Chris Packham praises Norwich wildlife blogger’s book
- Credit: Kate on Conservation
The beginning of 2020 was a time of big change for Kate Stephenson.
A wildlife and conservation writer based in Norwich, she had just taken the leap and had gone self employed.
She was also looking forward to the trip of a lifetime to Peru and Costa Rica after being named one of the winners in a competition organised by the eco tourism company Terra Incognito for a blog which she had written about her experiences of travelling and re-connecting with nature, and herself, while she was pregnant.
Then, in the March, came the first coronavirus lockdown. The freelance work that she had planned, such as talks, was cancelled more or less overnight and her trip was postponed.
Knowing that there would be others in the same situation, Kate decided to try and bring fellow conservationists together and created an online community called The Wildlife Blogger Crowd.
“A lot of people who I know who are freelancers and conservationists who would normally be travelling and doing research and photographing wonderful wildlife who were all grounded,” says Kate.
“We were all jumping on Zoom at that time and finding new ways to connect and I thought I would really like to start a community of fellow wildlife writers and bloggers, give a bit of promotion to people through my blog and give people a chance to discover other’s work and meet other conservationists.”
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Kate had saved up the money to pay for the flights for her trip, but with uncertainty about when international travel would be able to resume, she started to look at whether she could put it to good use elsewhere.
“I was really enjoying The Wildlife Blogger Crowd and really getting into it and I was wondering whether there was anything I could do to grow the community a bit more and use the money for the flights in a different way,” she says.
“So that’s when I thought I could perhaps self-publish a book and include tales from some of these storytellers and wildlife bloggers. I pitched it out there and they loved the idea.”
Kate gave potential contributors the brief of writing about a moment when they connected with nature and 50 were chosen for the book.
It includes pieces by Joe Harkness, author of the book Bird Therapy. The foreword is written by Jonathan Scott, famed for The Big Cat Diaries and the epilogue is from Virginia McKenna, co-founder of the Born Free Foundation, of which Kate is a trustee. Virginia’s son, Will Travers, who is president of the Born Free Foundation, is another contributor.
“Joe Harkness writes about using birdwatching to help with mental wellbeing, which is especially relevant to when we were in lockdown,” says Kate.
“Then we’ve got a piece from Charlotte Ditchburn, who writes about the importance of access to nature and public rights of way and how she works to campaign for access to public land.
“Shark scientist Hannah Rudd writes about the first time that she came face to face with a Great White Shark. And young conservationist Bella Lack writes about the first time she saw an orangutan.”
As Kate explains, when she sent out the brief, she didn’t know what contributions she would get – but when it came to compiling the book they formed a very obvious narrative.
“It took the form of going through a lifetime, so some people were writing about pregnancy and having babies and how being a parent changed the way they saw nature,” says Kate.
“Then a lot of people were looking back at their childhood and where their love of nature started, then there were pieces where people talked about their careers and then there were some older contributors who looked back.”
They included Kate’s 99-year-old grandma, who reflected on joining the war effort when she was 17.
“She writes about how her view of nature changed, from growing up in Norfolk and her childhood and then leaving the countryside for Welwyn Garden City,” she says.
Kate’s own love of nature began in childhood. The 31-year-old grew up in Thetford so would often go for walks in Thetford Forest and was encouraged to care for garden wildlife.
“I think that really sparked my interest early on and then as a child my nan showed me Born Free, the film, and I fell in love with lions and became interested in exotic wildlife,” she says.
Kate founded her blog, Kate on Conservation, 10 years ago and has worked as education editor for National Geographic Kids magazine and a sub editor for Discovery Education.
As well as being a trustee of the Born Free Foundation, she’s an ambassador for the Ocean Conservation Trust and International Aid for the Protection and Welfare of Animals.
Connections With Nature: 50 Moments of Meeting the Wild is published by the Journey Books imprint of travel specialist Brandt Guides.
It was launched on World Animal Day – although its Facebook launch had to be postponed because that also happened to be the day of the site’s worldwide outage. Kate was keen for the project to give back too and the aim of sponsoring an acre of rainforest in Belize via the World Land Trust in the name of the Wildlife Blogger Crowd has already been met.
People buying the book can also opt to purchase an additional copy which will be sent to the Talek Mixed Day and Boarding School in the Maasai Mara, which The Wildlife Blogger Crowd has partnered with through community member Jack Lekishon who has been working on a food relief programme with rural Maasai communities.
They have also donated stationery to the school from funds raised through the book’s online launch and an in-person event at Not Just Books in Thetford.
And the project has had support from Sir David Attenborough, who Kate sent a copy of the book to, and Chris Packham who called it a “fantastic, collaborative, beautiful book” on social media.
Its publication is timely, as many of us have found comfort in nature during the last two years of the pandemic - Kate, a mum of two young children, included.
“For me it was a place of peace and a release from the anxiety,” says Kate.
“I have a couple of young children at home and when the pandemic started my son was one and my daughter was two-and-a-half so we suddenly were plunged into a situation where we couldn’t see any relatives and couldn’t mix, couldn’t go to nursery, couldn’t do any of the mum and baby classes with my son...
“With young children it would get hectic and going out for those walks and looking for bugs and birds, that was what helped us all calm down and relax. And we kept busy with putting together a lockdown garden.
“A few of the stories in the book touched upon how people used nature to help them and their wellbeing at that time.”
Of course, many of us are currently wondering how we can play our part in helping the planet in the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis.
And the message from Kate and the book is that even the smallest steps can make a difference.
“I think that there are small, manageable changes that we can all make,” says Kate. “Those small steps build up to big steps. At home in lockdown we planted bee-friendly plants in our garden and started growing some vegetables. We look at what we can change in small increments, such as buying bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones or little changes in our diet.
“Sometimes we aren’t noticing the things that we are doing and worrying about what we’re not and actually If we focus positively on the steps that we’re already taking I think it doesn’t need to feel as overwhelming as it might do when you just focus on the big picture.”
Connections With Nature: 50 Moments of Meeting the Wild is available at Not Just Books in Thetford, Pensthorpe Natural Park and Waterstones, Bookbugs and Dragon Tales and Jarrold in Norwich. It can also be bought online at thewildlifebloggercrowd.com