Guest Blog – Where is the UK’s Youth Nature Conservation Movement? by Danny Heptinstall

the_pictureDanny Heptinstall is a 24 year old birder, naturalist and aspiring conservationist currently researching red kites at the University of Aberdeen. Here he presents a shortened version of an article that asks “Where is the UK’s Youth Conservation Movement, and what can be done to find it?”

I’m a young conservationist, and I get annoyed every time I read a clichéd piece bemoaning the lack of young people in conservation. These pieces always seem to complain that conservation is becoming a sea of grey hair, yet they rarely provide any meaningful solutions to this problem. I couldn’t agree more that there is a problem. But, I get frustrated because I see so many steps that could be taken to solve it, yet never seem to be taken.

So with this guest blog I’m going to suggest what I think needs to be done to kick-start the creation of a UK youth conservation movement. These suggestions might be right, or they might be wrong, but I think we need to move the debate forward from simply complaining about the issue, to discussing how we are going to solve it.

But before a solution can be found, we first have to identify what the problem is. Simple, I hear you say, there’s fewer young people interested in natural history and conservation. You go to an evening lecture or a volunteer work day and it’ll be mostly older people attending. But is this really evidence of a problem?

Seemingly contradictory, there are currently thousands of students enrolled on conservation courses all over the UK. And most conservation vacancies are inundated with graduates looking for their first job. So, maybe there isn’t a problem after all?

Well I would agree conservation courses are full of young people who, once graduated, are applying for conservation jobs. But I’d argue most of these young people aren’t part of the UK conservation movement. Maybe a controversial statement, but how often do you see young people visiting nature reserves on their own initiative, running local conservation projects, or discussing the future of conservation? Given the number of young people enrolled on these courses, I reckon not as often as you might expect.

And to me, this is one of the biggest tragedies of modern UK nature conservation; we have literally thousands of young people who are making a very clear demonstration of their aspiration to become a conservationist. Yet, as far as I can see, no UK conservation organisation is making any strategic attempt to engage them.

And I think the reason for this, is that many UK conservationists simply do not understand the motivations of these young people.

Older conservationists generally spent much of their youth as a naturalist. But nowadays few young people spend time outside appreciating nature. However, many young people watch nature documentaries, have an environmentalist ethic, or enjoy outdoor activities. And I think it is these backgrounds that explain why so many young people find a career in conservation appealing, despite not having been a naturalist while at school.

However, this means many young people enrol on conservation courses having had almost no previous interaction with nature or the UK nature conservation movement. You may think universities will cover such topics but, in reality, they put very little emphasis on natural history or UK conservation.

Which is why I believe the UK conservation movement needs to do more to support aspiring young conservationists. If you consider that there isn’t even something as simple as a website that explains to young people how to get involved in conservation, is it really so surprising so few are part of the UK conservation movement?

To start this process of re-thinking how we engage young people, I suggest the following:

  • Initiate a National Youth Nature Conservation Forum – With the aim of creating a self-supporting community of 18-25 year olds who share an interest in nature and its conservation.
  • Organise an Annual National Youth Conservation Camp – This would allow young conservationists to interact with both their peer group and existing conservation professionals.
  • Provide a Website for Aspiring Young Conservationists – To provide information about UK conservation, as well as current volunteering opportunities.
  • Facilitate Mentoring by Existing Naturalists and Conservationists – A website that would link aspiring conservationists to expert naturalists who are willing to informally teach them about the conservation and identification of their taxa of interest.
  • Provide Free Issues of Conservation Magazines – to departments that teach conservation courses.
  • Undertake University Visits – Conservation NGO’s should employ staff to introduce UK nature conservation to conservation students and mobilise these students.
  • Restructure the UK Conservation Education System – Worthy of an article itself, I believe the disparate and varying quality of conservation education is a major barrier to the development of UK conservation.

Encouraging young people to get involved in conservation will undoubtedly be a challenge. But doesn’t it make sense to start by properly engaging the thousands of young people who have already signalled they want to contribute to conservation? Rather than solely focusing our limited resources on trying to persuade a largely uninterested youth that nature is worth fighting for.

This is a condensed version of a longer piece, if Danny’s got you thinking he would love you to read the full version here

Danny would happily discuss the above with any interested organisations or persons. More information about him can be found here he aims to blog here  and he can be contacted at


54 Replies to “Guest Blog – Where is the UK’s Youth Nature Conservation Movement? by Danny Heptinstall”

  1. And this is where ‘ A focus on Nature ‘ (AFON) comes into play.
    It was created for people 16-30 who have a passion and desire to work within the conservation sector and some individuals already do. It offers mentoring opportunities from professionals who workbin various aspects of conservation and also provides books and equipment.
    This year workshops are being organised. One on 16th April in conjunction with the BTO. Here you can learn about the BTO and it’s work. A breeding bird survey workshop is also planned with Reading University.

    For under a 25’s who are more into birding there is now also ‘Next generation Birders’. These guys are enthusiastic bunch developing links with a number of individuals, groups and organisations in providing support to help them pursue their passion for birding.

  2. I still think there should be more engagement at primary school level to teach children to respect the natural world, but I have learnt that you can’t force the passion that is needed to want to really get behind conservation for all the right reasons. I get a lot of support from the BTO and A Focus On Nature (and lots of other people) and I am really looking forward to meeting other young enthusiasts at a workshop on 16th April. I truly want to make a difference to our wildlife now and when I am older, but the most I can hope for from my friends is that they have a respect for nature. This can only happen if you can increase their contact with the natural world through education at an early age. From Findlay.

  3. I agree entirely with Lizzie. A couple of years ago, I would have agreed with you, Danny, but these groups already exist. The last thing that is needed now is for groups to become like the Judean People’s Front and People’s Front of Judea. NGB and AFON do different things but the proposal adds very little that is not already done by one of these groups. If there are other things that you feel these groups should be doing then we, at NGB, would be very happy to hear your ideas and I’m sure AFON would feel the same.

  4. I think this is a great piece and raises some important questions. Young people are going to inherit the natural world created by today’s decisions, so we have a bigger stake in decisions taken today than anyone else.

    However, this piece fails to define what a movement actually is.

    For me it’s not just a group across society that shares an interest, it also implies direction must involve tactics like protest, resistance, lobbying, campaigning and advocacy. Compare with the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement and in particular the youth climate movement around the world.

    I think A Focus on Nature and Next Generation Birders are the sparks of such a youth conservation movement, one that’s badly needed. And all the people involved have the passion, tools and talent to change the face of conservation in the UK.

    However, they’re still in their infancy and haven’t yet done these things, so for me this makes them a ‘movement in waiting’. But rather than starting from scratch I would implore Danny to work with these existing efforts, to strengthen them, because they’re already a long way down the road to being the movement he searches for.

  5. The BTO have grasped the need to engage a younger audience and in conjunction with A Focus on Nature are running a workshop for young people including the under 16s and my 11 year old daughter Abby will be attending, (her older sister Evie would love to go too but is away with school). This is a great start to engaging the young. I get very frustrated that a lot of groups are open to 16+ therefore excluding my daughters and others in their age group. So hats off to the BTO and Lucy McRobert from AFON for organising this.
    My eldest daughter Evie has started to look into work experience as she will placed next year and I can tell you the it is not easy trying to find an organisation other than the excellent Derbyshire Wildlife Trust that will offer her a suitable placement, it somewhat limits her options should they be over subscribed. There must be ecology consultancies that could offer placements. Unfortunately we do not have an RSPB reserve/office nearby.

  6. Well said.

    Benjamin Franklin said ” Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”.

    The one word that is coming through in this piece and the replies is exactly that ‘involvement’. Get young people into the system but then us oldies need to learn to step back and not criticise.

    1. I couldn’t agree more – I will be using that quote in the future!

  7. I work in face to face recruiting for wildlife charities.
    I am not familiar with AFON or NGB. Is that my fault or theirs? Perhaps getting the word out, especially to teenagers and young adults needs improving.
    Many charities are doing excellent work with little ones but there seems to be a gap for teens.

  8. Back in the early 2000s, our two children and their RSPB Phoenix friends enjoyed an interesting and varied amount of practical conservation work during their monthly Saturday mornings in and around Milton Keynes. As I recall, more than half of them moved onto careers with a fairly direct conservation impact: a plant scientist, an international bird ringer, an environmental impact assessor, a marine scientist and a NT groundsman. They were a motivated and keen cohort, perhaps the exception rather than the rule.

    In tune with other areas of employment, a degree and post graduate qualifications are seen as a must for many conservation posts. I suspect that the time spent building up ID skills across a wide range of taxa and gaining hands-on conservation experience is not conducive to formal study. With a few exceptions, we therefore end up with a passionate group of natural historians who can’t find work in their chosen field and a well-qualified generation who lack the necessary ID skills to put their knowledge to best use. Harsh? Possibly, but I have heard this opinion expressed by folk within the conservation movement.

    So it’s not a lack of youngsters, but due to the dichotomy between practical and academic skills, it’s a lack of suitable opportunities. I would say that it is the employing organisations themselves who can address this problem, by promoting a better skill mix in their workforce.

  9. There needs to be something for secondary school age- Watch groups and primary cover up to 11/12 but then they are lost. Everything, from transport onwards becomes a problem. When I was 16 the local wildlife trust welcomed me on reserve, bunk house style accommodation, no money, but plenty of jobs to do and involvement with school groups that visited, university students, etc. We did all sorts for litter picking, to little tern guarding, beating for mist nets etc. It was a half way house between do it yourself at home, and university. A brilliant way in. I don’t think it exists any more.
    I would like outside investment in secondary school conservation/wildlife societies, with transport and accommodation and guest lecturers. Something accessible to all, so students are not dependent on having interested or able parents to get them going.

  10. Great article, and thanks so much for all of those who have commented and supported A Focus On Nature. Given the very (!!) limited funding, resources and power we have (and I think NGB would agree with me here, as would some of the many other networks and organisations that actively promote environmental education), we do our best and will continue to do more to build this Youth Conservation ‘Movement’ – although AFON is first and foremost a network, it has such potential to expand to become more. Recent conversations with several of NGOs have suggested that this may become a reality. It is ran entirely voluntarily though (as is NGB) and all of those who run these organisations have full time jobs/education, voluntary commitments and the like, and that’s before we get near the day-to-day running which takes the equivalent of well over a typical 40 hour week – luckily we have lots of vols and supporters who make everything easier; all of the financial and in-kind support we get goes straight back into encouraging young conservationists through projects, opportunities, internships, mentoring, prizes and (cue drum roll) our first ever conference, which will be in September (we’ll be publishing details soon). We’ve had a tremendous amount of help from companies (Opticron, Swarovski, Sound Approach, and more) but we will need more if we wish to expand and grow, which we do! Danny – please check our our website ( and drop me a line – – we would love to work with you in the future! The same goes for other readers – all help and advice is appreciated 🙂

    1. Hi Lucy

      I’ve been aware of AFON for a couple of years now and think its a great initiative. But I think you hit the nail on the head – the resources the conservation movement direct at engagement of the age group I consider here (18-25 year olds) are not adequate. There’s only so much that volunteer led groups can do, especially when it comes to engaging a broad range of young people who have had limited experience of nature conservation beforehand.

      I can’t help thinking that if just a small percentage of the resources conservation NGOs currently spend on trying to convert uninterested people to conservation, were instead spent on supporting those who have already shown an interest, the conservation movement would be a lot stronger as a whole.

  11. Hilary – I agree entirely with what you have said. This is why we decided to start NGB at 13 year olds, the age where a kid becomes to old for RSPB Wildlife Explorers. NGB have organised a weekend at Spurn for our members in May and over 25 plan on attending but the members will fund it themselves as we have no funding. We have more events in the pipeline.

    We are entirely run by Young Birders who are elected annually and our aim is to plug the hole that you are talking about. The RSPB are starting to listen to our concerns and we are now working together with them on some things. I do think the tide of decline of young people in birds and conservation is changing. As I said, we welcome all ideas of how we can do more and would urge anyone with suggestions or support to contact us on

    Rebecca – it’s a shame you have never heard of AFON or NGB as both organisations have become quite well known. At NGB, we have over 250 members (aged 13-25), 125 members of our NGB Supporters Group (please join!) and almost 1500 followers on Twitter. We are always looking for ways to attract more members and supporters so would again invite suggestions!

    NGB Project Co-ordinator

  12. Just tried to read the blog, then got distracted by 3 trailers for ‘Noah’ playing at the same time, though slightly out of sync with one another (unfortunately I had the volume up quite loud). Got a bit of a headache now.

    1. sorry, I have no control over this. was the headache from the noise or what I wrote!?

  13. This is just brilliant Danny – congratulations on a great post!

    I particularly liked your seven key points, some of which I’m working to address through Conservation Careers.

    We strive to collate all the latest and greatest voluntary, internship and paid opportunities within the UK (and elsewhere) through our website

    Our website is also trying to do much more than this – we bring the conservation job market to life a little by describing what it’s like to do different jobs, and work for different organisations. We talk to conservationists and collate their career stories and advice. See our careers advice section:

    We also do university visits to speak with undergraduates and post-graduates about what it’s like to work in conservation, and the key points to consider when forging a conservation career path.

    Finally, we’re currently mentoring eleven budding conservationists from around the world on conservation communications. Watch this space for more to come.

    It’s a start and we want to do much more…

    Do drop me a line at – or anyone else reading this blog who like to contact me – I’d love to chat you with.

    Nick Askew

    1. Hi Nick

      Thanks for your comments, I think it’s curious that a commercial enterprise has started to fill the void, it does somewhat demonstrate how much the conservation NGOs have been caught napping on this issue!

  14. Excellent blog, Danny. I’m pleased to say that both my local Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club and the Northumberland Natural History Society put a lot of effort in to recruiting younger members. This includes putting on events that are targeted at that age group.

    1. awesome to hear, hopefully conservation NGOs may take note and some seminars/workshops can be held to exchange knowledge and ideas and identify potential areas of best practice. If something’s working in one area, it should be easy for others to find out why and how it can be replicated

  15. thanks for everyone’s comments, it’s great people are taking such an interest!

    I am travelling all day today so will reply to the comments tomorrow, hope you don’t mind the wait…

    …but in the mean time please do read the full version of the article here – hopefully clarifies many points!

  16. I found this blog somewhat of a surprise, last time I was in the UK the quantity of students seeking higher and further education in nature conservation and particularly Environmental sciences was considerable and certainly far far outstripped the subsequent potential job vacancies. I know a huge amount of such students ending up as land management practitioners – no bad thing and indeed if we concentrated on good sustainable land management practice more, then maybe nature conservation can win through from within the ranks of land management itself – thus culling out the dinosaurs who head up the organisations that purport to speak on behalf of such industries but increasingly lose their way, somewhat dramatically so in many cases.

    A great and insightful piece, thanks.

    1. This comment reflects my immediate thoughts, notably that there probably are thousands of people each year leaving university with conservation/ecology degrees, but there is only a limited number of conservation related jobs available (partly due to the longevity of those already in post). It’s all very well wanting to drive a conservation movement, but if the jobs aren’t there then that is the limiting factor.

      Also, if we have lots of young conservationists coming through, does it matter that they aren’t part of a “UK conservationist movement”?

      A minor point about the statement “You go to an evening lecture or a volunteer work day and it’ll be mostly older people attending” – Whilst I was at college and university I was busy in the week and then working most Saturdays and Sundays. I valued the little free time I did get for social activities. It is no surprise to me that older people have more time to volunteer.

      1. “It’s all very well wanting to drive a conservation movement, but if the jobs aren’t there then that is the limiting factor.”

        If we are talking about a ‘movement’ does that depend on everyone getting jobs in conservation? Matt Adam Williams made a comparison with the civil rights and gay rights movements and I think what has characterised those is not that people sought to make a career in them but rather that they were striving to put right something they believed to be wrong.

        Of course it is important that there is a career path available to young people wishing to become professional conservationists – we will need those professionals into the foreseeable future – but it is even more important that people from all walks of life and in all professions value wildlife and support its protection. We need to enthuse as many young people as we possibly can about wildlife so that the politicians, policy makers, farmers, industrialists, developers, consumers and citizens of the future ensure that they run the world they inherit in a way that allows wild plants and animals to thrive alongside us.

        1. “If we are talking about a ‘movement’ does that depend on everyone getting jobs in conservation?”

          This is a pertinent point. To be honest, I don’t know what the definition of a ‘movement’ in this context is, which is partly why I’m not convinced of the need for one. I took the job related meaning from the line “I’m a young conservationist, and I get annoyed every time I read a clichéd piece bemoaning the lack of young people in conservation”. To me, the “in conservation” means “in a line of work related to conservation”.

          I completely agree with your final paragraph about raising awareness and enthusing people, but I don’t think that is what Danny is mainly talking about, as there is a lot about university and peer mentoring. This may well work for people wanting to get ahead in the job market (and indeed AFON are already doing it) but isn’t a viable solution to those not on conservation courses (and there aren’t an unlimited supply of potential mentors).

          More people need to be aware of conservation issues, but I think that is a different point. For a start if the idea was simply to get get more people interested and aware, then there would be no need for a forum of people up to 25, it would be more productive to engage the entire conservation community. Similarly the last three summary points all relate to university education, and I doubt many people would be willing to pay to take a conservation degree without at least the intention to try and obtain a related job.

          1. I guess Danny would have to say exactly what he meant but I would say that there are currently many people who are ‘in conservation’ but whose day job has nothing to do with conservation. The level of engagement of these amateur conservationist varies from silent membership of organisations such as RSPB up to very active involvement in and sometimes leadership of conservation projects and campaigns. All of these are important not least because of the weight of numbers they provide that helps persuade politicians to take conservation seriously. In my opinion it is just as important that we recruit young people into the ranks of committed amateurs as it to train up young people to become the professionals. We need both and I would hope that NGB and AFON and other such initiatives can be successful in generating and supporting that wider interest and involvement and not just a pipeline to squirt young people into conservation jobs.

          2. unfortunately there’s only so much you can say in an 800 word blog post, which is why I would encourage everyone to read the full version here 🙂


            in it you will see I am talking about contributing to the conservation movement in both a professional and amateur capacity. I think some (many?) young people enrol on conservation courses without any clear idea of what conservation is or what they will do post-graduation. My main argument for increasing our engagement with 18-25 year olds is that many of these people have shown an interest in conservation, and then post-degree no longer remain in contact with conservation as they struggled to get a job (as there aren’t many around) and found little support/advice in how to engage in other ways. Isn’t it a shame the amateur and professional conservation potential of some many young people is not fully realised? That’s what I would like to see change.

            Additionally, many of my suggestion focus on conservation students because they have shown an interest in conservation but also because they are clustered in certain areas – hence engagement with them is far easier. I would never encourage the restricting of any such movement to those with vocational or academic degrees, it simply a matter of practicality when it comes to starting this process.

  17. I know lots of extremely talented, knowledgeable, dedicated young naturalists but it’s true that they’re not on nature reserves, or going to lectures, or attending RSPB local group outings. Instead they’re out birding their own patches, or ringing, or twitching, or running their own photography blogs. They’ve built their own networks on Facebook/Twitter/Flickr/etc outside of the major NGO websites.

    This may be (and in some cases is) lack of engagement on the part of conservation organisations, but I suspect that being independent, following your own interests and not working to someone else’s schedule or demands is actually very appealing for a lot of young people?

  18. Everyone has raised some very valid points. I graduated in 2011 with Conservation Biology and Management, and my first proper “job” was as an Outdoor Tutor, teaching mostly outdoor activities and Geography field work to school groups. I loved this, and always tried to engage my groups about the wildlife of Dorset when I was with them, be it smelling the gorse, collecting shells on the beach or watching Peregrines flying the cliffs. I will admit that I preferred working with the younger children, who were much easier to enthuse, and the teachers seemed pleased that they showed an interest (even better when they continued this back at school!)

    We need to make Nature COOL for teenagers, and I love your idea of a summer camp. There are MANY things to think about before this becomes a reality, but it is an idea I came up with while still at University, and I still believe it could work with support from NGB, AFON, and the various NGOs who have expressed interest in mobilising the Youth “Movement” as you call it.

  19. Are there really too few younger people in the sector to fill posts? I am not sure. I meet plenty of admirable knowledgeable people younger than me interested or working in nature, ecology and conservation, and I don’t think I am terribly ancient at 32.

    What I’d love to see a movement doing is really selling the idea that you can love nature and do it “just” as a hobby and this might even be better than working in conservation. Anything that helps with instilling the love at a young age (yes schools, youth clubs, etc) and keeping it alive is to be applauded. If more people who were passionate about nature went into business, government, farming, politics… then not only would they have influence where they worked that could make a difference for conservation, they can bring their valuable skills and contacts that they could use in voluntary conservation work, biological recording, learning to be a naturalist or campaigning. The latter especially is harder to do when you work in the sector I think. And perhaps in 30 years time, they can bring all that experience and really make a difference in a senior management position. Of course that is easy for me to say when I am lucky enough to make a living talking wildlife all day!

    All of us have a responsibility to reach out to younger people. We had a day of talks today and at the end someone from our local wildlife trust inspired the 20 of us to just get children outside looking. “Just” looking. That’s what’s missing. He was dead right of course. (I now need to go and buy a dentist’s mirror so children can look at fungi gills without worrying about touching them. Why had I never thought of that!) Just looking, oh and buy all your young friends and relatives lots of books. I had a whole bookcase of wildlife books in my bedroom as a child. Where would I be without Gerald Durrell’s The Amateur Naturalist or Chris Baine’s How to Make a Wildlife Garden? There was a book of a collection of letters from a teenager to politicians on green issues – can’t remember what it was called but it had a forward by Jonathan Porritt I think – which I found very inspiring even though to this day I have never got to the stage of writing a letter myself.

    Like Graeme Walker’s experience, sometimes it just happens you fall into a group of peers that encourage each other. I was lucky enough at uni to meet some friends who thought it was odd there wasn’t enough wildlife in their conservation and zoology courses so we proactively formed a new student natural history society. We had a big sign-up at fresher’s fair – over a hundred members. Yet very few of them turned up to meetings and when our core group graduated, the society didn’t carry on. But our group did OK – we are working variously in a wildlife trust, a native woodland charity, a local records centre, at the RSPB, at an ecological consultancy…

    Natural History Societies and wildlife groups have to be one of the best conduits for mentoring. Perhaps all that needs to happen is for young people to be brave and go along to a couple of meetings. Perhaps the societies should reach out more. In this video you can hear what some university students think of being involved in Carlisle Natural History Society:

    More UK organisations reaching out to students would be great. We did that where I used to work with the University of Greenwich, and we do that now with the University of Cumbria. As a bonus some of the students go on to volunteer with us. The more there is of this, the more people who do these courses who end up in other careers might stay involved. I’m also a fan of subsidies for young people to attend things like NFBR’s conference next week.

    The Field Studies Council are currently consulting on what is needed to address some of the skills gaps. If you have needs or ideas they would be delighted to hear them. They have workshops at FSC centres around the country coming up.

    1. couldn’t agree more! I think you could sum up all my suggestions as helping to build peer groups so that all young people with an interest in conservation can get the support and encouragement they deserve. Love of nature isn’t talked about enough.

  20. Great post and a very topical issue for me. I think the recipe for action is at the community level – encouraging groups run by young people themselves who act on issues relevant to them in towns and cities all across the country…

    …and this is exactly what we’re doing in Bristol with the brand new Bristol Nature Network! The network is a community of students, young people and young professionals aged 18-30 who take action for nature, share ideas, develop skills and most importantly have fun!

    Although we have a committee to take on responsibilities, we’re running on a horizontal model so that anyone who signs up can run an event or suggest ideas, from talks and walks by local experts to nature-themed scavenger hunts in the city centre! It’s a really exciting time for us, and as co-Chair of the network I welcome any suggestions and comments to help us on our way!

    [If you’re reading this, aged 18-30 and live in Bristol you can sign up here:

  21. Thanks everyone, I’ve been really taken aback by the amount of emails, tweets and comments this article has generated!

    Please do read the full piece as it hopefully clarifies and expands upon some of the comments made here.

    But replying to a few general points I would emphasise that I think there is a major mismatch between the number of young people who are about to apply for, enrolled on or have graduated from conservation courses, and the numbers of young people who are regularly involved in conservation activities, either as volunteers or professionals.

    And this is what concerns me as it seems we have the potential to have thousands of young people actively contributing to conservation and driving the movement forward, yet this potential seems largely unrealised. I think this is something conservation needs to address, because if we can’t even get the young people who’ve expressed an interest in conservation to get involved – how are we going to persuade those without an interest?

    For a country with such a rich history of nature conservation, don’t you find it amazing we don’t even have an annual gathering for young conservationists? Or a national network that young people can become a part of? I think these glaring omissions alone demonstrate how we need a rethink of the way we engage and support young people interested in conservation.

    I’m not really interested in which organisation creates a UK conservation youth movement. I’m just interested in their effectiveness. In this guest blog I suggest some metrics (expanded upon in the main article) that I would judge any organisation’s effectiveness on. How many organisations are achieving these? I’m not sure any are, at least effectively on a national scale.

    And that’s where I’m interested in having debate, if organisations aren’t undertaking what I suggest above – is it because they’re bad ideas? Or is there something wrong with the current set-up that means we can’t achieve them? Or that we can’t achieve them with the speed and geographic spread that is required?

    On retrospect, I should have better defined what I meant by young people in the guest blog – this is covered in my main article. I think it’s well recognised that conservation needs to better engage with young people of all ages, but my thoughts here are really focused on 18-25 year olds. I’m focusing on this age group because I think it’s the group that has the most to offer conservation but is also the group of young people most poorly engaged by conservation.

    Finally, please do read the full article if you get the chance an 800 word guest blog can only cover so much!

    1. We do have a “national network that young people can become a part of”… it’s called A Focus On Nature! While I agree with your comments on the lack of support and resources available for this age group, can you not see that there are some people trying to resolve this problem? Granted, it’s not going to become a huge thing overnight, but since I joined AFON last year there have been so many new initiatives – events, workshops, mentoring and sponsors, as well as the brilliant ideas coming from the members. Yes, finances can be a real issue for voluntary led groups like this, but they do their best to allow everyone a chance to participate in something.
      AFON and NGB are both very new networks, but are now gaining momentum and respect from the NGOs, who knows what the future holds for them, and their members? I think we can be certain that the number of jobs won’t increase, but maybe being affiliated with these groups, and similar across the country and taxonomic bands will stand for something when applying for jobs in the future? And in the meantime, nothing to stop everyone from appreciating the natural world in their spare time from other careers (it’s served me well the past few years!)

      1. Hi Susan

        I’ve been aware of AFON for over two years now and I know the good work it’s doing. But as I mentioned in the comment you replied to, I’m not interested in the identity of an organisation, but rather, what it is doing and how this compares to my proposals. The debate I seek is one of how to make a strong UK youth conservation movement as quickly and efficiently as possible, and as such I have put my proposals out there for critique and discussion.

        I would suggest that AFON is working really well for some people who are already quite motivated and interested. But perhaps (so far) its not been as successful at recruiting more widely. Take this AFON facebook group which describes itself as:

        “The official group for A Focus On Nature – please use this as a forum to meet other people, share ideas for projects, chat and generally have a laugh! Feel free to add anyone that you feel needs to be involved, and use this as a platform for sharing ideas, blogs, photographs, etc.!”

        As of writing it has 318 members, which is probably less than the number of students enrolled on conservation related courses at the University of Aberdeen – i.e. one institution out of many in the UK. Given facebook is the main networking medium for people of AFON’s age range it does perhaps suggest its reach is not as great as it could be, and it is perhaps not yet a truly national network.

        It would be interesting if AFON members could discuss the merit of my suggestions and evaluate whether AFON is really undertaking them. If it isn’t – is this because they are bad suggestions or because there are some barriers to undertaking them? If there are barriers then it’d be great to discuss how we could remove them.

        I think the loyalty of AFON members is commendable but it shouldn’t restrict a debate about what the way forward is.



  22. Hello Danny, sorry but I do not agree that the 18-25 group has the most to offer conservation. The older generation, of which I am a member, has more experience of conservation and wildlife if they have been involved longer. I have been studying and photographing wild flowers (and other wildlife) since the early 1970s. Does this mean I have less to offer? The trouble is, if a person reaches a certain age, the younger people think we are “past it.” This results in our opinions being ignored. This in turn creates resentment between age groups. I remember being in your age group and thinking the “older” generation was out of touch. Now I am one of the oldies the same is thought about me. Nothing has changed at all. One of the problems is that young people have the enthusiasm of youth for subjects such as Natural History and Archaeology (due in no small part to Time Team) and take courses in those subjects only to find that jobs are very scarce and hotly contested. They then loose interest. As for Amateur Naturalists taking up the subject, many people do but tend to keep themselves to themselves unless they make the effort and join their local naturalists group. This is a good starting point. There are many people willing to share their knowledge with others of similar interest and this is something I would recommend anyone to do. The campaigning comes when enough information has been gathered to put forward a good argument. It is not enough to say stop destroying wildlife and habitats. The people you need to influence probably cannot see a problem. They need to be told what the problem is and what needs to be done to rectify the cause. I,m afraid money comes first in most politicians, developers and planners minds. If the next generation can reverse this attitude, then all the best to them. Conservation and the study of wildlife has always been open to the amateur and long may it continue. Please do not confine wildlife interest to the “young.” The lack of interest is not confined to natural history. There are many groups of all interests which are struggling with low membership. I blame apathy and lack of opportunity. When times are hard everything suffers from poor support. Good luck in your endeavours but please remember, it is nothing new.

    1. Hi Diapensia, just to clarify I meant that 18-25 year olds have the most to offer conservation of all the youth age groups. It’s not clear from my post so sorry about the ambiguity.

      It seems a reasonable amount of resource is expended on primary school kids, but very little on 18-25 year olds with an interest in nature and its conservation. I’d argue engaging all youth age groups is important but 18-25 shouldn’t be neglected as these people have the time and enthusiasm to bring a potentially very large contribution to conservation

  23. Hello Danny, I,m not sure that an age group should be identified as a group with the most to offer conservation. But this is only my opinion. In an age where conservation is very low down on a national priority scale any help is a positive step. It could be asked why everyone is not concerned about protecting wildlife and habitats but each person has their own interests. As a national concern I think every person should expect a healthy and clean environment. The outcome of this would be a more positive feeling for wildlife. Not enough is done to cover native species on TV. Perhaps programme makers think because wildlife is easily seen by the observer it is not worth showing on the telly. When I was at junior school we used to have a natural history lesson with short walks to look at local ponds and we collected leaves etc. for our “nature table.” I think this is the age when natural history should be taught first, when people are more impressionable. It would also be useful if schools taught basic first aid so we would be able to assist when needed. I hope you manage to get the message across with positive results. I think that when people reach the age group you are concerned with they have other things on their mind? In my experience if you try to make people get involved with anything they rebel against it just to make a stand. Keep chipping away and a small minority will become interested in Conservation. Perhaps the word is to blame? Maybe it is considered out of date? Preservation was the word used and that became obsolete. Best of luck in your campaign.

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  25. it’s three days after this blog was posted so, as is the ephemeral nature of blogs, I guess it’ll be read by fewer and fewer people and is unlikely to receive many more comments!

    I think the diversity of views on this topic is fascinating, there may be differences in how people perceive the priority of what I suggest or in who should implement such things. However, what has struck me from the comments on this blog (and elsewhere) is there has been very little critique of my suggestions.

    Maybe this is a sign people thought they weren’t worth the effort critiquing, or maybe its a sign that in general people think they’re worthwhile aims? Is this something conservation organisations should take note of?

  26. In my opinion what is needed is a change in the way that the future generations value our environment no matter what their job or passion in life. It needs vast numbers of voters to demand a shift in our everyday values. Nature conservation desperately needs more help from wildlife-conscious professionals in other sectors such as economics, law, politics and business and I think that having wildlife and conservation a continual part of mainstream education through from primary to A level perhaps permeating other subjects would assist in that. There are already plenty of campainers such as Greenpeace that engage the younger generation in a ‘cool’ way that still do not manage to make significant enough/permenant government level changes to the way the environment is treated. So perhaps a movement to make major changes in our education system is what is needed?

  27. Hi Danny,

    Great blog post! I would love to chat more to you about some of these issues. At Action for Conservation we are delivering and further developing a programme of conservation education workshops in schools that are focussed on young people (age 12-16) and delivered by young conservationists. We partner workshop attendees with work experience placements delivered by our partners (National Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Froglife and more) and provide careers advice along the way from our AFC Gurus. We are also in the process of building a youth forum. It would be great to chat.

    I think the biggest problem is going beyond that easy 5% who we would naturally reach, as they are already interested in these issues, and making conservation ‘cool’. In addition, I believe tying this in with global conservation work is hugely important given that young people already exist, in part, in global online communities. This is why we chose to focus on schools as we can access a broader spectrum of young people. It is also where young conservation professionals with international profiles come in – students find them easier to relate to and it gives them that global perspective. By providing an inspirational hook during the workshops we can then link them through to local opportunities where they will gain valuable skills and experience of conservation in action in the UK.

    Have a look at our website: and do drop me a line on

  28. Hi Danny,

    A thought provoking and challenging post, well done for this. And well done for raising the extremely serious issue of young people and their engagement with conservation. I am afraid I am going to do you a disservice here. I do not have enough time right now to reply in full to everything you have said in your article and in your subsequent comments below. But I feel compelled to at least try to answer a couple of quick points before I forget to respond at all. I would be happy to follow this up with a much more in depth discussion via email, or I could write a response article to you via the AFON blog on its website, of which I am now helping to administer.

    In your most recent comments you claim your points are not being objected to. Of course they aren’t, they are sensible suggestions. You make some assertions or comments on AFON. I am a member of AFON and extremely committed and passionate about it. Let me make a few points:

    1) AFON might not have a huge number of members on its Facebook group but it has a wide reach geographically and has links with many conservation groups. It is growing rapidly.

    2) Up until very recently AFON was only be run by 1 person! Lucy McRobert, who has replied above I believe, was driving it forward and doing a magnificent job. Yet she can only do so much on her own. Perhaps if you were to join and contribute some of your time and energy you could help us expand it, as you seem to wish to see happen.

    3) AFON is very new and has only recently begun wider projects to engage with more people and increase its profile. It will only continue to get bigger and I am confident could become one of the focal points for the youth movement that you desire.

    Also, AFON is already doing and wishes to do a huge amount of things on your list:

    Initiate a National Youth Nature Conservation Forum: AFON could be said to be this and is currently going to be running a national conference for people to attend. It promotes active debate of conservation issues and helps people get more involved by linking people together.

    Organise an Annual National Youth Conservation Camp – Our AFON conference will do this. But AFON also aims to connect its members with older more established mentors within conservation.

    Provide a Website for Aspiring Young Conservationists: AFON advertises and spreads volunteering opportunities aswell as developing its own with associated charities, like the BTO. I am sure as AFON develops its website could become more of a hub for this kind of thing.

    Facilitate Mentoring by Existing Naturalists and Conservationists: I think AFON could do more of this and I am sure we will as we strengthen our structure. But it should be said AFON already has mentoring programmes.

    Undertake University Visits: I agree more of this should be done, though I did get some of this during my MSc. More real conservation work is needed in Universities.

    I also take a bit of an issue with you claiming that the ‘older’ age bracket of young people have more to offer. It is not about who has more to offer, it’s about who has more to lose. If we do not engage children at a young age it becomes infinitely more difficult to re-convert them back to nature at a later date. This is why a lot of the focus is on primary school children. It instills in them early on the wonders of being outdoors and seeing species, which must never be removed. We need more of it. I am not saying it is impossible to re-connect older groups but it would make more sense to spend the time connecting them before this happens.

    Conservation charities do offer lots of paid and unpaid volunteering opportunities for the very age group you focus on. Yes it is not enough, but funding is tight. They cannot divert funds from the other useful and valuable engagement work they do with the wider community as this has its rightful place in the grand scheme of things too.

    I definitely agree with your underlying principle that we need more young people in conservation. I am 26 (so not that young really! – but younger than most) and I am often the youngest person in a bird hide or at a moth trapping event. It saddens me every time when I look around the room to see that I am often to youngest person there. We need more young people for the new ideas and energy they bring and the new perspective they bring too. How do we do this? Well I have already said I really feel AFON will be part of the answer. There is more charities can do, yet they do already do quite a bit with young people and I know the age profile of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust I work for is pretty good in terms of young people. I know the Wildlife Trust’s as a whole are fully supportive and engaging with the Project Wild Thing movement and trying to do more (on tight budgets it must be said) for young people and to bring more in. But it is not easy.

  29. I am sorry to have been so long commenting on this but have been away from home and have still not had time to read all of the comments above.

    As you have said so much of the conservation movement is dominated by people like me, whom are getting grey haired.

    Though we would be extremely pleased to see our meetings being taken over with young people, I am not sure that there is much we can do to make the required changes. We do consider these things.

    With age there comes an accumulation of knowledge and with retirement or semi retirement there in theory comes some more time to do things, but in the dynamics of society I don’t think this will drive anything new.

    During my younger years there was a culture of protest and taking on vested interest groups. My generation now seems to have strolled quietly into their reserves, stepping out of the long hours and increased demands of work. I sadly have to include myself in this category. I don’t think that many people as they get older, have the stomach to really take on the authorities. We know that doing such effectively requires critical research and commitment, and puts us in the firing line of vested interests for whom a booming economy has no down sides. Generally this view does not seem to be challenged by people in the general population, let alone those who are aging or the ‘respectable’ wildlife organisations.

    Many people shrug their shoulders at the perception of these things.

    Attitudes can and have changed in the past, The culture which used to have us looking forward to machinery making our working time shorter and our leisure and family time longer, was swept away by consumerism. But cultures can and almost certainly will change. Our current pursuit for exponential growth cannot continue indefinitely.

    So Danny,

    Though I am sure that conservation groups could and should do more to engage the younger population, in essence the young need to get in and either stir us up, or if sadly necessary just do their own stuff. They still have the energy.

    I would like to think that you a younger generation could accommodate people like me, who endure grizzly frustration at the lukewarm responses for certain issues, of some of the conservation organisations we support.


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