Broadening Birding’s Benefits

The writer, left, with Nadeem Perera and Ollie Olanipekun. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

When we managed our first lodge I came to understand that widening the audience of bird appreciation could strengthen commitment to conservation. A dozen years later, when Seth began working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, focused on celebrating urban birds, I knew that when he returned to work with us he would be bringing valuable knowhow.

When we started this platform for sharing news and personal stories related to our work, birds became a daily feature.

Olanipekun’s favourite bird is the ‘beautifully majestic’ barn owl. Photograph: Fletch Lewis/Getty Images

So Rebecca Liu’s story ‘It’s not just a white thing’: how Flock Together are creating a new generation of birdwatchers has various meanings for me. I can relate to the author’s novice sense of wonder as much as I can to Mr. Olanipekun’s decisive mention of the barn owl, featured frequently in our pages, as a favorite:

The nature collective was set up to encourage more people of colour to enjoy nature. Here, they take our writer on a spotting trip through the wildlands of north-east London

Through birding, Ollie Olanipekun (left) and Nadeem Perera are hoping to encourage children and young people to deepen their understanding and love for the environment. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

I have lived in cities all my life. My childhood did not involve any education in the outdoors. It would be fair to say my knowledge of birds doesn’t go much further than the varieties mentioned in Old Macdonald Had a Farm. So when I arrive at east London’s Walthamstow Wetlands on a cloudy November day to meet Ollie Olanipekun and Nadeem Perera for an afternoon of winter birdwatching, I am already apologetic for all that I do not know.

But it’s fine: Olanipekun and Perera are used to showing beginners around. In June 2020 they brought 15 people to this very same spot for the first outing of their collective, Flock Together, a birdwatching club that organises monthly walks for people of colour. Since then, they have regularly taken bigger groups of birdwatchers to woodlands across the south of England, from the Surrey Hills to the Essex marshes. They estimate that on each walk, 60% of the group are first-timers. I ask whether demand stays high in the winter. “We had 80 people turning out in the rain last December,” Olanipekun says with a grin. At this time of year, you might be able to see redwings and fieldfares arrive from colder parts of Europe for the winter. The wetlands is also home to one of the UK’s largest colonies of grey herons, and every evening a flock of parakeets make their way there to roost in the trees.

The pair were brought together thanks to a chance encounter on Instagram: Olanipekun posted some photos of birds he had seen on his walks, and Perera replied, naming them. They set up Flock Together last summer to challenge the under-representation of people of colour in outdoor spaces. Back then, Britons generally were exploring their local green spaces more, getting back to nature – and taking up birdwatching in droves.

Helen Moffat of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says: “Our website had 70% more views than usual over the first lockdown. More than 50% of those were on pages looking at bird identification. People were looking outside and wanting to know what they were seeing.”…

Read the whole article here.

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