Sunday 15 December 2019

RSPB Youth Council Weekend

21st September 2019
In September, I was lucky enough to be elected as a member of the RSPB Youth Council, then called the Phoenix Forum. This is a group of ten young people from the RSPB who give a voice to the organisation’s youth membership. It took two hours to drive to the New Forest, where the annual residential trip would be held, specifically at the organisation’s latest nature reserve, RSPB Franchises Lodge. When I arrived, I met Hannah Thomas, who’d led Zoom video conferences with young conservationists on the State of Nature Report 2019. The beautiful woodland was another world, stretching for miles in every direction: with the owners now being the RSPB, it made me feel hopeful for the future of this part of the National Park. 

After walking through the dense woodland, we reached the camp, a small clearing in the forest. There, I met Emily Lomax, who leads the Youth Council itself, and RSPB volunteers Anton, Fabian, Rob, Anna, Anneka, and Anneka’s son William. It was also wonderful to meet the other Youth Council members, many of whom I met for the first time: James, Jannis, Jasmijn, Anna, Sennen, Thomas, Rachel and Jess. We did some team building exercises to remember each other’s names, which was fun and very enjoyable. Lunch consisted of some splendid wraps with Moroccan houmous, and everyone sat round a campfire. 

The RSPB volunteers gave us an informative history of the site, and then we went to explore it for ourselves. This magical landscape seemed untouched, but as numerous as the trees was the invasive rhododendron. These ornamental plants had spread from someone’s garden, and now enveloped the reserve, poisoning the soil. In the hands of the RSPB, I’m sure the site will be restored to its former glory very soon.

RSPB Franchises Lodge

The forest came to an abrupt halt, at a dirt track leading to a storage area: this was an area with a high concentration of reptiles, which we were to look at an hour later. We walked through another stretch of woodland, before arriving at a massive pond. Anneka explained to us that this is a prime habitat for many Toads to breed, and that it may be designated as an SSSI in the future, protecting the population there. The pond faced a field, which was a habitat for one of the UK’s rarest arachnids, the Wasp Spider. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any, but were greeted by hordes of craneflies. Eventually, we found a toadlet, and an uncommon cricket species. Some of us even saw a Goshawk! We walked back slowly to the storage area, and were rewarded with stunning views of Common Lizards, and even more Toads. 

A toadlet

Common Lizard

We returned to the campfire for dinner, and beforehand, we collected firewood. On the way, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the New Forest, stood Cameron’s Cottage. This made me feel very excited, as when it is complete for the Cameron Bespolka Trust, there will be accommodation and a field studies centre, allowing us to instill a love of nature in local institutions. Dinner was amazing, and a few hours later, the sound of Soprano Pipistrelles filled the air as we did a bat walk. We were also told that Cameron’s Cottage already has one resident; a Greater Horseshoe Bat! After a long day, we all went to our tents and fell asleep.

Cameron's Cottage

22nd September 2019
The next morning, we woke up early for a session of ‘forest bathing’ by Fabian. We ventured into the vast expanse of woodland, and stood in various areas, meditating peacefully, focusing on different parts of the forest. An hour later, we walked back to the camp, had breakfast and packed away our tents. It started to rain heavily, and our only shelter was the kitchen tent! There, Rachel assigned different roles to us, and we discussed further events in the forum, including a name change to the RSPB Youth Council. When the weather had improved, we experienced the fun task of removing the invasive rhododendron. It had spread severely in some parts of the reserve, and we managed to remove a large amount, which was quite an achievement. After lunch, we explored more of the immense National Park, including the area around the site managers’ cottage- the fields were full of Wasp Spiders! Holding a sub-adult Toad was quite nice too. The cottage grounds were extremely biodiverse. 

We collected more firewood, headed back to the reserve entrance and said our goodbyes. This had been a memorable and eye-opening trip, meeting many like-minded young people, and engaging with the work of both the RSPB and the Cameron Bespolka Trust. I’d highly recommend visiting Franchises Lodge, and see the Cottage when it’s ready!

The RSPB Youth Council- photo credit: Emily Lomax

Saturday 16 November 2019

October Half Term

Here are a few events that have happened over the October Half Term:

23rd October 2019
On Wednesday evening, I visited the Mall Galleries, where the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) hold their annual exhibition, and during this time, many functions are held. One of these is the BTO Annual Awards Ceremony, where the organisation presents the Dilys Breese Medal and the BTO Marsh Awards for Ornithology, Local Ornithology, Innovative Ornithology, International Ornithology and Young Ornithologist. I was humbled to be this year's recipient of the Marsh Award for Young Ornithologist: I am very grateful for this honour, and from it, I hope more attention will be drawn to Nature Reserves of London, for more people to explore the wild side of the capital. I received the award from Charles Micklewright of the Marsh Christian Trust and Frank Gardner, President of the BTO. 

It was a fantastic evening, catching up with friends and making new ones, and it was memorable to meet the other recipients: Lesley Dolphin, Dan Chamberlain, Mike Smart, Gabriel Gargallo and and Petr Voříšek. What a memorable and fabulous evening!

Receiving the Marsh Award for Young Ornithologist from Charles Micklewright

27th October 2019
Saturday was the RSPB AGM, the first I had attended. Rachel Gardner, another member of the Phoenix Forum and I (now the RSPB Youth Council) were on the young people's stand for the morning, informing people about the RSPB's work with the younger demographic. It was great to meet James Miller again, and also the inspiring Dara McAnulty, both of whom made powerful speeches at the event. Between 11am and 1pm, the AGM was held, presenting the wide variety of events that the RSPB had been involved with, which was quite interesting. Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the talks after lunch as I had school homework! 

Team Photo- Dara, Rachel, James and I

29th October 2019
This was one of the rare occasions I was going birding in south London, specifically in Sutton and Merton. I was was joined by a fabulous young birder, Arjun Dutta, whose patch I was going to visit: the first stop was Beddington Farmlands. Usually I see this reserve as a group of lifeless fields from my flat in Croydon (which I don't visit very often), so it was wonderful to see it up close in all its glory. We headed down a wooded area, where the song of Chaffinches and Blackcaps could be heard. The reserve's beautiful and unique landscape is interrupted by a massive incinerator, which is an eyesore even in my Croydon flat. The creators of this unwelcome visitor had reluctantly made areas for birding, achieving the bare minimum of a hide: some corrugated pieces of iron stuck together, with an opening too high to view the lakes. When we had finally managed to see through it, there were flocks of Starlings, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall congregated about the lake. It's always magical to see urban wildlife at its best.

A campaign led by Peter Alfrey (whom I met the previous Wednesday) to restore Beddington Farmlands to its former glory has proved quite a success, with a 'friends' group being created and next boxes being placed. However the future of this landscape in Sutton remains uncertain, but let's hope it'll be for the better, benefiting London's wildlife.

A lake at Beddington Farmlands

A Kestrel with a Crow

A leucistic Crow in flight

The skyline of Croydon can be seen from the hides

A mini Starling murmuration

A large congregation of Gulls and Herons

Gulls, Herons and Crows, in the shadow of the incinerator

Starlings flying overhead

A hungry Black-headed Gull

Our next stop was Morden Hall Park, Arjun's main patch. Owned by the National Trust, this vast expanse of what used to be a private estate is right in the middle of Morden, a bustling town in the London Borough of Merton. We crossed from Sutton to Merton via an old and neglected footbridge, over the Thameslink railway line. We walked through a segment of Mitcham Common, another Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), where we were greeted by cheerful Great and Long-tailed Tits. This green corridor abruptly stopped at Mitcham Junction. Arjun told me the quickest way to travel between the sites was by tram- a form of transport which I had never used before. I found it fascinating how the tram blended in with the leafy suburbs of St Helier, Hackbridge and Morden. We got off at Phipps Bridge, and headed towards the park.

Arjun gave me a tour of north end of the Park, walking around the moat surround Morden Hall, diversions of the River Wandle where Kingfishers are found, and a new marshland which he helped to create last year. At this new marshland, we saw Long-tailed Tits and a few Moorhen, but Arjun had seen Snipe there recently. All of a sudden, a peculiar call was heard over the Park- we're still trying to figure out if it could be a Snow Bunting! Arjun then explained to me that Cetti's Warblers there are the most elusive he had seen anywhere, and that Wrens hide in the undergrowth, as if they were scurrying mice- I could see clearly that through careful habitat management, even in an urban area, waders, warblers, among other migratory species, can all flourish, with minimum disturbance.

We then headed out of Morden Hall Park itself, and passed Deen City Farm, outside which cows lowed peacefully in their pasture. Beside the Wandle, an excellent habitat for Kingfishers, a tit flock was present, and we struggled to take photos of it, while bearing the weight of our massive cameras. We returned to the marsh shortly after, and stopped for lunch, surrounded by the sights and sounds of Redwing, Fieldfares and warblers. 

The moat around Morden Hall

The Wandle

The new marshland

The marshland

A cow sitting peacefully in its pasture



After lunch, Arjun showed me the south side of the reserve, a boggy area created by the Wandle. This was where it flowed just metres away from the busy high street. After doing a short circular walk around the Park, we finished at the quaint garden centre at the entrance. What a fabulous first time birding south of the Thames!

30th October 2019
In the evening, I returned to the Mall Galleries for another reception, this time with the Cameron Bespolka Trust. It was wonderful to catch up with the other young ambassadors, and meet many people with connections to the Trust and the RSPB. It was also a great opportunity to see the artwork, which was superb!

The Cameron Bespolka Trust Ambassadors

31st October 2019
On Wednesday I visited the fabulous Walthamstow Wetlands, the flagship reserve of the London Wildlife Trust for the first time! Unfortunately the main part, the south side, was closed, so I ventured to the north side, which didn't disappoint whatsoever! It's always magical to see the contrast of the London skyline with the capital's wild side, and here I felt it the most: nestled in the Lee Valley in Waltham Forest, the Maynard and Lockwood Reservoirs are teeming with waterbirds, while Peregrines soar above- some of our urban avifauna at its finest. I met local birders Lol Bodini and Dave Bradshaw, who I see frequently post sighting on the London Bird Club page- a useful tool to look for uncommon birds in the capital. They had found a Brambling, a migratory finch which can be sometimes seen around the reservoirs. It lay silent in bushes, and I was told that it had been feeding calmly, undisturbed by passers-by. 

I decided to check on the bush later on, and walked beside Low Maynard Reservoir. The repetitive 'mewing' of a Peregrine could be heard above, and many Tufted Ducks, Pochard and Great Crested Grebe swam about the lake. After hearing from Lol that there was no sign of the Brambling, I climbed up a steep hill, to find very choppy waters, not dissimilar to that of Staines Reservoir in Surrey. Again the Peregrine could be seen, and a Kestrel darted to and fro between the reservoirs, scanning for small mammals in the grass. Behind Lockwood Reservoir, amidst many tower blocks, the new White Hart Lane Stadium and Ally Pally dominated the horizon. After not bothering to walk the whole length of Lockwood Reservoir I headed down to High Maynard Reservoir, which is home to a Little Egret Colony. This lake was very quiet. 

Low Maynard Reservoir

Tufted Ducks

A Goldfinch sits in a tree overlooking Low Maynard Reservoir

Tufted Ducks

The skyline 


A distant Peregrine

Lockwood Reservoir

A hungry Kestrel

A Little Egret and a Heron on an island in High Maynard Reservoir

A Cormorant in flight

I walked back to the Engine House, where I was met by a huge inspiration of mine and leading figure in urban birding, David Lindo. We were going to do an interview for Radio 4, about being a young birder in London. We went back to the north side, where a local fisherman shouted to us that the Brambling had returned. I ran. And there it was, a beautiful finch, feeding on seeds in the dead grass. Suddenly, I noticed a massive boom mike speed towards my face, and the interview had begun, with the Brambling being the audience. I was asked questions by David and by Helen from Radio 4 on how we can appeal birding to a wider audience, and what can young people in London do for nature. It was all very exciting!

4th November 2019
 On the last day of this wonderful half term, I visited Westbury Banks Nature Reserve, for the first time since Luke Newcombe introduced me to it in July. It was great to see it in a different season, and we were going to build a bird hide! Luke and his volunteer group, Boris, Charlie and Jessica manage the reserve every few weeks, and we chose a spot for the hide to be built, overlooking the pond and within a forest-like habitat. We used a mini-sledgehammer to put four wooden stakes in place, and then nailed a circular wire mesh around the top to it, almost looking like a 360-degree hide. Finally, we put a camouflage net over the mesh, and the structure of the hide was complete! It took one-and-a-half hours for us to build it, and it was built entirely out of recyclable material! We will soon add wooden slats, a pathway and a gravel flooring to the hide to complete it, and I was humbled that it has been named the Kabir Bird Hide! 

What a fabulous half term I have had exploring the wild side of the capital, and can't wait to continue! 

With Boris, Jessica, Charlie and Luke after completing the main hide 

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.