I volunteer for Zoe Smith at the Norwich Cathedral Peregrine Watchpoint. Zoe’s infectious enthusiasm, depth of knowledge and love of peregrines shines through. No surprise then that she engenders a great sense of loyalty amongst the volunteer family and has driven the operation to become the amazing success it is. I can’t think of anything else I’ve been involved with that connects with so many people at so many levels. I remember one afternoon standing there and all I could hear around me were excited exclamations: ‘Wow!’, ‘Amazing!’, ‘Mum can I have another look?’. No more words are necessary from me……
I am the Peregrine Project Officer for the Hawk and Owl Trust. I run the Norwich Cathedral Peregrine Project; monitoring the birds and running a watchpoint for the public. I do lots of outreach work with schools and adults teaching them about Peregrines. In 2018 I set up the Peregrine Network to connect peregrine researchers and engage the public with Peregrines.
What event triggered your interest in the natural world?
I grew up in a very rural area surrounded by wildlife. Every day I would go walking in the woods, I think I had an innate interest in the natural world.
Give a sketch of a typical day in your life
During Peregrine breeding season I arrive at the cathedral close and set up the education trailers and telescopes ready for the public to come and see the Peregrines. I have a great team of volunteers that help. On a busy day we can have up to 600 people popping in to take a look at the birds. After the day when we close up I go home and type up the peregrine activity blog and post it onto the Trusts website.
You are now Hawk & Owl Trust’s Urban Peregrine Project Officer. What would you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of that work?
Educating the public, conservation through education is really important and rewarding. If you can educate and inspire someone to like wildlife and nature then they will be more inclined to protect it.
What do you consider the greatest challenges facing wildlife today?
Over population is one of the biggest threats to wildlife. With more and more people on this earth, natural areas are being destroyed to feed and house humans. Changes in legislation also pose a threat to wildlife. We need strict laws to keep wildlife and nature reserves safe. Also, people working against each other is a huge challenge. People and organisations need to collaborate to achieve a common goal.
What do you consider to be your greatest success?
I have been very lucky to work on conservation projects all over the world. One of my greatest successes was when I worked as a raptor counter in Mexico’s Veracruz river of raptors project, we counted 4.5 million raptors on migration.
What would you consider to be your deepest regret?
I don’t have any regrets, I think everything happens for a reason.
What advice would you give to a budding naturalist?
If you want to get involved with a wildlife project, the best way is to volunteer. There are so many amazing projects to get involved with, for example you can volunteer for the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Hawk and Owl Trust.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Keep following your own path. At 16 I knew that I wanted to focus my career on wildlife conservation, so I went to agricultural college in the next county to study ecology rather than go to the local colleges in my area. Then I took a gap year between college and university to volunteer and to give myself more time to choose my university course.
If you could be anywhere in the world at this moment where would it be and why?
Dadia national park in Greece. In the mountains the landscape is amazing. There is a vulture restaurant (a feeding station for the birds) you can see 26 different species of raptor. It is paradise.
What is your favourite or most admired animal and why?
I love vultures they are the often looked at as the underdogs but they do such an important environmental service. They can eat a carcass with rabies and when it comes out of the other end the disease has gone.
Who or what are your heroes/heroines/greatest Inspirations?
Rosalie Edge. She founded Hawk Mountain in the USA and stopped the birds of prey from being shot.
David Attenborough and his documentaries are an inspiration to generations. I used to watch them before my exams during my BSc.
Ian Newton and his work on the ecology and conservation of birds, and Mac Hotson a member of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. He was a mentor to me when I was working on my MSc research project and he taught me so much.
Recall your most exciting or memorable wildlife spotting encounter.
A friend took me to see a few Gyrfalcon nests In Scandinavia. At the first nest we only saw the young no adults. The second nest he asked me how long I wanted to wait to see the adults. As there was no night time darkness I told him all night! Luckily for him less than an hour later the adults flew in with a willow grouse, there was a food pass mid air and the female then brought the prey in and started to feed the chicks!
Can you say what it is about the natural world that continues to inspire you?
Nature can benefit everyone in so many different ways, it can inspire art from its amazing colours and shapes, it can help people’s mental health by calming them and relieving stress (ecotherapy), it provides habitats for a huge diversity of creatures. The natural world is so changeable, with climate and country there is always so much more to discover.
What new aspects of conservation excite you?
I work on urban peregrines. Seeing how species such as the peregrine can adapt to an urban environment is truly fascinating, and connecting people living in areas with wildlife is an exciting challenge.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of wildlife?
I like hiking and drinking.
What makes you happy?
Beer and birds 😊 and being outside watching wildlife.
What makes you sad?
Corruption and inequality.
Name 3 things on your ‘bucket list’
1. to see a pale morph gyrfalcon
2. travel the world
3. work/volunteer on more raptor migration projects
What would you most like to accomplish and/or be remembered for?
Inspiring the next generation to protect and conserve birds of prey and helping them find a passion for wildlife and nature.
Thanks Zoe, you’ve seen some wonderful things and there are, of course, many yet to come. Raptor migration is seriously awe inspiring, hope you get to a counting station soon – I know I want to!
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