While ‘it’s coming home’ rang across the nation as a sign of the triumphs of Southgate’s team, to me the phrase encompassed the feeling of something a little more personal and closer to home happening in Suffolk this summer.
If you happen to be visiting RSPB Minsmere in August, as you walk into the Visitor Centre you will see nine stunning photographs from student photographers who hail from academic institutions across the UK. The pictures themselves span topical stories such as plastic pollution and the need for more biological recording, to celebrating the photographers' own ‘local patches’ and the hidden sides of nature one often overlooks.
You will marvel at the beauty of a kestrel hunched into a tree trunk to shelter from a snow storm, or perhaps surprise yourself at your ‘awww’ reaction to a small spider popping its head over a recording pot, to name but two of my own reactions to our winners’ images - click here to see them all! However, the story of Minsmere’s exhibition of the winners of the inaugural Student Wildlife Photography Competition - that we have run in conjunction with the National Union of Students - started over four years ago when I signed up to volunteer at RSPB Minsmere.
A place I’ve been visiting since I was pushed round in a buggy, my one-day-a-week visit for nearly two years solidified my love of Suffolk as my family’s new base after our urban-rural shift from London, along with giving me lifelong friends that one blog cannot do justice to. It's a place I have seen more golden Suffolk sunsets over reeds than I can count and learned (and unfortunately forgotten many since moving down country!) the names of different sandpipers and other waders scuttling across the scrape. Here I heard my first booming bittern, saw a mother otter rolling and tumbling with two cubs right in front of a hide, and managed to miss every great white egret that ever came during my time there by about one minute - the classic wildlife phrase 'if only you'd been here five minutes ago' was all too familiar. Thus, when we were discussing at AFON where to hold the exhibition for the first Student Wildlife Photography Competition, one place was at the forefront of my mind.
Somehow (time is flying!) I’ve now been on the A Focus on Nature (AFON) committee for over a year, however, I only found out about the organisation through my time as a volunteer at Minsmere; conservation is a very small world! Ian Barthorpe, Minsmere’s Visitor Experience Officer, is one of our AFON mentors, and first put me onto AFON by suggesting I went to the Vision for Nature Conference in Cambridge in 2014. For me as they say, the rest is history. AFON, like Minsmere, has given me a home from where I can hone my skills in conservation, alongside connecting me to people I otherwise wouldn’t have known who love nature as much as I do and encourage me to love and learn about it even more.
AFON and Minsmere give me that similar kick of pride as they’ve allowed me to be a part of huge projects (like this competition) all seeking the same simple thing: to engage people in, and to protect, the natural world. Walking into the Visitor Centre to plan the exhibition brought all my worlds together.
As an RSPB flagship reserve, and the recent home of BBC Springwatch, Minsmere is a very special setting from which to celebrate and exhibit the winners of our new annual competition! So if you’re in Suffolk for any part of August - or even if you’re not! – pop to Minsmere to see these very special images in the Visitor Centre at one of the best nature reserves in the UK!
Alexandra Hoadley is the Online and Social Media Manager at A Focus on Nature. She has just graduated with a degree in Geography and English at the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, where she also presents on the student-run wildlife documentary series NatureWatch. Follow her on Twitter @AKHoadley.