Thursday, 17 October 2013

What's the need for NGB? A word from the Chairman

In answer to the question -"Why do we need NGB?": a blog post by Matt Bruce, back in September 2013. You can find it here if you prefer to read it at its original source.

"Are there enough young people seriously interested in birding, and on a wider scale, conservation, to fill the very large shoes of the older generations?

Are these young people as keen, knowledgeable and experienced as those that are at the top of their fields were in their youth?

Who will be the next Mark Avery, Martin Garner or Andy Clements? Or even the next Peter Scott or John Audubon?

Just a couple of questions I have been thinking about recently. The young people of today will be making the decisions and doing all the work tomorrow. A lot of effort goes into conservation; money, time and passion, but if there is not a concerted effort to create and encourage interest among the younger generations, the effort will be wasted as the competence, ability and experience of the current working generation will not be replaced.

This bothers me. As a 22 year old man, I'll explain how my interest was developed:

I began birding with my grandparents from a very early age. My first word was duck. At age 4 I was calling Pied Wagtails "Baby Magpies" and my first memory is of a Black Grouse lek in Northumberland when I was 5. I continued to be carted off round the UK by my grandparents until I was 14, seeing birds such as Ptarmigan in the Cairngorms and Bittern at Titchwell, which I loved and will never forget. Even with this fantastic start down the bird watching path, I became a teenager. My interest was lost, forgotten in a swirl of exams, bullying, first girlfriends and sports. And that would have been it, had I not met Zac Hinchliffe and Chris Bridge at university, 6 years after my last birding trip with my grandparents.
The simple event of meeting someone else, my own age, who had a passion for birds, sparked that interest again! These guys were not just part time bird lovers either! Oh no! Chris had twitched the East coast 6 times from Bangor, North Wales in the past year alone, and both were trainee bird ringers.

Ever since I met those two, after responding to an email about Pied Flycatcher surveys, I have not looked back. I am now a trainee bird ringer myself, I have begun to casually twitch (I am a second day twitcher on a good day, a second week twitcher if the bird has hung around the rest of the time) and regularly patch my local sites. I am an avid user of BirdTrack and have attended events such as the UK's first migration festival at Spurn this year. I would like to think I am beginning to make a valuable contribution to the one thing that captivates my passion above all else: Birds.

Now would I be doing any of that had I not met others already involved? There are 10,000 people at Bangor University, and had I not replied to that email, I would not now be writing this blog about how I think more young people should be encouraged into birding, as I could have simply missed these two now firm friends, and never thought anything of it.

What I am getting to is that an interest, is just that. An interest can be dropped for something else, or become a bore. What cannot be lost, is an obsession. I am obsessed with birds. But as a child, with so many new things always in front of me, I was only interested, and I think that it is critical to maintain that interest throughout childhood for it to have a good chance of developing into an obsession.

The main NGO's are very good at entertaining children with nature, and they form the foundations, add the kindling for that fiery obsession that could one day exist. But it is not enough in my opinion. Once that fire is lit and the smoke begins to rise, the flame needs to be fanned. With out being rude, the RSPB's Phoenix group, which is aimed at teenagers, does not do enough to create an interest in the more serious sides of birding, and caters more to those with a passing interest in the cuddly and cute. It just isn't cool, and with young people, image can be everything!

To answer my initial questions, no I do not believe there are enough young people actively interested. You only have to visit your local nature reserve or bird group to see that anyone who considers themselves young would bring down the average age considerably. Nor do I believe as many of us young people with an interest have the same skills, in practice and in theory, or experience that young people had 50 years ago, when it comes down to the natural world. You can actually find a negative aspect of the ban on egg collecting, a past time of many youngsters in a time gone by, as very few people these days possess the skills to find and identify nests, a valuable field craft in bird science today. The next big names in birding, conservation and discovery are already out there, learning their way through, but is there something we can do to help them?

There are enough young people out there, with that interest in the back of their mind, just waiting for it to burn into a bright obsession, but no one currently is trying to help and encourage them to do so! The best thing on offer to young people has been the BTO's grants for those wishing to visit bird observatories. WE NEED MORE IDEAS LIKE THIS PLEASE!

If you agree with me in any way, please get in touch, and I would love to discuss a venture that I, along with other young people, am undertaking, in an attempt to address the age imbalance in British birding. Next Generation Birders is an active and growing group of 13-25 year olds who have taken it upon themselves to encourage other young people to join them in their obsession and passion. NGB (as they are also known) have plans underway to create a network of, and for, young people to increase the interest in serious birding among the younger generation of wildlife enthusiasts. The aim is to encourage various bird related activities from patching, twitching, and involvement in local and national birding, to recording, surveying, identification discussion and anything else that will benefit the growth of interest in birding among young people, with a massive focus on networking and making friends. NGB believes that there is great potential within the younger generations that no other organisation or group is yet tapping into and thus have decided to tap into it themselves!"

Matt Bruce -NGB Chairman

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