Ever since I can remember I have always been fascinated with the natural world, whether it was searching for minibeasts in my garden, watching birds come to the feeders or waking up at the crack of dawn to explore the nearby woods. By the time I was in secondary school I had my heart set on a career in conservation and this is when I first crossed paths with Operation Wallacea.
Operation Wallacea is an amazing organisation, which gives students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to visit incredible sites all around the world and actively take part in conservation science. At the time I was 14 and a new teacher had started at my school. When she was a student she had gone on an expedition with Opwall and was eager for these opportunities to be offered to students in our school. The trip to Honduras sounded incredible; one week carrying out surveys in the central American cloud forest and another week learning to scuba dive! The idea of being able to see nature for myself that otherwise I could only read about in textbooks or listen to David Attenborough talk about was too good an opportunity to miss. I applied and when I was 16 I went on my first adventure with Opwall. Honduras was a truly amazing experience for me, and marked the first moment that Opwall had an impact on my life. While I was away I took part in herpetofauna surveys, and particularly took a shine to frog monitoring to help measure the local impacts of chytrid fungus. My new found talent for frog-spotting earned me the nickname “frog girl” and ultimately led me to study zoology with herpetology at university.
When I finished uni in 2019 I initially applied for many conservation jobs, although at the time I failed to realise just how competitive the conservation world was. For the time-being I got a job at a cafe which I ended up stuck in for 2 years, partly due to the pandemic. Since my trip to Honduras I had been following Opwall on Instagram, and this is how I came upon the opportunity to go to Knepp. The pandemic had prevented Opwall from running their usual expeditions overseas, so for the first time they had started to offer an expedition in the UK. I spotted the advert at a time when a combo of stresses from the pandemic and disappointment at my struggles to get a job in conservation had left me feeling low. I knew the moment that I saw this trip that it was for me, an opportunity for me to re-connect to the world of conservation, re-ignite my passion for nature and although I didn’t know it at the time, re-wild.
I spent my 2 weeks at Knepp taking part in loads of different surveys; from birds to bats, mammals to herpetofauna and invertebrates to habitats. It was another incredible experience and even better than I could have ever imagined. Before I came to Knepp I knew nothing about the site or rewilding, whereas now it has become one of my greatest interests. I was so inspired by my time at Knepp that when I returned I immediately started applying for conservation jobs and within a month I started my job working for the RSPB. When I applied to go to Knepp I was truly lacking motivation for my career so it’s hard to believe where my life would be now had I not joined Opwall that summer.
Fast forward to this year, I started a masters course in conservation and ecosystem management while simultaneously continuing my work with the RSPB. By June I had just submitted one of my final assessments when I got an email from Operation Wallacea. Last minute changes had meant that they needed a general ecologist to come join them this summer at Knepp. I jumped on the opportunity, and spent an incredible 5 weeks surveying the beautiful wildlife and meeting so many amazing people. Since coming home, I finished my degree and will soon start applying for jobs again. From steering my choice of uni, to helping me get my first job in conservation, Opwall has been a huge part of my journey and hopefully my latest venture will help me move on to the next step in my career. I would highly recommend Opwall to anyone interested in the conservation field, and I hope I can join them once again for more adventures in the future.
Photos by Becca Orange