The start of 2020 has been a time of big change for Kate Stephenson.
A wildlife and conservation writer based in Norwich, she had just taken the plunge and gone freelance.
She was also looking forward to the trip of a lifetime to Peru and Costa Rica after being named one of the winners of a competition organized by the ecotourism company Terra Incognito for a blog she wrote about her experiences of journey and reconnection. with nature, and with herself, while she was pregnant.
Then, in March, came the first coronavirus lockdown. Freelance work she had planned, such as conferences, was canceled more or less overnight and her trip was postponed.
Knowing there would be others in the same situation, Kate decided to try to bring other conservationists together and created an online community called The Wildlife Blogger Crowd.
“A lot of people I know who are freelancers and conservationists who would normally travel, research and photograph wonderful wildlife who were all grounded,” says Kate.
“We were all jumping on Zoom at the time and finding new ways to connect and I thought I would really like to create a community of other wildlife writers and bloggers, give a little promoting people through my blog and giving people a chance to learn about the work of others and meet other conservationists.
Kate had been saving money to pay for flights on her trip, but with uncertainty over when international travel might resume, she began to see if she could put it to good use elsewhere.
“I was really enjoying The Wildlife Blogger Crowd and I was really getting into it and wondering if there was anything I could do to grow the community a bit more and use the flight money in a way different,” she said.
“That’s when I thought maybe I could self-publish a book and include stories from some of these wildlife storytellers and bloggers. I threw it out there and they loved it. idea.
Kate gave potential contributors the mandate to write 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, famous for The Big Cat Diaries and the epilogue is by 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 well-being, which is particularly relevant when we were in lockdown,” Kate explains.
“Next we have an article by 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 expert Hannah Rudd recounts the first time she came face-to-face with a great white shark. And young ecologist Bella Lack recounts the first time she saw an orangutan.
As Kate explains, when she sent the dossier 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 looked at nature,” Kate explains.
“Then a lot of people would think back to when they were kids and where their love of nature started, then there were bits where people were talking about their careers, then there were older contributors looking back. .”
Among them was Kate’s 99-year-old grandmother, who was considering joining the war effort when she was 17.
“She writes about how her view of nature has changed, since growing up in Norfolk and her childhood, then moving from the countryside to Welwyn Garden City,” she says.
Kate’s love for nature began in her childhood. The 31-year-old grew up in Thetford, so he often walked through the Thetford forest and was encouraged to take care of the wildlife in the garden.
“I think it really sparked my interest at first, then when I was a kid my grandma showed me Born Free, the movie, and I fell in love with lions and got 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 Deputy Editor for Discovery Education.
In addition to being a Trustee of the Born Free Foundation, she is an Ambassador for the Ocean Conservation Trust and International Animal Welfare Aid.
Connections With Nature: 50 Moments of Meeting the Wild is published by the Journey Books imprint of travel specialist Brandt Guides.
It launched on World Animal Day – although its Facebook launch had to be postponed as it was also the day of the site’s global blackout. Kate was keen for the project to also give back and the goal of sponsoring an acre of rainforest in Belize through the World Land Trust on behalf of Wildlife Blogger Crowd has already been achieved.
People who purchase the book can also choose to purchase an additional copy to be sent to Talek Mixed Day and Boarding School in the Maasai Mara, which The Wildlife Blogger Crowd has partnered with through a member of the Jack Lekishon community who worked on food aid. program with rural Maasai communities.
They also donated stationery to the school with funds raised through the book’s online launch and an in-person event at Not Just Books in Thetford.
And the project has received support from Sir David Attenborough, to whom Kate sent a copy of the book, and Chris Packham who called it a “fantastic, collaborative and beautiful book” on social media.
Its publication comes at a good time, as many of us have found solace in nature over the last two years of the pandemic – Kate, mother of two young children, included.
“For me, it was a place of peace and a release from anxiety,” says Kate.
“I have two young children at home and when the pandemic started my son was one and my daughter was two and a half, so suddenly we were thrown into a situation where we couldn’t see any parents and couldn’t not mix, couldn’t go to nursery, couldn’t do any of the mom and baby classes with my son…
“With young children it got hectic and going out for those walks and looking for bugs and birds is what helped us all calm down and relax. And we got busy creating a walled garden.
“A few of the stories in the book touched on how people used nature to help them and their well-being at that time.”
Of course, many of us are currently wondering how we can contribute to 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 there are small, manageable changes we can all make,” says Kate. “These small steps turn into big steps. At home, in confinement, we planted bee-friendly plants in our garden and started growing vegetables. We look at what we can change in small increments, like buying bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones or small changes in our diet.
“Sometimes we don’t notice the things we’re doing and we worry about what we’re not doing and actually if we’re focusing positively on the steps we’re already taking, I think that doesn’t need to be done. be as overwhelming as it could be when you only focus on the big picture.
Connections With Nature: 50 Moments of Meeting the Wild is available from Not Just Books in Thetford, Pensthorpe Natural Park and Waterstones, Bookbugs and Dragon Tales and Jarrold in Norwich. It can also be purchased online at thewildlifebloggercrowd.com