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‘It’s rewarding to help people and highlight nature’

Nadeem Perera
By Nadeem Perera

Wildlife broadcaster Nadeem Perera explains why he’s passionate about connecting marginalised communities and young people with the natural world.

I can’t remember a moment when I wasn’t into wildlife. I put it down to my mum, because she’s from Sri Lanka, and although I grew up in east London, we used to go on holiday there every year, and you can’t escape wildlife. If you put clothes out to dry, you’ll get monkeys ripping it off the line later; if you went to the toilet in the night, there’d be a snake!

When I got into birds, I was having a turbulent time in secondary education. At the age of 15, I stopped going to school and started just walking around places instead. One day I saw a green woodpecker. This bright-green bird, with a red cap and black mask – I’d never seen anything like it. Before I knew it, I was going out to look for it again. Then one bird turned into two, three, four… Next thing you know, I’m the most dope [cool] birdman in the UK!

Welcomed by green spaces

Spending time outdoors 100% helped my mental health. Any teenager, let alone a black kid from a single-parent family in east London, will tell you that life can feel overwhelming at times. You’ve got constant pressure around what you’re going to be when you grow up, doing your homework, what grades you’re going to get… That’s not easy for a kid who doesn’t even know who they are yet. But when I was outside in green spaces, I didn’t feel any of those pressures; I just felt welcome.

I held onto that feeling, and almost became addicted to it. I liked the idea that while all the people around me, and myself, were so stressed and consumed by their individual lives, there are millions of non-human lives out there that don’t care about any of the stuff we’re stressing about. All they’re doing is making a home, feeding their babies, feeding themselves, and staying alive. Life really can be that simple.

Relating to crows

According to UN regulations, London is considered a forest. Over 40% of its public land is green space, and more than a fifth is wooded. I grew up visiting those spaces, such as Thames Barrier Park, where I saw my first kingfisher, Barkingside Recreation Ground and Hackney Marshes. I properly fell in love with birding in Richmond Park. I used to travel there a lot, and it’s where I saw my first sparrowhawk kill. It’s still my favourite place in the world.

A carrion crow on a log perch
Nadeem’s favourite bird, a carrion crow | Photo by Francesca Occhiuto on Unsplash

At this time of year, I look forward to hearing the song of the chiffchaff. That really lets me know summer is coming. But my favourite bird is a year-round one: the carrion crow. They’re so clever, watching them is like watching a TV drama. Plus, they’re black, and they roll in groups, and people have negative stereotypes about them. So I can relate a lot to crows!

Connecting communities with nature

Flock Together started life as a birdwatching club in 2020, during the first pandemic lockdown. It was a time when we were all realising how important green spaces are to us. Meanwhile, the George Floyd case was going on in America, racism and police brutality were in the spotlight, and Black Lives Matter protests were taking place globally. Our community was going through a very difficult time. I connected with another nature lover, Ollie, on Instagram, after I responded to a couple of his posts about birds. He told me he’d had this idea to set up a club that would open up nature to people of colour and challenge under-representation in the outdoor space. Together, we knocked up a flyer and put it out there.

'There’s a whole global community of black and brown people who could benefit from nature, just as nature has benefited me and Ollie as individuals'

On our first walk, in Walthamstow Wetlands, there were about 15 people. By the third walk, we had around 60. On one of our latest, in Epping Forest, we had more than 300. That was brilliant, because from the beginning, we wanted it to be massive. There’s a whole global community of black and brown people who could benefit from nature, just as nature has benefited me and Ollie as individuals. Our chapter in Toronto quickly popped up, then one in Tokyo. It’s brilliant to see what it means to people, and it’s rewarding to help people and highlight nature at the same time.

New voices

Our community has never had a massive part to play in the conversation about nature. But I feel optimistic that the situation is changing, and Flock Together is at the forefront of that. It’s beautiful to see all these groups springing up that connect marginalised people with nature, and it’s good to see national organisations paying more attention to our stories, and valuing our input a bit more. We’ve never had the chance to influence nature, and it’s going to take time – but when we do get there, it’s going to be amazing.

'I’m hopeful about the future of British wildlife, because new voices are being heard, and new ideas are buzzing around'

Young people do care about nature. But some find it boring – and that’s not their fault, but the fault of whoever is conveying those messages to them. I’m also a youth football coach, and this year Flock Together will be working with pro football teams to take their academy kids out and connect them with nature. You have to cross-pollinate nature with things they enjoy doing. It’s not difficult – listen to the kids!

I’m hopeful about the future of British wildlife, because new voices are being heard, and new ideas are buzzing around. Through my coaching, I’m connected to the next gen, and they’ve got a lot of ideas and a lot of energy. In 10 years or so, these are the people who are going to be playing critical roles in decision-making. And if they carry on as I think they’re going to, the future for wildlife in this country is going to be very bright.

About the author

Wildlife presenter, activist and youth sports coach Nadeem Perera has appeared on Springwatch, The One Show and other programmes. With Ollie Olanipekun, he is the co-founder of birdwatching collective Flock Together, and co-author of Outsiders: Reclaim your place in nature.

Martin Hartley


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