Conservationists: Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

‘Do you know what that bird is?’

Yes thank you, I thought. I took a moment to size up the man who sat next to me. He must have been in his late fifties, short, slim, with glasses and greying hair. It wasn’t the question that bothered me, because, in fact, I knew very well that the bird we were watching from the hide was a little egret. No, it was more his tone that jaded me. It was a tad too patronising and a tad too condescending for my liking. However, I smiled politely and gave my answer. He looked surprised, but smiled back and said:

‘Yeeees!’ Again, the tone was a little odd. I then pointed out, in a purely conversational manner, that I had actually been interested in birds since a young age and was an avid birdwatcher. Now, you could argue that this gentlemen was simply trying to be helpful. We were, after all, on a University field trip and the module was ‘Bird Identification’. Many of my fellow students and friends were not birdwatchers and many did not recognise some of the birds we were watching. However, the next comment he made somewhat cemented my theory.

‘Well. That’s nice! We have women birdwatchers that come here sometimes too you know!’

The emphasis was on the word women and, sadly, his tone did not become any less patronising, if anything, it became more so. At this point I rolled my eyes, but smiled and picked up my binoculars, going back to watching the birds. In my mind however, my thoughts were a little less calm. Well spotted Sir, I am, in fact, a women, but why this needs to be pointed out, I’m not too sure. Now, before we all start rolling our eyes, with mutters of ‘oh here we go’, I would like to point out that I would not label myself a ‘feminist’ exactly. Ok, and now I have said I am not a feminist, I can feel some eyebrows being raised. Don’t get me wrong, I of course believe in equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunities, but I believe in equality for all groups. Black, white, straight, gay, man, woman, Neanderthal, we should all be treated the same and have the same opportunities. I remember watching an interview with Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann, in which they spent a good deal of the interview flirting with their interviewer and pointing out how attractive he was and asking him to show his muscles. I remember thinking it was funny and all in good humour and the interviewer didn’t seem to mind one bit, but then thinking, if it was a man saying this to a female interviewer, there would be outrage! But just because I am not a ‘feminist’ per se (not in the over the top sense of the word at least), it does not mean that I am a meek and mild and will quite happily sit and take an insult to women. No. In fact, I think I can probably be a little too fiery at times. So, what’s my point? Well, what I did not understand in this situation, was why, just because I am a women, that I should not be interested in birds, wildlife or conservation. But maybe I’m taking it to heart? I’m being overly sensitive and reading too much into things. Perhaps. But this is not the first time I have experienced such an incident.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I found myself up against the same stereotype. I was walking my dogs on the moorland and I came across two bird watchers who were counting some golden plover. As we passed, we said a friendly hello. Unfortunately, this was then followed with one of the men saying, in an unnecessarily slow and condescending tone:

‘There’s fifty golden plover over there. Do you know which ones they are?’

I almost glanced behind and to the side of me, just checking that there was not some small toddler beside me that he was addressing and even then, if I were that toddler, I would probably still have been irritated. Again, maybe I’m being sensitive. Perhaps he assumed that a general member of the public would not be able to ID this bird. After all, I was only walking my dogs and I had no telling signs that I was interested in birds, wearing a Guns N Roses t-shirt, some make-up on and had, in fact, forgotten my camera (a cardinal sin). However, when I then nodded and told him and his friend to watch out for a pair of buzzards and the odd red kite on their walk, he looked taken aback and as I walked away, I heard him turn to his friend and say:

‘Well. I didn’t expect that.’

I do love throwing people off. But what’s the point in this article? Am I just ranting and raving and being overly sensitive over something trivial? I don’t think so. In my view, this issue is very similar to the stigma that is attached to bird watching and wildlife lovers in general. We must all dress in waterproofs (not besmirching waterproofs here by the way) and dowdy clothes, we all must be of a certain age and have a certain ‘look’ about us. If we don’t fit into this category, then we are assumed to know very little about nature and birdwatching in particular. But why? Who wrote these imaginary laws, which say we must fit the stereotype? I remember being about 13 and a friend pointing at a collared dove at school and exclaiming ‘Urgh! I hate pigeons!’ I casually pointed out that it wasn’t a pigeon, it was a dove. When I was asked how I knew, I said I liked birds, to which my friend replied, ‘yeah, I wouldn’t tell people that. Not very cool Ellz.’

Personally, I think these ‘rules’ need re-writing, or, even better, just scrapping altogether. Just like nature, nature lovers come in all manner of different forms with all manner of different looks and other enthusiasms. Some of us are tall, some of us are short, we have long hair, we have short hair, wear make up, wear no make up, some of us have glasses and some of us don’t. Some of us like Mozart and Beethoven and some us like Thin Lizzy and Guns ‘N Roses (or all four actually). Some of us are men and oh yes, some of us are even women! Nature is there to be enjoyed by all, it’s not a passion that we should be embarrassed by and it should not represent a certain group in which we all need to  fit in to. Nature did not make everything the same, so why should those who love it be?

Never judge a book, or indeed a conservationist, by their cover.

Follow me on twitter for wildlife photography and nature news @DaisyEleanorug

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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