Saturday, 28 September 2019

AFON Now for Nature Conference

7th September 2019
For one weekend in September, the Natural History Museum was hosting the largest conference and celebration of young conservationists in Britain. I attended the second day of this amazing event, which was held by A Focus On Nature (AFON), the UK's largest youth network for nature. I saw many familiar faces when I got there at 9am: young wildlife enthusiasts, activists and conservationists! The opening panel at the Flett Lecture Theatre was chaired by Yetunde, ambassador for Action4Conservation, with the theme of inclusiveness and diversity within nature conservation. It was very interesting to hear the responses on the topic from people from many different organisations. 

Alex White, Finlay Pringle and myself

Afterwards, we headed to the De La Beche Room, on the other side of the museum. Here, amazing and informative talks were given by Alex White, about his experiences with nature and inspirations for his guide for young wildlife enthusiasts, 'Get Your Boots On', and Finlay Pringle, who has campaigned in many ways against the mistreatment of sharks in the UK and beyond. The final talk of the session was by an organisation called Wild Intrigue, which has an inventive way of getting people of all walks of life into nature: food! They host pizza nights and muffin mornings, and then give participants bat detectors and binoculars, and, as they put it, 'force' them to watch wildlife!

Alex, Finlay, young wildlife enthusiast Amelia and myself then had the exciting opportunity of being interviewed by the Mirror, which was great! Lunch consisted of a delicious vegan roll. At around 2pm, we went back inside the Flett Lecture Theatre, where the session I was taking part in took place. 

The first of three talks was by Jodie Holyoake, a naturalist living on the Cornish Coast, who spoke about getting people into nature by regular beach cleans, wildlife watching and even Scuba diving! Next was my talk, on my map, Nature Reserves of London. I gave a guide to the different colour-coded points on the map, some surprises I have found while out and about, and the map's future. At the Q and A after the talk, a lot of people said they wanted the map to be an app! There were also some other ideas, such as mapping wildlife corridors and working with ZSL, the Natural History Museum and the London Wildlife Trust to spread the word. The final talk was by Aaron Bhambra of the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust, who gave a very interesting talk on Britain's bees and wasps. 

Talking about wildlife in London

The penultimate session of the day was led by Matt Williams, ex-chair of AFON, with the theme of how young people can take action against climate change. The day was concluded with a motivational speech from Stephen Moss, on how we should protect the planet sustainably for future generations.

 The conference was a superb day, listening to people's experiences and encounters with nature, past, present and future.

Everyone who attended the conference on Saturday

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Birdfair 2019

16th August 2019
It was a three-hour drive for my mum and I to get to Britain's smallest county, Rutland, for my second Birdfair. This is a festival which brings birders and nature enthusiasts from all around the globe together, for three days. I was very excited to meet so many faces and meet new ones too, over this fantastic weekend.

For the most part of Friday I was meeting so many people! I met David Walsh at the Limosa stand, as well the other Cameron Bespolka ambassadors and trustees, including Corinne Bespolka, Amy Hall, Elliot Monteith and Toby Carter, and young naturalists James Miller and Samuel Levy. Next, I headed to the BTO stand, where it was great to see Nick Moran, Faye Fogely, Andy Clements and Jenny Gill again. The new president of the BTO, BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, gave an interesting talk on his passion for birds, especially in the Middle East, and I was very privileged to meet him as well. 

I then visited a few stalls, seeking to build up my collection of pin badges, and bumped into Stephen Moss, Mike Dilger and David Lindo! It was raining heavily outside, so I didn't go birding out on Rutland Water. The rain had turned the ground into thick, oozing mud, which was something everyone had to put up with for the whole weekend!

In the evening, we listened to a panel answering questions on the state of nature in Britain. However, the rain did not stop, and my mum was afraid that the car could get stuck in the thick mud. We ran back to the car, and, with some difficulty, eventually returned to the small annex we were staying at in Oakham.

Frank Gardner giving a talk at the BTO stand

17th August 2019
From 10am to 11am I volunteered at the OSME stand, explaining to visitors about the work of OSME around the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia: this included a new app, functioning as a digital guide of Birds of the Middle East. For the rest of the morning I visited a few stands, and from 12pm to 2pm I went on Toby's annual Young Birders' walk, where it was great to catch up with friends. The highlights were Ruddy Shelduck, Black Tern, Great White Egret and of course, the famous Rutland Ospreys!

The OSME team

Gulls, Lapwing and Ruff

Ruddy Shelduck

Great White Egret in flight

Great White Egret in flight



Elliot and I left early, to attend a mini reception at the OSME stand, announcing their Youth Development Fund. This will be used to educate young people across the Middle East to enjoy and engage with the natural world. It was wonderful to talk to Tomas Haraldsson there, whose brainchild was the Fund, and is OSME's new Youth Development Officer. Two hours later, after visiting some more stalls, I went to the RSPB Careers Clinic, where I got helpful advice on careers in conservation, from experts from the RSPB and the BTO.

The day ended with a photo by A Focus On Nature (AFON) of all the young people attending Birdfair. What a brilliant day!

The AFON photo

18th August 2019
The final day of Birdfair was spent doing an exciting talk with the Cameron Bespolka Trust, alongside Amy Hall, Elliot Monteith, Alex Chapman and Michael Sinclair, and trustees Kieth Betton and Sarah Neish were there too. More than sixty people attended, and it was wonderful to be able to inform them about the many aspects of the Trust, and how they can be inspired to make a difference. It was amazing! Afterwards, we said our goodbyes, marking the end of another outstanding Birdfair. I can't wait for next year!

The Cameron Bespolka Trust ambassadors and trustees

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

London National Park City Week

This post is about the week London was declared the world's first ever National Park City, a designation encouraging cities to become greener, healthier and wilder.

22nd July 2019
I had just returned from a short trip to Hungary the day before, and couldn't wait for this exciting, historical week. I had only been a part of the London National Park City campaign for under a year, and I had been invited to speak at the Summit at City Hall, where London would gain its new designation. When I arrived at the unusually-shaped building, It was brilliant to meet the inspirational Dan Raven-Ellison, guerrilla geographer and founder of the National Park City movement, as well as the National Park City team, including Tim Webb, editor of the National Park City Maker newspaper, and Paul De Zylva, chair of the National Park City Foundation. I was also privileged to meet Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, who informed me of his birding travels around the world, and books he has written about the Spix's Macaw! 

At the VIP room a few floors above, I was introduced to people from all aspects of the campaign: Ebs Akintade, TV presenter and broadcaster, Princess-Joy Emeanuwa, young nature enthusiast and ambassador for Action4Conservation, Marianella Cervi, head of Timberland's sustainability programmes, Feryal Clark, deputy mayor of Hackney, Kobie Brand, director of Local Governments for Sustainability's Cities Biodiversity Centre, Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for the Environment and Energy, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. 

At 10:00 we walked into City Hall itself, which had a very long spiral staircase winding upwards to a viewing area, where we would have lunch. Ebs welcomed us all to the event, which was followed by a history of the National Park City campaign from Dan. Sadiq Khan then gave a mayoral address, praising the work of the campaign and the steps we should take forward after the declaration. The rest of the morning was packed with talks given from a range of organisations from London and beyond, such as National Geographic, Hackney Council, Charlton Manor Primary School, Timberland and Heston Action Groups, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great honour and a privilege to speak there myself, representing the Cameron Bespolka Trust. My talk was about how we can all see London in a completely new way, by protecting and enjoying the wildlife on our doorstep. All the speakers got to sign the National Park City Charter, which was very exciting!

Lunch took place at the very top of the building, where I met many more people from different organisations across London, all making the capital a better place for everyone. I was also given the opportunity of a short interview on the viewing platform, where I was asked about how I think London's wildlife would be affect by the designation, particularly migratory birds.

The afternoon was mainly discussion panels, in which a large range of organisations participated in, including the Greater London Authority, Wild in the City, the Ramblers and Glasgow National Park City. 

I had a wonderful time at the Summit, meeting and hearing about so many amazing people and organisations, who all have a massive influence on the capital, and I am very grateful to have seen London being given this amazing designation.

One of the afternoon's discussion panels

Meeting the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, Marianella Cervi and Paul De Zylva

Speaking at the Summit

24th July 2019
On Wednesday, I visited a number of places around the capital, one being St Pancras Square, King's Cross. Taking place there was one of National Park City Week's flagship events. The London National Park City Photography Competition. There were many beautiful and entertaining photos of Foxes in Lewisham, Red Deer in Richmond Park and even a white Squirrel in Tooting! I was lucky to be a finalist myself, with my photo, 'Rainham Robin', taken at RSPB Rainham Marshes.

Photos from the competition

Photos from the competition

My entry, 'Rainham Robin'

I then headed to Noel Park in Haringey, where I met Luke Newcombe, a wildlife gardener and head of GrowN22, an organisation transforming the N22 postcode into a sustainable, green environment. He showed me around his fantastic nature reserve, Westbury Banks, which is within minutes' walking distance from Turnpike Lane Station. The reserve is an oasis for the wildlife of Wood Green, with many species of butterfly such as Red Admiral, Comma, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and Brimstone, and I also saw my first Jersey Tiger Moth there too! Luke told me about the many challenges he faces in the nature reserve, which has inspired me to become more resilient and resourceful in my own garden, and was fascinated by how the reserve gets children involved with practical work as well. He showed me many aspects of the reserve, including a tree avenue, fox runs, bug motels and a wildlife pond, which is flourishing. I look forward to help design and build the reserve's bird hide with Luke and the reserve's volunteers in the near future, and I can't wait to visit again soon!

Jersey Tiger Moth

Bug motel

The wildlife pond

Cotton growing near the tree avenue

26th July 2019
On Friday I decided to visit a local site in Hillingdon, called Gutteridge Wood. Managed by the London Wildlife Trust and within the Yeading Woods Local Nature Reserve, the woods provide a habitat for Squirrels and Roe Deer, and the Yeading Brook, a tributary of the River Crane (which flows out into the Thames at Twickenham) is home to Frogs. Families of Squirrels can be seen playfighting, and virtually dominate the treetops. Unfortunately, the Yeading Brook had dried up in places, which was a very worrying sign. However, butterflies thrived in the adjacent meadows. In the coming months I hope to visit this reserve again, a hidden gem right on my doorstep!

The Yeading Brook

A part of the brook which is close to drying up

Gutteridge Wood



The Squirrels are everywhere!

27th July 2019
To end this spectacular week, I visited a more unusual designated site, a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) directly opposite Wimbledon Common. Wat Buddhapadipa, or the Thai Temple, is a magnificent Buddhist temple in Wimbledon, and is not the first place people think of when watching wildlife in London. the temple grounds are filled with the song of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Treecreepers, Robins, Blue Tits, Goldfinches and many other species. There is a small woodland, with Barn Owls, Magpies and Squirrels, and a tranquil lake, where Mallards, Moorhens and even Herons can be found! 

The Buddhapadipa Temple

A Heron standing still on the lake's waterwheel

The Temple's Wildlife Protection Area

A foraging Squirrel

The Temple's woodland

The visit to the Temple provided a superb ending for a historic week, and in the weeks, months and years that follow, everyone in London and beyond should be encouraged to make life on the capital greener, healthier and wilder for all.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Volunteering at the Dingle

12th May 2019
When I was looking for volunteering opportunities around my area, the most interesting and exciting one was a few minutes away in the neighbouring London Borough of Harrow, specifically in Pinner Green. This was a small area mainly comprised of Montesole Playing Fields, and the ancient Grim's Dyke, a stretch of wall which dated back to Roman times. Apart form its fascinating history, adjacent to the playing fields lies a small, secluded woodland called the Dingle, managed by the Harrow Nature Conservation Forum (HNCF). On my first visit there, I met Karen Pillai, the warden who manages the site. Karen kindly showed me around the Dingle, home to large numbers of Badgers and Foxes which coexist underground: she also knew individual animals' favourite spots, and all the ancestral Fox and Badger paths! 

We then went to the edge of the woodland, where Karen showed the new expansion of the Badger sett, intended for their young (similar to a nursery). The area was a perfect habitat for birds, and I ended up seeing Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Red Kite and Green Woodpecker!


Green Woodpecker

Red Kite Vs. Carrion Crow

14th May 2019
Karen gave me an introduction to feeding the Foxes, which was very exciting! By every fox run (a path which Foxes use to get around), I had to put an egg, and a few jam sandwiches on top of it. The feeding was part of a six-week drive to clear up mange amongst the Fox population. The Foxes were very calm and friendly, and were used to being fed up close, so I got amazing views of them throughout the evening!

One of this year's cubs with an egg

One of my most memorable encounters with a Fox

15th-18th May 2019
The next few days were very similar: scattering plums outside the Badger sett, and putting eggs and sandwiches out for the Foxes. However, they were all very memorable, and I saw a few Pipistrelle Bats too! The Fox population seemed to have increased quite a lot this year, as in total, more than ten cubs came to eat the food I put out. This was presumably because they were left by their parents to fend for themselves, and by putting drops of anti-mange on the food, all of their health improved considerably well!

Badger footprint

One of this year's cubs sniffing for eggs

A Fox stares curiously at my camera

What seems to be a Pipistrelle

This volunteering experience has not only helped me discover some of the amazing wildlife near my doorstep, but has made me notice that even the smallest of habitats can be home to a myriad of wildlife, so a big thank you to Karen and NCF for showing me such a wonderful green space. This is one reason why London is soon to be declared a National Park City, on 22nd July. The Dingle should definitely receive the designation of Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), so I'd encourage Harrow Council to come and assess the site. Finally, the next time you're in the London Borough of Harrow, I'd encourage you to visit one of HNCF's many sites, including Bentley Priory, Stanmore Common and Newton Farm Ecology Park, the latter which I will be volunteering at from September. By visiting these sites, we can all have the potential to make Harrow greener, healthier and wilder!

A view of the Dingle and the abandoned Pinner Chalk Mine- get exploring!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Open Garden Squares Weekend

8th June 2019
After finishing most of my exams, and with nothing to do, I thought it would be a great opportunity to do something London and wildlife related. So, as part of an event which I had been looking forward to doing for a number of years, I visited four different gardens, as part of Open Garden Squares Weekend. This annual event allows the public to visit all sorts of gardens throughout inner London, most of which are private spaces.

My first stop was the Barbican Wildlife Garden (BWG), which I'd previously visited in February, and this is a garden with many brilliant, dedicated volunteers, who tend the garden in their spare time. It was wonderful to meet Jo, and a few other volunteers again, as well as Dorothy, the resident poet. The wildflower meadow was brilliant, and a surprise to find one in the City!

One of the two ponds in the Garden, which have been home to a number of Frogs this year

Feral Pigeons

A wildflower meadow-in the City!

Next, I headed to a rather unusual garden off Aldgate- Sir John Cass Primary School's Roof Garden. A spectacular garden with brilliant views of the City, it is wonderful to see that primary school children have planted vegetables and a variety of flowers, to allow themselves to engage with nature and for pollinators to thrive. 

It was also great to talk to the City Gardener there too, who explained to me how the garden benefits the local area, and how the children use it.

Bumblebee pollinating 

The Rooftop Garden has a wide variety of plants

The Garden has some amazing views- yet another oasis of life in the City

The Garden

Afterwards, I walked to the City/Tower Hamlets border, where it was wonderful to meet Nic Guerra again, who I'd previously met at the BWG in February, at his Secret Garden next to All Hallows by the Tower. He uses his garden as a home for plants rescued from development, government buildings and people's homes, and tends them, before giving them to local church groups, schools and other places, which I think is a great idea! His Secret Garden has many species of plants, native and non-native, and has a few resident Great Tits. 

Nic's Secret Garden

Bicycle racks, old carrier bags and containers are used to give plants a home here!

Great Tit


From Tower Hill Station, I took the Circle Line to King's Cross, and walked over the Regent's Canal, past the London Wildlife Trust's Camley Street Natural Park (closed for building works), and beside Lewis Cubitt Park. Within a secluded part of the King's Cross Central development, lay a very innovative and extraordinary garden- the Skip Garden. Yes, it is a garden, which produces a variety of local produce and a fantastic green space, through the use of rubbish skips. There is even a greenhouse constructed entirely from old windows from across London! The garden is the result of a local community creating a space for sustainable farming and wildlife, in a very unlikely way, and is an amazing example of what we should all do- creating something innovative and exciting, using basic resources.

The skips

An interesting way of enjoying a garden...

Lavender growing in the Herb Skip

A greenhouse made from windows-complete with a bat box

After visiting four inspiring gardens, I decided to walk by the Regent's Canal into Islington- an area where I'd mapped many wildlife sites, some of which I'd visit very soon...

Battlebridge Basin, on the Camden/Islington border and home to the London Canal Museum

A Coot nest!


A superb mural of the birds of the Regent's Canal, near Caledonian Road

I soon realised that I was near two wildlife sites, one of which was Barnsbury Wood LNR, London's smallest publicly accessible local nature reserve (the smallest is Burnt Ash Pond LNR in Lewisham, which has limited access). Unfortunately it had shut an hour before, so I visited Thornhill Square instead, the other wildlife site. It's been wonderful exploring hidden oases throughout the inner city, and I hope to visit them next year too! However, all green spaces should be enjoyed by everyone, all the time.



Another interesting garden at Caledonian Road & Barnsbury Station