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  • Writer's pictureJane

Wildlife Heroes - Appreciating those who inspire my love of the natural world

I’ve just finished reading Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham, one of my lifelong wildlife heroes, and it got me thinking about those folk who have inspired my love for nature through the years. I’m generally not the kind of person who gets star struck or cares about celebrity, but I am awed by amazing minds, by those with passion, knowledge and a drive to fight for what they believe in. So here are some of the people I look up to, some people who may find me a bit over excited should I ever be lucky enough to meet them.

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David, who’s voice is synonymous with wonder. Sir David who has sung the soundtrack to Sunday nights since forever. Sir David who brings me the Earth, delivers it right into my living room, lets me share in it and understand it, lets me love and cherish it, and want to do everything I can and protect it.

Even my girls, who are fully fledged members of the vivid colour, high contrast, high definition Pixar generation, will happily sit for hours watching re-runs of Zoo Quest, apparently unaware that the whole thing is in fuzzy, jerky monochrome. It doesn’t matter, Sir David is teaching them, they are captivated. He is a font of knowledge and we all cherish every opportunity to soak it up.

Along with the BBC Natural History Unit, there doesn’t seem to be a part of this spectacular planet that he can’t take us.

I don’t even need to say more, because there is not one person I know who doesn’t smile when they hear his name, who isn’t immediately taken to some internal paradise. I don’t think anybody else in the world can have that effect.

Chris Packham

I think it was the Really Wild Show that truly got me excited and impassioned about wildlife. While the BBC Nature documentaries showed me the Earth, the Really Wild Show made it mine.

So accessible to the younger generation, the enthusiastic presenters answered the weird and wonderful questions of budding naturalists, and taught us about some of the fascinating creatures out there in a way we could really understand and connect with. Chris let me peek into the Sparkle Jar, and fanned the flames of my lifelong love of nature.

Of course I now follow Springwatch (albeit on iPlayer, not live, because I’m not allowed to watch it without my girlies, who are a little young to stay up that late). I’m fascinated by our gorgeous native wildlife, and the geek in me loves the graphs and charts, and film and song references. We love to watch Nature’s Weirdest Events, and the Wonder of Animals, basically any programme of his we can find, because we know that he will deliver fascinating insights in an exciting and powerful way.

But for me now, the things that I most admire about Chris are his highly informed rants, unwavering honest opinion on matters of real importance for conservation today, and the direct action he takes, putting his own mind, body and money where his mouth is, to make practical stands for the things he believes important.

Reading Fingers in the Sparkle Jar felt like an absolute privilege, to be invited into such an exceptional mind, so share in such openness, to experience such wonders through the eyes of the beholder.

Otter family ornament

Charles Darwin

Ok, I shall never meet Charles Darwin, although I do pay a small tribute every time I’m lucky enough to visit the magnificent Museum of Natural History. But of course he is a hero of mine. He was the one to make sense of it all.

I read On the Origin of Species as an adult, several years ago now. I wish I had read it sooner, I wish it were compulsory reading in schools for all young people. I had learnt about evolution, I knew the basics. But there was something so valuable about having the theory explained in such detail, by the wonderful mind who discovered it.

I think the thing that most fascinates me about Darwin is his struggle to bring about a revolution. Everything he spent so much of his life proving to be true ran absolutely against all accepted beliefs about the natural world at the time. He wasn’t just fighting to convince people that the world worked in a particular way, he was fighting against God himself.

After convincing himself of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Charles Darwin spent twenty years gathering evidence to support his theory. He would have spent longer had Alfred Russel Wallace not independently discovered the theory, meaning Darwin risked losing the credit for it. He knew that, for his theory to be accepted, he would have to convince people to readdress their whole outlook on the world, to overcome their faith in Creation. A daunting task I’m sure, but non the less, he succeeded.

In Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, I found the answer to life, the universe and everything. I am, however, left with a few new moral questions about humanity, just to keep my mind going.

Steve Backshall

Steve Backshall does for today’s children what Chris Packham did for me when I was young. He makes the wild world accessible in a way that utterly captivates them. Ok, I’ll be honest, I’m as captivated as they are.

There is no talking down or patronising even though most of his audience, of Deadly 60 at least, will be under the age of about 12. He delivers facts, scientific explanations and proper names. It’s his enthusiasm that makes his work so accessible to the younger generation. Steve oozes excitement and passion for the natural world, enough of it to share with the many young people who look up to him. It seeps through the screen and creeps inside them, working their way through their imagination, shaping their dreams and quietly moulding a future of inquisitive fascination.

Tiny badger ornament with red poppy

Dominic Dyer

Anybody who knows me well will know that I am enraged to the point of obsession about the badger cull going on in the UK. My first port of call was my MP. Of course, I emailed him asking him to oppose the cull as I was aware that no badger was to be tested for bTB, which seemed crazy to me. I quickly realised that my MP and I were coming from completely different angles when he informed me that he would support the badger cull, and he sent me a link to the government’s own webpages on bovine Tuberculosis by means of explaining his decision. From this link I quickly found the RBCT, which in no way supports the culling of badgers to control bTB, and the discourse between me and my MP progressed. To every email I sent him, fully evidenced to back up my argument, he replied with uninformed and unsupported drivel (you know, the usual “every tool in the box” response which, I guess anybody who has tried to cut wood with a hammer will agree, is actually a pretty good analogy for the mess they’re making of the whole thing). I slowly built up a virtual library of information, scientific studies, minutes of meetings from government archives, guidance documents, the list goes on. Non of my carefully gathered evidence made an impact on my unwaveringly ignorant and arrogant MP. I almost burst with the frustration.

And then I came across Dominic Dyer.

This was before the cull has even started. I saw a few of his posts on Facebook, shared in groups I was in. So, I decided I had to hear more from the man who seemed to be leading the charge.

I found a video of a talk by Dominic, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more in awe of a person than I did for those forty-five minutes. To hear someone speak so emotively and eloquently about a cause I cared so deeply about was wonderful. The depth of his knowledge was unmistakeable. This wasn’t somebody who just cared, this was somebody who knew every minute detail of the situation, somebody who could actually see the argument from both sides without bias (something that I could never do, even if I did only allow myself to read the science and try to keep away from the opinion). This was somebody who could speak for three quarters of an hour, giving facts and well thought out argument, being enthusiastic but entirely rational, without pausing or wavering, and without any notes!

The fight against the badger cull continues. The government seems adamant to push on with an inhumane, ineffective, unscientific policy. I won’t stop fighting, but I’m weary. I no longer email my MP about it, he stopped replying anyhow. I don’t even think that the next new piece of scientific evidence, which will suggest the cull cannot succeed, will have an impact upon the policy makers’ decisions, or the next, or the next. There was enough evidence to show the cull shouldn’t take place before it even started. But Dominic still rallies the troops.

A copy of his book, Badgered to Death, was recently delivered to every single member of the UK Parliament. If we continue to spread the word, to educate people, we will slowly change public opinion, which will go on to change political opinion, and hopefully eventually go on to change policy. I’m sure Dominic’s book will go a long way towards doing that, and I hope that I shall soon have the emotional strength to read it without exploding.

Following on from drafting this post, we were watching Chris Packham and David Attenborough in discussion at the Wildscreen Festival. My youngest daughter said, “Ooh, Chris Packham and David Attenborough, my two favourite people for information. I like Chris because he wrote a story, and I like David because he makes his sentences interesting.”

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