Sometimes you are lucky enough to discover hidden treasure. Whilst looking at various wildlife blog sites, I was fortunate to do just that; I unearthed gold. Alicia Hayden is a very talented young woman, amongst her talents are those of artist, filmmaker, poet, photographer and writer. She is a young person with a passion for wildlife, inspiring people to connect with the natural world around them through her art, poetry and media work. Exactly the values that WingSearch holds dear. She has agreed to give us some insights into how she views our world, her thoughts on how to reconnect young people with nature and her future aspirations. I’ll let Alicia take over, enjoy her tale…….
I am a young wildlife photographer, artist, writer, and film-maker from North Yorkshire, currently studying Biological Sciences at Oxford University. Ever since I can remember I’ve loved exploring nature. My interest in wildlife photography started when I was 10 and discovered the macro setting on my camera, leading me to take the “Dancing Hoverfly” photograph, and I have been photographing wildlife ever since!
I particularly enjoy taking photos of birds and invertebrates – I love finding unusual angles and lighting. My photos are taken from around the UK, showing the huge diversity of British wildlife.
My website contains some of my favourite photos from over the years, including some of my award-winning photographs, artwork, and poetry. All photos, artwork, poems, and film are copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without my permission.
You can view my awards on my website, and some of my favourite pieces of photography, art, writing, and film in my portfolio.
What event triggered your interest in the natural world?
I’m from North Yorkshire, and both my parents love the natural world, so I was surrounded by nature from a young age, and I’ve always been interested in it!
You are currently studying Biological Sciences at University. Where would you like this to lead you in terms of career?
I’ve always aspired to work in wildlife filmmaking, which is one of the main reasons I chose to study Biological Sciences at university. I would like to pursue a career in this, as well as continuing to do my own wildlife photography, art, and writing.
You have recently published a book of poetry ‘Rain Before Rainbows’ which you must be very proud of. Tell us what first inspired you to do this and the process involved in selecting which poems to feature.
I was inspired to produce Rain before Rainbows after watching Sir David Attenborough’s BBC documentary Extinction: The Facts, last year. As I was watching the harrowing footage of environmental degradation, I became even more determined to do something to raise awareness about our environment and why we should protect it. It was while I was watching the documentary that I composed one of the poems from the book, Paper Flower, which I think acts as a point of change between the two parts of the collection.
I wanted to have a mixture of my poems written, from when I was 8 to 21, so I gathered all the poems I’d written, and selected the ones I thought were the most fitting. I then sorted them into the two parts of the poetry book according to if they were more negative, reflecting on the problems our world currently faces, or more optimistic and celebratory of our natural world.
Purple, green, black –
An iridescent angel against a golden sky.
A haunting call
As she searches for her young.
And as night wraps its cold hands
around the huddled birds,
the Lapwing lets out one last cry
and it swirls up, up, up,
into the Autumn sky.
Alicia Hayden 2019
You can order my debut illustrated wildlife poetry book Rain before Rainbows in my shop.
You are an accomplished wildlife artist and work with various art media and styles. What inspires you to illustrate a certain subject? Could you tell us how you view the relative merits of each media as a tool for expressing how you feel about the subjects you depict?
Thank you! My inspiration varies: sometimes I draw directly from my own photos, sometimes I’ll see an animal when I’m on a walk and be inspired to illustrate it, and sometimes I just feel like drawing a certain subject! I find it quite interesting to work to challenging briefs too, as that stretches me to come up with more imaginative pieces.
I’m still developing my own style, so I’m trying out lots of different media at the moment. I like drawing in biro when I want to draw a subject accurately, as I find it easier to make controlled lines and add lots of detail. More recently I’ve been experimenting with colourful inks and ink pens, and I think this has helped me create a more stylised approach, with the colours I use reflecting the emotions felt in the piece, or accenting certain colours in the subject I am depicting.
You produce a wildlife blog in which you share your thoughts on conservation as a mixture of poetry and narrative. Share with us why you’ve chosen to connect in this way.
It was a by-product of making my website! I tend to post things when I’ve worked on a project, or produced some new content, but I do occasionally write specific blog posts too! I think blogs can be a really effective way of informally engaging with people about wildlife and conservation issues, so I’d definitely encourage young people to start one if they feel like they have something to say!
Your short wildlife films are well crafted, informative and demonstrate your love of all things wild, especially the tiny creatures that are easily overlooked. Do you see this side of your creativity developing?
Thank you, and yes definitely! As I’ve always aspired to work in the wildlife filmmaking industry, I thought it would be useful to start experimenting with making my own short films about the wildlife I encounter. I often work with my partner on them, so he will do voiceovers and music, while I do the film and editing – it’s great fun!
You care passionately about wildlife conservation and I note a percentage of the sale cost of your book goes towards supporting the wildlife hospital Tiggywinkles. Why have you chosen this charity?
I knew I wanted to donate half the profits of Rain before Rainbows to charity, and my Dad suggested Tiggywinkles. I really love the fact they work with rescuing and rehabilitating British wildlife, which is my main subject for photography and art, and I think it’s so important to support conservation charities with their work, so I got in touch with them and showed them the book, which they loved. We then just set up an agreement, and it’s worked really well.
Personally, I think one of the greatest challenges facing modern day conservationists is connecting people, especially young people, to nature. Would you agree with this? And if so, how do you think we could all better connect with nature? To what degree would you see this connection as an important element to general wellbeing?
Definitely, I think with increased technology there’s been a decrease in young children going outside and exploring nature, even in my lifetime. I think it requires people to be self-motivated and to have a genuine interest and love of nature, and often this will occur if they have an exciting or memorable experience, such as seeing their first Kingfisher, for example. I think there should be a greater emphasis in schools to allow children the time and space to engage with nature, such as through forest schools, and then hopefully their love of nature will be shared with their parents. Ultimately, I hope it’s something that happens organically, perhaps as an unexpected consequence of the current pandemic, as more people explore their local areas and discover the nature on their doorsteps.
This connection to nature is definitely an essential element to our general wellbeing – both physically and mentally. There are numerous scientific studies highlighting the health benefits of spending time in nature, from increased relaxation, reduced stress, and boosted immune systems. I think it’s something lots of people are becoming more aware of, as they find solace in nature during the pandemic.
Nature is not always considered cool. What advice would you give to young people that have an interest in the natural world but perhaps don’t know how to engage or express this?
I think nature is cool! There is a growing number of youth organisations for young people to get involved with if they have an interest in the natural world, like the RSPB’s Phoenix Club for teenagers, the youth nature network A Focus on Nature – which pairs young people with mentors in different environmental sectors according to their interests – and local nature or eco clubs such as the Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife Watch groups. If a young person is a bit shy to engage in large groups like this, I would say that just going for walks with their family, and perhaps taking a camera or sketchbook to record what they see might be a really rewarding way to engage with nature and explore their interest in the natural world further. I always take my camera with me when I go for walks, as you never know what you might see!
What is your favourite or most admired animal (or group) and why?
I think I have two very different favourite animals. The first is the Arctic Tern, because I find them so beautiful and inspiring – their migrations are incredible! I have some really fond memories of photographing them on the Isle of May in Scotland.
My second is the Amur Leopard, which is the most endangered big cat in the world. I first came across them in 2009/10 when I adopted one through the WWF, and I’ve been adopting them ever since! I was horrified to discover how few there were left when I first found out about them, and I’ve found their increase in numbers really inspiring and hopeful. There’s just something about the Amur Leopard that I’ve always been drawn to, and I’d love to see one in the wild, one day.
Who or what are your heroes/heroines/greatest Inspirations?
My parents. My Dad does a lot of wildlife photography, and has always encouraged my love for this, as well as friendly competition for “the best photo” on family holidays! My Mum has always helped us to spot and identify wildlife species, as well as encouraging me to improve my wildlife art, photography, poetry and film. Both of them have always loved nature, and taught me and my sister to care for, and respect, the natural world. And of course, Sir David Attenborough! He is a truly inspirational broadcaster and natural historian who has done so much in making everyone aware of the beauty and fragility of the natural world.
Recall your most exciting or memorable wildlife spotting encounter.
Lots! White-tailed sea eagles fishing off the Isle of Skye, Arctic Terns on the Isle of May, Puffins on the Farne Islands, Hen Harriers on the West coast of Scotland, Pine martens and Badgers in Scotland, Otters on our local river, and newts in the garden pond, just to name a few!
What it is about the natural world that continues to inspire you?
All of it! Whenever I go for a walk and listen to birdsong and the sounds of nature, that’s when I find myself feeling most inspired and thinking about new projects or ideas. If I’ve got a writer’s or artist’s block, going for a nature walk almost always solves it.
I also think the natural world is simply inspiring in itself: it is constantly evolving and bouncing back from the pressures we put on it, and I think that’s amazing – although we also all need to work together and help its recovery.
What new aspects of conservation excite you?
I think the engagement with the public and the movements that are trying to change public attitudes to environmental issues are the most exciting at the moment. Everything from wildlife documentaries with Attenborough, to Greta Thunberg’s Future Fridays, and just normal, everyday people, challenging environmental problems – I think all of these aspects of conservation are really exciting, and make me more optimistic for the future.
What makes you happy?
Not in any particular order: my dog, my family, my partner, and being outside in nature (and coming back home to a big mug of hot chocolate!).
What makes you sad?
The state that our world is in the moment, with the threat of climate change. Plastic pollution, habitat destruction, the over-use of pesticides, the decrease in biodiversity and the damage to our rivers and oceans – to name just a few things. We have all got to act now, to reverse these things, which I believe is possible.
Name 3 things on your ‘bucket list’
I would love to go to the Primorye Region in Russia and see Amur Leopards, which are one of my favourite animals. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I first adopted one through the WWF, and I just think it would be such an incredible experience.
I’d also love to see lots of other different animals in other places around the world, such as Great Grey Owls in Finland, and Polar Bears and Arctic Hares in the Arctic!
What’s next for Alicia Hayden?
Studying for my finals and applying for Masters! I’m going to continue doing wildlife photography, art, writing, and film, but I’m not currently working on any projects, although I’m sure I’ll come up with something in the summer!
Thank you Alicia. Clicking the following links will enable you to enjoy more of Alicia’s work. Do consider investing in her wonderful book of poetry Rain Before Rainbows, I have!
All images with the exception of the Lapwing and Great Grey Owl are copyright of Alicia, please don’t use these in any way without permission.
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