Friday, 23 December 2016

A Focus on Nature

AFON at Birdfair: 2014, 2015 & 2016.
Image: Beth Aucott
Here's a real Christmas treat for you - Ryan Clark tells us about A Focus on Nature, the UK's largest youth nature network.

Ryan is well-known to News & Views readers; he is a highly-valued member of BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee, has written many excellent blogposts for us and has co-ordinated the New Year Plant Hunt since January 2015, during which time it has blossomed into a much-loved fixture in the BSBI calendar. 

Ryan exhibited at BSBI's Annual Exhibition Meeting in 2014 about his own botanical recording work and in 2015 he offered a poster and a talk about the New Year Plant Hunt. But this year we were delighted to offer him a platform to tell us about A Focus on Nature and you can download his exhibit from this page. Now over to Ryan to find out more: 

"It is often said that there are no young naturalists in Britain anymore, and while it is true that an alarming number of young people are increasingly disconnected with the natural world, there are still lots of young naturalists out there doing wonderful things. There are many different programmes to engage young children with the natural world, but there is a lot less to support teenagers already interested in nature. I became properly interested in wildlife as a teenager and found it very difficult. I was seen as weird for being interested in nature and therefore hid my interests for fear of being isolated. I then discovered a group called ‘A Focus on Nature’, a group for which I now sit on the committee.

Ryan engaging in outreach: on BSBI's stand
at Big Nature Day 2015,
Natural History Museum, London.
Image: Louise Marsh
"A Focus on Nature (AFON) is the UK's largest youth nature network. It brings together young people in Britain between the ages of 16 and 30 who are interested in the natural world. AFON has members from all over the UK and gives young naturalists a voice. We have collectively produced reports such as ‘Vision for Nature’ which describes young people’s vision for the natural world in 2050. We are also one of the organisations involved in ‘State of Nature’. This really is a movement and together the group is growing (as shown in the photo above) to achieve bigger and better things each year. 

"Apart from campaigning, AFON helps set up mentoring relationships in order to allow young people interested in the natural world to learn from more experienced people. We have also had guest blogposts giving members a chance to learn from those in the conservation sector about how to get into these roles. AFON also runs competitions to allow members to win prizes kindly donated by other organisations. We also run workshops in order to learn from one another and more experienced naturalists; for example, there have been workshops on rewilding and on insects recently.

BSBI Meetings & Communications Committee
planning for the Annual Exhibition Meeting.
From left: Sarah, Ryan, Ian & Kylie
Image: L. Marsh 
"The social media presence of AFON is also rather impressive and gets young people noticed, whether that be through blog posts, posts on Twitter or on Facebook. I do think that perceptions are changing, including within traditional natural history groups. Many organisations complain that they do not attract young naturalists, but they are also not very inviting to them. There is a long way to go but many organisations, including BSBI, are now actively encouraging younger members and this is really great to see. Although I spend a lot of my time doing botanical recording, AFON at the moment is very biased towards animals and we are keen to try and attract more young botanists and mentors that can support botanists in any way they can.

"If you would like to know more about AFON then please follow @AFONature on Twitter or drop us an email at afonmembers@hotmail.com". 

Many thanks to Ryan for telling us more about the excellent A Focus on Nature. Please do get in touch with them if you are either under-30 and interested in the natural world, or over 30 and can help with mentoring. Let's offer our young naturalists all the support we possibly can in 2017!