has improved considerably.

Grey Seal on the Farne Islands  © Matt Williams, 2013

Grey Seal on the Farne Islands
© Matt Williams, 2013

I also met with Stephen Moss, former producer of BBC Springwatch and an author I’ve been reading for years. He bought me lunch and we had a sprawling chat about conservation, careers and where I could go next.

2. Solidarity

Many of my teenage years were spent feeling like an isolated weirdo who likes birds. It’s great to feel less alone. It’s great to be in close contact with a group of people my age (although I am known by some as the grandfather of the group) with the same passion. While we debate and sometimes disagree, we all ultimately care about the same issues, and being challenged is healthy from time to time.

The youth wing of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is great and I don’t for a minute regret having been part of it, but with 200,000 members it can be little bit distant and impersonal. A Focus on Nature is intimate, and that’s the beauty of it.

3. Friends

This has meant that I’ve formed some very close friendships with some incredible young people.

Niki, who helps run boat tours up in Scotland and is an incredible photographer and artist. Jack who’s an awesome guy and a great filmmaker and producer. Evan who writes passionately about his love for nature and Shen who brought her enthusiasm for nature to a project we all worked on together (see below).

There’s Pete who writes for the Independent and whom I can assure you has the best dance moves of any conservationist I know.

And my friend Tom, who has inspired me more than anyone else I’ve ever met in conservation. At the age of 20 he’s got the CV, work ethic and travel experience of a 35 year old. His photography skills are unrivalled and he’s unendingly generous and patient with his advice. And, we get along great, go out photographing followed by going to the pub for a pint (or several) from time to time and take the piss out of each other.

And there’s Lucy, A Focus on Nature’s Creative Director, who has more drive and energy, determination to make this project succeed for the sake of nature and young people, than anyone else I’ve known.

And there’s all the people I’m slowly forming friendships with over social media and whom I hope to meet in person one day.

Finally, I’ve so far introduced two of my existing friends to A Focus on Nature who have become fully involved members of the project.

4. Opportunities

Together with Jack, Shen, Evan, Niki and Tom we worked over three days with David Lindo, the Urban Birder, in London, to produce the A Focus on Urban Nature project. We’re still finalising the materials from this, so watch this space.

And I’ve been given the opportunity to blog for this site and to express my thoughts on conservation issues, which has helped my writing to mature considerably.

Being able to say that I’m part of A Focus on Nature has also brought me extra credibility when I’ve needed it, such as when trying to get pieces published and when applying for jobs. And this is the point of the scheme – to help young people pursue careers in conservation. So it’s certainly achieving that aim!

5. Plans for the future

Me and Lucy have hatched some exciting ideas for the future – we really must skype soon Lucy!

And I’m an A Focus on Nature ambassador now too. When I’m back in the UK I hope to give talks and spread the word in person about this amazing project.

6. It’s what we need

Finally, most importantly, to secure nature’s future in the UK and abroad we need an invigorated, empowered and inspired youth conservation movement. In 2050 we’ll be in our fifties and sixties and we deserve to inherit a countryside rich in wildlife and, in the current political context, it’s increasingly clear that no one’s going to build that future for us.

By sharing with each other, learning and being friends A Focus on Nature builds this movement. It helps us create a safe and productive space where we can be more effective in achieving this goal. A Focus on Nature is exactly what young people and nature in the UK need right now, it came along at just the right time. Here’s to the future!