Hi James! Tell us a bit about yourself to begin with
For describing not only the work I do and the subject I am studying, but also my personal identity, I would say I am a person with a love for the natural world, with conservation and restoration being two key pillars, ranging from specific species and animal groups all the way to habitats, ecosystems, and ecoregions… the full, wide-ranging components of the biodiversity spectrum! Spending time outdoors to appreciate and relish these wonders forms a big part of my life along with sharing my passion with others and raising awareness and engaging with others, particularly on the key biodiversity and environmental issues we face in the present day. My strong connection to the natural world was instigated back in early childhood and has exerted a profound impact on where I find myself today and my associated values and aspirations, thinking back to those simple pleasures that have carried through and I still enjoy to this day. This includes, among many others, heading for a stroll down to the local woods and river with my binoculars, ready to spot a dipper or even a kingfisher along with the host of woodland birds, or hiking up the local hill to seek the far-reaching views, with the dramatic sights of Kinder Scout from Lantern Pike summit coming to mind. With this also comes the importance of place, having grown up in the same valley on the edge of the Peak District and thus developing a host of special memories there over time, all assisting to nurture this special connection to the environment which has had a lasting legacy.
So being outside and connecting with nature means a lot. Where did you get this connection from and where has it taken you?
Aside from this long-lasting personal connection however, it was not until completing my A-levels and beginning university that I properly found my niche and discovered what was on offer for going down an environment related route/field, not only in terms of career ideas and aspirations but better discovering and realising those issues I really care about and which have subsequently shaped my beliefs and values, chiefly biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and pollution, and climate change, and the various impacts and interplay of these factors. This is where my university course comes into its own and fits perfectly in this matrix; BSc Ecology and Conservation at Nottingham Trent University’s Brackenhurst Campus, a university campus with a difference offering an ‘open air classroom’ outside of the city centre set within 200 hectares of adjoining farmland, woodland, and wetland, perfect for an environment course with the facilities and outdoor space offered but also the size aspect, having previously come from a relatively small school and sixth form college. The Ecology and Conservation course itself was an attractive proposition due to the variety of modules covered and having a particular focus on the ecology of ecosystems, land use, and associated environmental issues and monitoring, differing slightly from the BSc Wildlife Conservation course, which has a greater focus on populations and species interactions, and BSc Environmental Science, encompassing other abiotic aspects such as hydrology and geology. Starting in 2018, the course and my time at Brackenhurst so far has been an incredible experience having now completed two years and currently in my industry placement/sandwich year, which is where I find myself today!
How have you found being so passionate about conservation but struggling to get out during a pandemic?
The last year or so, like for so many of us, has been a real test of perseverance with the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in some changes in plans to the structure and nature of my placement year in the early stages, but has now worked out well with currently gaining experience conducting a range of surveys across a host of different sites with an ecological consultancy, starting in August 2020. As part of this ‘patchwork’ placement approach, I have also attended various online/virtual training events and courses in the past year coordinated by several organisations, including Conservation Careers and Bournemouth Council based at Hengistbury Head Nature Reserve, and have met lots of new people in the process. I have certainly learned a lot about myself in the past year and of this area of the sector I am currently working in with the different aspects of work and networking opportunities, and on a more personal note, realising our interconnectedness to the natural world, the fact that we are embedded in nature and the various consequences of not affording adequate protection to significant issues such as declining biodiversity, which I believe the pandemic is a severe symptom of.
I do not think there has ever been a more important time to secure our future and make the world a better place for humans and all realms of life, with the three pillars of sustainability, conservation and innovation augmented by RYVIAS incredibly apt for addressing the key issues operating at various scales that I care about of biodiversity loss, climate change, and environmental degradation, with all their associated and often combined impacts for other species, humans, and often whole ecosystems. I believe a key part of this is identifying the various direct and indirect drivers of these impacts and then finding the most appropriate solutions to adapt and mitigate these drivers for the benefit of nature, people and climate. We have the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Kunming, China scheduled later this year, where there will be a review of the achievement and delivery of the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and associated 20 Aichi Targets, and work on formulating a new strategy with fresh targets as part of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, to be agreed between CBD Parties and a range of stakeholders at the conference. There is also the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) scheduled to be held in Glasgow in November. For me, a key aspect of addressing these problems is understanding and turning to the natural world to deliver better outcomes wherever possible and at various scales, and I think this will likely form a significant part of my ambitions for the future and the direction I might want to head towards beyond the placement and university.
You really seem to know how to make a positive impact, so what would you suggest for the future and for others?
As part of this future direction and strategy, an important aspect would be working to restore and monitor natural systems across as many areas as possible and always in tandem with the local socioecological conditions. Across many areas this would involve nothing short of a revolution of the land management system, starting with those areas which should be afforded highest protections, including in the UK for example, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), National Nature Reserves (NNRs), Local Nature Reserves (LNRs), National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), with designations often overlapping with each other but each having distinct purposes and aims. I often like to quote the key findings from the groundbreaking Sir John Lawton report which highlighted the need for better quality habitats joined together by robust ecological networks across England, with the key aspects being “bigger, better, and more joined-up”… sounds good to me and that’s why I love how RYVIAS works!
I hope to make this vision become a greater reality for many generations to come, and hopefully you can help and join me in helping to contribute towards this transformational change over time to tackle the key issues we face, ultimately restoring the ecosystems that underpin the life support systems of the very planet we live on because after all, we are embedded in nature.
How can we really make a sustainable future?
The key points highlighted above would underpin a key part of my advice for a sustainable future. It is all about being self-aware and sensitive towards the environment in the host of decisions you make in whatever way you feel comfortable, such as the way we travel, the food we eat, the values we possess and want to promote to others, the organisations and causes we support, specific uses of technology and understanding their application, the issues we care about and want to help solve, but also understanding the key transformations that need to be made across the societal system as well as all the actions and decisions you can make as an individual, whatever your background. I would always urge anyone, whenever out and about, to take in the natural beauty around them and marvel at its excellence, whether that is appreciating a patch of greenery, individual trees or even so-called weeds on paved tarmac, or alternatively an entire woodland or tropical rainforest!
A platform like RYVIAS is the instrument people can collectively use to deliver these messages in relation to the three pillars of sustainability, conservation and innovation, learning, educating and sharing information with others as we go, networking with individuals from different industries and gaining advice and further insights to take forward in the process, and ultimately forming a strong community hub which will proliferate as more people join and involvement increases. This is a vision of what me and I am sure many others will hope to get out of a powerful platform like RYVIAS for a long time to come. I would like to provide a huge thank you to Ben and everyone at RYVIAS for recognising my activity in conservation and offering to have my story featured.