The latest addition to our growing Ambassador network is Lizzie Daly, a wildlife biologist and broadcaster. Lizzie has a real love for adventure and inspiring other women in the wildlife adventure space. Recently she completed a solo expedition in the Finnish Arctic Circle to document the changing climate and ventured into new habitats withinin the Peruvian Amazon to collect eDNA samples.
As a scientist, Lizzie is currently researching for her PhD from Swansea University in Animal Movements; using tag technology to better understand the African Elephant and wild Jaguars. As part of our ongoing work with Lizzie, one of the faces of our recent Oryon campaign, we interviewed her about her connection with nature and what drives her passion for the outdoors.
TD: Here at TDHQ we’ve been discussing a quote that came up recently from some wider reading, with mixed responses I must say. The context being our relationship with nature as a species and how connected we feel with the world around us. This quote prompted the question of whether we consider ourselves as existing “on” the planet, or “in” the planet. Given your work as a wildlife biologist and conservation filmmaker you seemed the right person to ask, so… do you consider yourself as being “on” the planet, or “in” it?
LD: It’s an important question because it’s so subjective. I think the reason you will always get different answers is part of the reason why trying to get people connected to nature is so important. For example if you’re a young lad who has only ever grown up on an estate in London and therefore never connected nature, why would you feel part of the planet? This is key to the question of accessibility and inclusivity around nature and why these topics are as important as trying to protect it. Yeah… it’s a really good question, for me I very much feel a part of it (the planet). I think if you go back through the psychology of us as a race we’ve very much seen ourselves as being above the natural world and unfortunately that has led to our over-consumerism and our hammering of every aspect of the natural world. So that change in mindset from “on” to “in” I think would really go a long way in terms of feeling like we should protect the planet rather than exploit it.
From a young age I’ve always spent time outdoors. I’ve always had that curiosity and just spending time in an environment where you can be truly yourself, without ego, without pretence. It’s just you, out there, absorbing your surroundings. I’ve really learned a lot about myself in these times. Also when I’m with other people, family or mates I see how they are also their most… their most “selves” in the outdoors. It’s a very disarming place to be and you see that shift in people the more time you spend outdoors in nature and connecting with it and that I feel strips away that idea that you are “above it” and you’re not part of that world. So I think for me, very much “in” it but I do think that is in everyone. It’s surely therefore just about trying to figure out what this ‘connection’ looks like for you in your daily life.
"I’ve always had that curiosity and just spending time in an environment where you can be truly yourself, without ego, without pretence. It’s just you, out there, absorbing your surroundings."
TD: What experiences have you had where you really feel that sense of “oh actually I really am a part of this” rather than just being separate.
LD: Being immersed in any environment will always make you feel ‘part’ of that world. I’ve been lucky to have a few of those moments when filming. When you’re moving as part of a school of Grey nurse sharks and they bump into you. Or when you’re surrounding by a huge penguin colony and you go unnoticed.
However, I would say, (not to be all dark and gloomy) when you witness the impacts of changing climate first hand, that’s when you wake up. I’ve recently finished filming in Brazil where we were trying to film jaguar behaviour in both the wet and dry season.
Unfortunately they haven’t had a stable season for three or four years and as a result, everything was so unpredictable. We were there in what was supposed to be wet season but it was bone dry and one day, during an extreme out of season storm we literally had trees landing on buildings and cars. It’s when you see those things for real… when you realise the consequences of our actions and how it’s all linked.
"It’s when you see those things for real… when you realise the consequences of our actions and how it’s all linked."
TD: So how does all this determine your message to others?
LD: The challenge is to reach and inspire those outside of my echo chamber. Quite often I speak to people that are already engaged in the topic of conversation around nature and the outdoors. So, for me it’s about finding ways of reaching new audiences and that’s one of the most fun things about my job is coming up with exciting ways of reaching new people. The message will always be about experiencing nature first hand where possible but it’s important that we find new and interesting ways of getting that message to people in the first place.
TD: And how does your feeling of being “in” the planet influence your professional work? Does it make it harder as a researcher to look at things quantitatively or does it make things easier if you have that sense of empathy?
LD: They’re both important for having an impact. My work as scientist allows me to contribute to the scientific field and to research which forms the basis of all our understanding of the state of our planet. While my job as a filmmaker / host is a great way of spreading the message to people and to translate that work in a relatable way. Personally, that is driven by a feeling of duty to get that information out there.
"The message will always be about experiencing nature first hand where possible but it’s important that we find new and interesting ways of getting that message to people in the first place. "
TD: Interesting you use the word “duty”? It gives a sense of being able to switch off or park your emotions?
LD: Oh don’t get me wrong there’s still a part of me that’s like an excited child when I see a jaguar or a shark, because it’s still an epic animal right? However I need to be able to report what I’m seeing with balance and integrity because that’s ultimately how I can best inform people about these important messages. It’ll always be difficult for me to switch off entirely as I’m passionate about my work and the wildlife and ecosystems that I’m documenting.
TD: So do you think you would agree with the statement that too many people probably consider themselves as existing “on” the planet rather than “in” it?
LD: Yes I do agree. However I do think the important question is to ask why do people feel that way? Why do they feel like they’re just existing on the planet? Why do they feel detached? It goes back to that question of accessibility and inclusivity. And how then can we get people from “on” to “in”?
TD: And how do you think? What would be the most straightforward, practical way of encouraging that transition?
LD: By encouraging people to get outdoors as often as they can, doing what they can, when they can. We have some incredible wildlife on our doorstep, despite what a lot of people think.
We also need to think about the way we message the outdoors to people. It is our responsibility to portray the outdoors in an inclusive and beneficial way. How do we as people who love the outdoors portray nature to these people that I mentioned who are isolated in the inner cities without ready access to it. Get out for a 10, 15 minute walk if you can, listen to birdsong etc…go for a swim, head to the beach, learn what lives in your garden or on your coastal path. Take the time to notice the environment or species around you.
"We also need to think about the way we message the outdoors to people. It is our responsibility to portray the outdoors in an inclusive and beneficial way."
Author: George Nix
Banner Image - Madison Stewart @sharkgirlmadison
Image 1 - Nush Freedeman @nushfreedman
Final Image - Olly Pemberton @olly_pemberton