Daily Mirror

Cool of the wild

Whole new generation getting into the great outdoors

- BY LYDIA VELJANOVSK­I Feature Writer lydia.veljanovsk­i@mirror.co.uk @LydiaVelja­novs2

It’s a bright sunny day on the banks of a reservoir. On the horizon are tower blocks, telephone pylons and the occasional flashes of an orange and white train as it hurtles through the trees.

There is a lot to see in the city today, but my binoculars are intently focused on a patch of the water where a cormorant sits on a wooden pole, its wings out wide like a classical sculpture of some mythical creature.

Little black coots, with little white faces, float past the reeds.

As I pan across the water, I see a silver fleck glinting in a bird’s beak.

“He’s caught a fish!” I exclaim, with unexpected delight.

While birdwatchi­ng isn’t how I would typically choose to spend an afternoon, the pastime is having a resurgence and is increasing­ly popular with a younger crowd.

Only last week, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds began a new programme to encourage a “youth revolution” in birdwatchi­ng by giving free access to its reserves for those aged 16-24 for the next two years.

It is also big on social media, and can be done with the aid of many new smartphone apps.

Kwesia X, who is my guide during my first foray at London’s Walthamsto­w Wetlands, began watching birds in her flat in Lewisham, South London. “Just outside my window, I can see at least five species,” she said. “Without having to pay attention too much, I can see crows, magpies, parakeets, wood pigeons and black birds.”

The 25-year-old describes herself as a “birder”. This is different to a “twitcher” – a person who travels to far-flung places to seek out exotic birds. Birding is about looking for birds in your local surroundin­gs.

Kwesia adds: “When I pay more attention, I get to see the robins and the blue tits. I noticed that they were even nesting during spring. I actually watched the bird get all its materials and everything, which was really cool.”

Her Get Birding podcast sees her interview celebrity birders, such as actress Alison Steadman and Springwatc­h’s Lucy Hodson, and share expert tips with the aim of expanding the hobby to more diverse and younger audiences.

Kwesia finds the act of birding calming, a meditation of sorts. She says: “I like watching the process of it and understand­ing that I guess I’m just a small part of the bigger picture of the world.

A pair of buzzards in flight

The birds allow me to kind of see that too, because they’re so free, and just how they operate.

“There’s so many things that can cloud our mind and distract us, social media and all the other stuff, but when you then look at the birds being a part of our natural world, it allows you to have a different perspectiv­e.”

She is not alone in this, with many young people taking to TikTok to show their enjoyment of the hobby.

The hashtag #birding has more than 200million views, whereas #birdwatchi­ng has 6.1billion – a lot of people like to peek at beaks online.

Kwesia, who is known online as City Girl In Nature, found purpose and solace in nature, after a traumatic past left her homeless. She ended up being offered the opportunit­y to travel to the Peruvian Amazon, with the British Exploring Society.

Since then, she has been intent on showing others what she sees in the natural beauty around us.

As a selfprocla­imed novice birder, she is excited to learn as she goes. “We’re just trying to change that narrative as well, of what a birdwatche­r is and someone into nature looks like,” she says.

“You don’t need to be from a certain background. You can buy binoculars for £20, you can go to a library and get a birdwatchi­ng field guide. You can use an app, you can search online or take pictures. But you can just start by looking out your window in your flat.”

And in big cities, it isn’t just pigeons to see, either. “At Charing Cross

We’re trying to change the narrative of what someone who’s into nature looks like


Hospital there are peregrine falcons, and you can see buzzards in Epping Forest,” Kwesia explains.

The apps include Birda, which lets sers to log the birds they see. Its 20-something co-creator, Sarah Cunningham, got into looking at birds during the Covid lockdown. She explains: “For birdwatchi­ng, the general stereotype is retired, older gentlemen. “Retired people have something lots of us don’t, and that’s time. Time to fill with hobbies. During Covid, many of us had a sort of retirement from work in the form of furlough.

“I believe we all asked ourselves, what do I do with all this time? Many took up birdwatchi­ng, as you only need your eyes and ears.

“It doesn’t cost anything, and can be done as part of your daily exercise.”

Another lockdown birder, Nadeem Perera, connected with Ollie Olanipekun on Instagram. They decided to meet up, and through a love of birding their friendship took flight.

A few weeks later, in June 2020, they organised the first outing of their collective Flock Together, monthly birding outings for people of colour.

Nadeem, 28, and originally from

East London, explains the aim was to “combat the under-representa­tion of people of colour in the outdoors”.

Although on their first outing there were just 15 people, now Nadeem and Ollie, 38, take groups of 150 birders out across the south of England, from Dorset to Essex and around London.

Nadeem says: “Our vision has always been to make the outdoor space appealing to the younger generation. It can be young, it can be fun, it can be sexy. It is big vibes.”

■ Listen to Get Birding on most podcast providers; visit www.flocktoget­her.world.

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