My name is Sue Walker and I’m a freelance writer and interpretation consultant for nature conservation organisations, mostly in Scotland. I have my own blog called ‘Writes for Nature’ www.writesfornature.blogspot.com. My thanks go to Mark for giving me the chance to write a guest blog here. His own pithy, witty and well-informed blogs make him a hard act to follow, but here goes…
I’ll start with a list of some of my favourite natural history writers and commentators: Mark Avery (of course), Mark Cocker, Mark Carwardine, Simon Barnes, Michael McCarthy, Kathleen Jamie, and Richard Mabey. What do you notice about the list (apart from the fact that there are an awful lot of Marks)? Yep – all but one of them are male. This is not good.
It’s tempting to start by asking why this is the case. But I’m not a sociologist, and the reasons are surely too long and complex to discuss here. So today I just want to do three things: flag up the lack of women writing about nature conservation issues; explain why I think it’s a bad thing; and ask the question ‘how could we put this right?’
It’s true that in the past women had a very low profile in nature conservation generally. But women now head up some of the country’s leading conservation organisations, including Natural England (Helen Phillips – until recently), the Wildlife Trusts (Stephanie Hilborne), and the National Trust (Dame Fiona Reynolds – although she is off too!). Despite this, women’s names are still eerily absent from Amazon’s nature writing best-seller lists, and from the bylines of nature conservation columns in the national papers. Most of the major TV nature presenters are male too – but perhaps that’s a blog for another day.
Why does it matter? The people I mentioned at the beginning do a fantastic job as advocates for nature. Surely that’s what counts? Well yes – and no. Part of me can’t help suspecting that somewhere down the line women are, perhaps unintentionally, being excluded from joining the club. I think there might be women out there who are fantastic writers, but who can’t get through the hedge – albeit a native one. It’s just a hunch. I have absolutely no hard evidence – and I’m not talking from personal experience. I’d be very happy to be contradicted.
It’s not that I believe women writing about the same subjects would (or should) somehow have a different voice – or, God forbid, a more ‘emotional’ approach. I do believe that women writers are sometimes capable of bringing a different perspective. But that’s not the real issue.
What I do strongly believe is that the best of our nature writers and journalists provide fantastic inspiration for the rest of us, and especially for young people thinking about coming into conservation. And that’s where I think having women in the limelight is most important. There’s a growing body of research that shows that positive female role models are particularly important for young women in choosing career paths. The nature conservation world is crying out for more young people with the enthusiasm, knowledge and field skills to protect our natural heritage. Fifty per cent of that pool of potential future naturalists is female. Surely we want to give them all the inspiration we can?
And of course women also make up half of the adult, voting, decision-making, spending population. Give more female nature writers a voice and I believe more women would listen – and begin to speak up for nature through the ballot box, and through their own lifestyles.
So, finally – how can we change things? How can we get women writing about nature? Or if they are indeed writing already, how can we get more of them published? Sadly I have no answers. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this blog. I wanted to see if anyone else out there has noticed the whisper of women’s voices for nature, and whether you believe we need to turn it into a shout. If you have an opinion, or even better a solution, please write a comment – whatever your gender!