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From maddening toddler to motivated ecologist: thoughts on growing up on the Black Isle

It is a shame, I often think to myself, that our youth are increasingly more surrounded by screens than sea, sky, and forest. This is a thought that I bet my grandad shared when I was wee, engrossed by some PlayStation game. That said, that was a small and isolated part of how I spent my time. Technology is now full-time, all-encompassing, and difficult to escape from- our mobile phones an unrelenting conduit between ourselves and the rest of the world. True presence is now a muscle that requires work, and the only way I can strengthen it is by returning to the roots I grew from, which are firmly lodged in the dirt.

Hyperactive, defiant, and notoriously unmanageable, as a child I found solace in the woods next to my home in Knockbain. I struggled to connect with people but was instinctively in tune with the natural world. Endlessly fascinated by my surroundings, I pond dipped, raised butterflies, and looked for spiders, all whilst accompanied by my best -and I thought only- friend; a cat called Kitty. During these formative years in the ‘wilds’ of the Black Isle a livelong urge to protect and advocate for wildlife was formed.

Leaving Fortrose Academy, despite having gained a C in Higher Biology not once but twice, I was determined to study a wildlife-related degree at university. This had everything to do with my childhood experiences and little to do with my education- the ecology section of the Higher Biology textbook consisted of 4 pages at the end of the book, an afterthought. My guidance teacher told me that he had never even assisted in writing a personal statement for an ecology-related degree- which is not surprising when you consider that our education system barely acknowledged the existence of the field.

Despite this I wrangled my way in. Surrounded by the inspiring and engaging lecturers I quickly found myself in my element and surrounded by like minded people. However, in other ways I was a fish out of water. Plucked from rural surroundings and placed amongst concrete, traffic and people with the acoustic backdrop of sirens. Luckily, the Highlands were never far from reach. It was around this time that Highland Ecology and Development took me under their wing. Summers from thereon in were spent on bat surveys, peat probing, undertaking protected species surveys and learning as much as I could from Imogen and Paul. Since then I have learned and achieved more than I ever thought I was capable of as a youngster; from working, travelling, and studying. Much has changed since I was a little girl in Knockbain pond dipping for newts, but one thing that will always remain is my love of the place that I was raised, and the way that it always finds a way to draw me back.

After my ramblings I would like to leave you with one parting note that is close to my heart:

The only way that a child will ever grow to protect nature is if you take them away from the screens and immerse them in nature. I was fortunate enough to be one of those children, and the only thing that keeps me grounded is reconnecting with her. That vexatious, unmanageable but passionate wee girl is the one who keeps me driving forward today as an ecologist come rain or shine.


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