Letters to young conservationists

Letter to 21-year-old ‘Kate on Conservation’

To 21-year-old ‘Kate on Conservation’.

 A decade has past and I look back on you with a little bit of envy, and a huge amount of love and respect. It would be foolish to think that you don’t already know that you’re laying the foundation for the life you will find yourself leading in 2021; you know. But I envy you just a little because you live so spontaneously. Considerately, but spontaneously.

You are so young, and so free. Thousands of miles from the wintery comforts of your countryside home in Norfolk, England, you are halfway through a study abroad year in Western Australia and making the most of a summertime Christmas by backpacking along Australia’s East Coast alone, with a head full of dreams and journal full of freshly lived memories. You are wilder than the version of me who writes this, I recently re-read a Facebook post you shared (Facebook is old enough to have a ‘Memories’ archive function now); and you wrote; “Sitting in the hostel with no shoes on, yesterday’s make up, eating half a bowl of pasta next to a man with a ukulele while The Beatles are blaring out from a busted up stereo”. It made me laugh, and I love you for capturing the essence of who you are in all you write, so that I don’t forget you. And I don’t forget you; I was listening to The Beatles the night before I read that post, and I married a singer and guitarist several years ago. 

I walked outside on the frosty grass to feed the birds in my garden yesterday (Boxing Day) morning, with no shoes on. Just a side note, so you know that I still prefer feeling the temperature and the dirt on the bottom of my feet than losing that bodily connection with the Earth we live on.

Every day you write and document your journeys, and I’m happy to say you mostly carry that on today. At 21, you’ve just started a blog a few months ago under the name “Kate on Conservation”, and I’m pleased to tell you, you’re still writing on that platform all these years later. A decade on, you understand that the role of ‘conservation communications’ is a far greater one than you knew back then, but your life is richer for committing to it. 

At 21 you have numerous doubts and high expectations, and they weigh heavy on you at times, especially when you’re on the road so much and spending too long staring out of the car window at another stunning Aussie sunset, wondering about your place in the world. You’re a cliche, and I love that about you, kid.

You still have a year to go at university once you return to the UK, you want to turn all those pages of a steadily building ‘published writing’ portfolio into a journalism career, and your hapless and hopeless love life is still heavily characterised by the fact that your emotional connections to romantic interests come and go like the tides. You spend most days pondering your next move over, as you lift your head from the pages of a notebook in which you scrawl fleeting thoughts; to-do lists; article ideas; half-written blog posts; and a numbered couple of lists on the back pages, ranking your most important life goals, and the order of your favourite ex-lovers (with a reason why they made it to that position in brackets). Both lists have been written and re-ordered multiple times.

I want to assure you that you’ll figure it out. You’ll get the grades you’re after, and you’ll work in jobs you can’t really believe are possible for you right now — BBC, Channel 4, Discovery, National Geographic will all appear on your CV in the coming decade. In fact, you’ll make lists in the back of notebooks ranking your favourite ex-jobs now, instead. 

You’ll marry and have a couple of children — and you’ll be glad that you chose ‘Kate on Conservation’ as your alias, so that you don’t have to change it when your last name changes. Smart move, girl. Your new blog has so far been a reflection of your time volunteering with Born Free Foundation in South Africa when you were 18 — and linking it to what you see and experience around you those 3 years later, in yet another continent you find yourself living on. Would you believe me if I told you you’ve now spent nearly 5 years as a trustee of Born Free, joining as the then youngest member by several decades? You’re still smashing boundaries and (even your own) expectations. So stop being so hard on yourself. 

Another thing that makes me love and respect the woman you’re becoming is your commitment to learning and volunteering — every new city you visit during your year in Australia you end up leaving with 2 common experiences; you’ve been on a date, and you’ve volunteered with a conservation organisation — the latter always leaves the better and more lasting impression. You don’t volunteer with the expectation of it leading to anything, though it eventually does. You do it to balance the impact you’re having as you drive, bus and fly from place-to-place. I don’t think you have ‘carbon footprint’ or ‘carbon neutral’ in your vocabulary at 21, but believe me, they’ll be important later down the line.

So why am I writing to you, other than to tell you that you’re on the right path? I suppose it’s because I’d like to get to know you a little better again. Because I love your spirit and I think re-acquainting with you will teach me a great deal of things in this year as I hope to transition from being a journalist to a career in conservation.  The world a decade on is harsher. Climate change and biodiversity loss are finally recognised as crises, not something you’re not already savvy to, but I think the official recognition makes it all the more real. Travel round the world is heavily restricted nowadays — and not just personally, because you have children now — though I’ll spare you the details of that one.

If there’s one thing that I’d like to impart on you from this perspective, it would be to share who you are a little more. At 21 you’re bright and sociable, but only in the parameters of those situations that you deem ‘acceptable’: nights out, backpackers’ social gatherings, uni classes. You’ll learn how to give a little more of yourself away on the second half of your year abroad when you join a newspaper print team, and even more so during your final year at your home university when you run the student magazine, but at this point you’re a little allergic to teamwork, and certainly to wearing your heart on your sleeve — and achieving a comfortability with those things will eventually become one of your greatest assets.
What would you teach me? If you could write back?

I’d like to think you’d tell me to stare into the sunset a little more and think about my place on this Earth or take the time to ponder the small things by lifting my nose out of my notebook and watching the tide every now and then. 

In honour of you, my goal for 2022 is to do just that. After all, you never know where it’s going to lead. 

 From 31-year-old Kate on Conservation

Written by @kateconservation

Illustrated by Daisy Buckle @naturalcuriositystudio


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