A 15 Year-old’s Conservation Journey ……. so far!
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by Michael Sinclair
My passion for wildlife started as a toddler, with my family encouraging me to explore nature: I loved countryside walks and looking for things like owl pellets, caterpillars and frog spawn. I learn best by ‘doing’ and that’s very much how I’ve developed over the years.
Growing the passion
Several ‘life events’ were crucial in developing my conservation interests.
Building a Pond
In 2012 I helped my dad build a garden pond. As it matured, frogs appeared and every spring my parent’s kitchen was overrun with plastic tubs which we used to hatch the spawn, before releasing the tadpoles back into the pond!
Getting a Camera
Aged 11 I got a camera as a birthday present. It was brilliant! I could now go out and take pictures of wildlife. The following year I entered a few pictures into the Young Persons Category of the British Wildlife Photography Awards and to my amazement, although I didn’t win, one of my photos was selected for publication. Wow! My passion for photography was sealed.
Scottish Bird Fair
Until 2016 there was an annual Scottish Bird Fair. I was already fascinated by birds and had become pretty obsessive learning about them and going birding with my Dad. Bird Fair gave me the chance to see Bird Ringing Demonstrations and go on guided bird walks/nest finding walks. However, one of the biggest things that happened was that the staff from BTO Scotland took time to encourage me and give me the confidence to carry on birding, despite not knowing any young birders/naturalists in Scotland.
BTO Bird Camp: a whole new world!!
Although I loved wildlife, my passion wasn’t really shared by others my age where I lived. I wasn’t a loner and had plenty of friends and did everything that young kids did: but, I preferred wildlife!
When I heard about the BTO Bird Camp (sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust) it sounded great: a 3 day outdoor camp in late May with like-minded people in my age group 12 -18 held in Norfolk/Suffolk. I applied in 2017 and got notified that I was in. I was excited and really, really nervous at the same time. I’d set up my website about six months earlier and had also been active on Twitter so had got to know some of
the Young Naturalists who I would now have the chance to meet for the first time.
I needn’t have worried. Camp was brilliant. I met loads of people my age, had a laugh and realised there were other people like me who shared my interests.
Thanks to social media, after I left camp, I suddenly had a growing network of like-minded friends to keep in touch with. Suddenly, my life was buzzing with Twitter posts about bird sightings, other trips and general chat. I’d found my place and I’ve returned to Bird Camp every year since!
Website and Blogging
I set up my website (www.mikesnature.com) in late 2016 to showcase my photography and to blog about my trips. I loved sharing what I was doing and hearing about what others were up to. Suddenly, the world was shrinking …. I wasn’t on my own … I was part of a community … and I liked it!
My 100 Nestbox Challenge
In October 2017 I launched my 100 Nestbox Challenge: a project to build and sell 100 boxes myself (from scratch) to raise funds for three wildlife organisations. By February 2018 I’d sold my 100th box and raised a total of £1045 which was split between the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Social media was crucial to promoting this project and I simply didn’t anticipate the massive level of interest the project would generate with demands for boxes continuing to flood in well after the official project had ended.
I’ve continued to make boxes, but now focus on making these for my local park/nature reserve (Linn Park in Glasgow) where sponsorship from locals and funding from the RSPB has resulted in over 60 bird boxes and 20 bat boxes now being put up.
Community Volunteering (Friends of Linn Park)
Since 2017 I’ve been a volunteer with Friends of Linn Park, a community-based organisation which works closely with the Countryside Ranger to carry out environmental park improvements.
Over the years and with the support of the volunteers I’ve developed from participating in the different activities to taking a leading role in many.
I now coordinate an annual nestbox monitoring programme with a team of 10 nestbox monitors trained to inspect them in accordance with the BTO Nest Monitoring Guidelines. I’m responsible for submitting the annual data returns to the BTO.
I also lead bat-walks in the park and run community nestbox-building events where the public can assemble nestboxes which I’ve pre-cut.
Benefits and Profile
In the last year I’ve been appointed to a number of Youth Ambassadorial roles as well as receiving several nominations and awards. I’m currently an Ambassador for the Cameron Bespolka Trust and Scotland: the Big Picture. I’ve also received a local Council Award for Outstanding Achievement for my local volunteering work, was runner-up in the Young Person of the Year Category in the Clarkston Community Awards (from over 100 nominees). In 2019 I’ve also been shortlisted for two National Awards connected to wildlife and have recently been featured in The Herald and Evening Times newspapers detailing my volunteering and climate campaigning.
I’m regularly invited to attend and speak at events and was honoured to make a short speech with 6 other Climate Campaigners at the end of Chris Packham’s talk at Birdfair 2019.
None of the above would have been possible without the encouragement of the conservation community and the willingness of adults/organisations to ‘listen to a kid’.
I’m still not decided on where my future lies, but I’m leaning towards ranger-related work as I love the outdoors and the practical side of conservation. I think it’s critical that youth is given a higher profile in environmental/conservation matters and hope that the momentum that has built up around the climate protests will be the start of that.