So here is the very first blog in the 13 Years Wilde series. I met Lucy through A Focus on Nature and the first time we met, we were sitting on the settee in my house testing each other on who could ID the most birds in the Collins guide. Lucy has done great things for young people who are interested in the natural world and A Focus on Nature has introduced me to some great young people who share my passion. So here is Lucy's guest blog on being 13.
Well done, Findlay Wilde. You asked me to do something that should have been very easy, and there I sat, on my lunch break, fingers poised to start typing. I sat like that for fifteen minutes. I made a cup of tea, answered a couple of emails and then returned to the task. After another 5 minutes, realising that lunch was well and truly over – it was 15:10 – I gave up.
You lovely thing, Fin – you’d asked me to write about ‘what wildlife meant to me when I was thirteen’. That shouldn’t be that hard.
The problem was this was like making a sordid confession – I was exposing some deep, dark secret that I really didn’t want to talk about. I’ve spent the first years of my career championing nature to young people, particularly teenagers and now suddenly I was going to be revealed as a frightful hypocrite. In all honesty, wildlife meant very little to me when I was thirteen.
In fact, thirteen was probably the turning point when I stopped caring as much about nature until I was in my second year of university. That’s seven years I missed out on.
I’m always shocked by how much more confident I am in myself, how much more content, how much more driven I am now that nature is part of my life. I loved nature and animals when I was young and it amazes me looking back how my parents were responsible for that. Mum was always scared of birds (loved spiders: I know, right?), but we got very excited once when we saw what I now know to be a Yellowhammer. She was obsessed with identifying it (she thought it was a Canary) and used to check on it every day. My dad showed me birds like Peewits and Pied Wagtails, and my Grandad took me on an adventure to find a Jay, nesting in a neighbouring spinney.
I was a member of the RSPCA youth wing, and loved collecting snails, caterpillars and woodlice, influenced strongly by my love for Dick King Smith’s Sophie books. In fact, books were probably my bridge to the natural world – Beatrix Potter and the Animals of Farthing Wood. I’ve always been super-jealous that when I was very young, my sister was on The Really Wild Show.
The other day, when I decided to try my hand at making Elderflower Cordial (looks like wee, tastes amazing!), I knew exactly where the Elder Trees were near our house: my dad (who now thinks my love of birds is bonkers) pointed them out when we used to walk our dog. When the dog died in my early teens, I stopped walking around the woods and the fields, and I hadn't revisited that hedgerow since my childhood.
All of my contact with nature was as a child: we used to play out on the street every day throughout the summer, in the evenings, all day at weekends and we were lucky to have a woodland nearby to explore. When I became a teenager that stopped. I’m tempted to say that this was because my mum got cancer (diagnosed when I was thirteen), but I would be kidding myself. I was too insecure, too much subject to peer pressure, too ‘busy’ (though for the life of me I can’t remember what I was doing – probably fancying boys or something) to care much about anything. I spent an insane amount of time on the computer or on the phone. It isn’t cool, you see, to have a hobby – let alone one that you’re passionate about. I remember a Year 8 field trip to France, where I had my make up done for the first time by a friend – I would have been thirteen.
I also got a job at 15, working for £3 an hour for my brother. Since then, I worked every summer until I was 21, and at the age of 18 started working 26 hours a week in a pub. The money I earned gave me independence, a car and distracted me from how deeply affected I was when I lost my mum at 16.
The great thing is, since going to university and taking a course in Environmental History, those little memories came flooding back. It’s amazing that after only a few months of birding, I had the courage to go to counselling – to kick myself up the arse. A passion for nature and wildlife did that. If I’d been connected with wildlife throughout my teens, it would have brought me such comfort.
So, what did wildlife mean to me at thirteen? Very little – it was something nice that I associated with my childhood and that I enjoyed, but not in any serious way (although secret confession: I have always collected conkers!). Do I regret that now? Totally. I’m so jealous when I see these bright young things who connect with nature through their teens (not to mention slightly fearful for my job). But luckily it’s never too late, and I’m making up for lost time now.