BTO’s Youth Engagement: nothing about us, without us
My BTO journey has been so intricately linked to my personal growth that it feels remiss to mention it merely through descriptions of what I did and what I achieved. I know my experience is not unique. The connections made between both volunteers and young people who engage with BTO Youth are substantial in shaping people’s lives. It was one of the many reasons why I loved volunteering with BTO Youth.
So, when I agreed to write this blog, the dilemma remained about how to sum up BTO Youth. I decided I would spotlight what I loved about it.
Teamwork and collaboration
As a community, BTO Youth empowers everyone through a shared love of birds. It is built on teamwork and mutual respect. The principle of “nothing about us, without us” could not be more clearly demonstrated than in my time at BTO.
BTO Youth gave me the chance to work collaboratively with peers to implement and deliver the youth engagement strategies of the organisation — in the process, changing me as much as it changed the lives of the wonderful young people who engage with the organisation every day.
BTO’s journey to inclusivity is a lifetime mission, and inclusivity will continue to be a challenge to reckon with across conservation and environmental science organisations. Yet BTO Youth has made significant strides to increase inclusivity and accessibility of youth engagement for all young people.
What this means in practice is reducing the barriers facing young people getting interested in birding — running bird ID training courses, demystifying the sector in Nature Natter talks, and running the Equipment Donation Scheme.
Celebrating unique connections to birds
On a personal level, the confidence BTO Youth has provided me and others has been invaluable. I want to emphasise confidence because, by allowing people the space to grow and develop their skills, BTO Youth helps both volunteers and young people celebrate their unique connections to birds. People’s relationships with nature have similarities through shared cultures, but also some profound differences.
Individual encounters between people and birds are laced with meaning. Whether it was the common bird that got you interested in birding, or finally seeing a rare bird of almost mythical proportions, these encounters matter. By providing opportunities for young people to learn more about birds both online and in person, greater connections between people and birds can be developed.
Sharing nature’s value for mental and physical health
On a fundamental level, if more young people are connected to nature, more young people can understand its value for both mental and physical health. For me, the effects have been profound, and birding has become an important source for finding mindfulness.
As BTO moves on in 2024, I hope that it will continue to develop and engage more young people in innovative and unusual ways. But I thought I would end this short blog by highlighting what attracted me to BTO Youth in the first place. This was to engage more young people in the natural world so they too could see the benefits of nature for their mental and physical health.
What I wish
to be a part of the
birdwatchers after sunrise,
Looking for birds today,
Seeking the unknown,
A hidden world,
Here I stand and it is freezing.
Yet, watching lapwings in the snow,
Keeps my heart soaring.
Never let go of that …
Oh, birdwatchers before sunset,
Looking out for a surprise
In the hope of something feathery feeding
Nobody told these birds to come here,
Yet the birds keep coming.
Even as the day draws near.
The simplicity of birding provides the vision.
To project on bird’s greater glories
Feeding the rational into a place of dreaming for the irrational
Birds cut the cage that keeps my soul.
Trapped and out of reach.
Helps me breathe and helps me speak.
To live life in the presence of birds
Oh, birdwatchers are up late at night.
Listening out for the birds
Migrating in starlight
Never expected to see birds I have seen.
In my local park, but now I know.
Even cities are full of life.
Makes me, me.
Oh, birdwatchers up at sunrise.
Who will be the first up and the first to rise?
For the waxwings arrived last night.
Youth Advisory Panel (YAP)
Meet our panel of volunteers who help steer BTO to better serve our younger supporters.
Launching the new BTO Youth Engagement Strategy
Youth Advisory Panel member Katie Monk discusses developing BTO Youth's new strategy, and why an inclusive environment for young people is vital for nature's future.