As an articulate, enthusiastic and already very keen conservationist, we’d also like to tell you the story of one of our own and her travels along the route to being involved in a sustainable future. As you’re aware, there are so many paths you can take, so here is the story of the change maker, Sam.
Hi! Tell us a bit about your backstory
So, I was always that kid at school who used to wax lyrical about birds, sharks, and particularly whales, much to the annoyance/amaze of my teachers! This was a fascination that I’d always had, and, as I grew up, I became known as the “eco warrior” in my group of friends, but I was far too shy at the time to find that voice that I so desperately wanted. I took a year out between the end of my A Levels and starting my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science to gain some voluntary experience…and, the rest they say, is history! My studies and experiences have taken me to The Aspinall Foundation, Living Coasts, two Wildlife Trusts, a field course to Malaysia, a first-class undergraduate degree, a Masters degree in Environmental Consultancy, and other incredible experiences, solidifying my passion for protecting the planet. I studied in Plymouth, where I was lucky enough to have the National Marine Aquarium, the Cornish coast, Dartmoor, the seaside, and stunning countryside all within a stone’s throw. These places were the setting of many university field trips; they were also enjoyed in “downtime”. One of my favourite memories was visiting St Ives with a couple of friends, taking a boat trip, and seeing a pod of six bottlenose dolphins playing within arm’s reach of the boat! Therefore, living in such a beautiful place for five years definitely helped me to appreciate what I was “fighting for”. I started out my undergraduate degree wanting to be an “on the ground” conservationist, but developed a disability halfway through university that made such work impossible; I have now realised that the absolute biggest way I can make a difference to the natural world – and to people and planet – is to use my voice, inspiring people to take an interest, helping them to realise that they have the power for change! That’s why I joined RYVIAS in February 2021, and I am excited to see what working with this inspirational team brings.
So why are you passionate about this aspect of sustainability?
I guess my passion for wildlife conservation in always there. I was arguing with one of my Year 4 teachers, at the age of eight, that, yes, there was definitely “such thing” as a Ganges river dolphin, and when an RSPB spokesperson visited my primary school, I thought it was the best day ever. I also specialised in ecology and conservation within both of my degrees, and my work and voluntary experiences exposed me to some of the rarest and most beautiful species from around the world. However, it was the opportunity to travel to Malaysia that truly allowed me to appreciate sustainability more holistically. Visiting palm oil plantations, rice paddies, mangrove forests, and the Forest Research Institute Malaysia opened my eyes to the wider reaching impacts of our everyday lives and choices on people and planet. I had read about the palm oil plantations, but, even as the plane touched down in Kuala Lumpur, seeing the extent of the plantations, as far as the eye could see, shook me to the core; it’s an image that has remained in my mind for the last five years. Since then, I have developed a passion for ensuring that our food choices are sustainable and fair to all. Also, while working at Living Coasts, I was advocating for the reduction of single use plastics fairly frequently; this, combined with the shocking lectures on fast fashion from my inspirational ecological economics lecturer, made me enthusiastic about fair and sustainable fashion, too. As I learn more, I become more aware of our impacts on the planet – and what we, as people, can do to help make things “right”.
What’s next for you?
As soon as I graduated from MSc, I was told to “shield”, but I have still been very busy in ensuring that nature’s voice is still heard in the meantime. I have just finished a research project discussing bird conservation policy, so the next stage is publication – which I am both very excited and very nervous about, as it has taken eighteen months! Among several other projects, I have also recently completed my training from the Conservation Careers “Communications for Conservation Projects” course, which was an amazing experience. The next stage is to continue raising awareness of conservation and sustainability issues: I am hoping to land myself in a campaigning and advocacy career to ensure that change is implemented at the governmental level, while, of course, continuing to volunteer for the inspirational RYVIAS team!
One piece of advice for a sustainable future
I am a huge fan of the phrase “we don’t need a handful of people [practicing sustainability] perfectly; we need millions doing it imperfectly”. I think a lot of people are “put off” by the “all or nothing” image that the sustainability movement can sometimes have. However, real change starts smally and slowly: a long-term, purposeful, and meaningful sustainable lifestyle is far more important and impactful than purchasing a few pricey “fancy” items. It can be as “little” as keeping your old plastic takeaway containers (to recycle them for leftover food) or taking reusable cutlery on your road trips. If millions of people swapped their plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one, or switched their bottled water habit for a reusable and refillable water bottle, then that’s also huge. Then take it from there, within your budget, circumstances, and access to resources.
What would you recommend from RYVIAS for our audience?
What a fantastic question! RYVIAS is such a friendly team that they will always be on hand to help you out and to provide you with advice on furthering your positive impact on the sustainability sector. I would definitely recommend immersing yourself in the material that we have here at RYVIAS: it has been compiled by a hugely inspirational group of passionate people and the opportunities are endless. Networking with peers and similar-minded people can also help you to broaden your perspectives and understanding of the ways we can protect the planet. If you can then use what you have learned to help your local community, then that is absolutely amazing. Remember that you are part of something huge and to enjoy the experience!