Kate on Bardsey Island.
Kate Fox

My BTO journey

From bird ringing trainee and BTO Youth Representative to one of our very own Training Officers, Kate Fox explains how her journey with BTO led her to her current role.

Kate Fox

Training Officer

Kate’s role is to encourage birdwatchers to support and engage with BTO, and to train them to take part in surveys: both central to BTO’s goals. Kate is responsible for helping to create and deliver educational material and training activities around bird identification and BTO surveys. She provides support to the survey teams to help increase the profile of BTO’s long-term monitoring schemes and recording programmes.

My first bird book was the gateway for me: the RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds. I studied the illustrations intensely, marvelling at the colours and diversity.

I soon learnt that birds are brilliant – they come in all shapes and sizes, make funky noises, and are everywhere. I still remember the sense of satisfaction from identifying my first male Kestrel, sitting on a cliff on the Dorset coast. Looking up from the pages of my bird book, it was like seeing a celebrity!

I first became aware of BTO at a bird ringing demonstration at Durlston Country Park in Dorset. Seeing the birds up close and learning about their ecology captivated me. The best bit: ANYONE could apply to learn! After emailing a few trainers who were fully subscribed, I finally found my wonderfully eccentric ringing trainer, Barry, who took a chance on a shy young birder. Seven years on, Barry is still a dear friend and mentor, and I love popping round for some ringing and a slice of ‘cakey’!

Bird ringing was brilliant for building my confidence and integrating me into the birding community. It was great being surrounded by the knowledge and enthusiasm of fellow ringers. Many of these ringers have been volunteering for the scheme for decades and have some brilliant stories! Ringing also forced me out of my comfort zone, because the rewards were too exciting to miss out on. 

However, I still hadn’t met any nature enthusiasts my age.

That all changed when I was 17. I saw a tweet advertising a Young Birders Week at Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory in Wales, and I booked a place with financial support from BTO’s Young Bird Observatory Volunteers (YBOV) programme. This proved to be a pivotal experience for me. From the moment I arrived it was clear I wasn’t alone, and after a week of pure nature nerdiness I left inspired by the birds, the place and the people. I still can’t stay away from that magical island, having returned since for another Young Birders Week and as a volunteer.

A lifelong obsession begins... Kate meets her first Storm Petrel on that pivotal trip to Bardsey Island.

As well as building networks, this trip also reinforced that I could pursue my passion and make it a career. I went on to study Zoology at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, where I soon found my tribe among the various wildlife societies. 

It was through these societies that I realised my love for engagement. For instance, during my time as Bird Representative for the campus Ecological Society, I ran bird-related events such as bird walks, practical conservation days and surveying. One of my proudest achievements in this role was setting up a student BTO/RSPB/JNCC Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) site, surveying the site with a group and helping people to develop their bird ID and fieldwork skills. This put me in contact with the brilliant BTO Regional Network volunteers, who were very supportive in the early days of the project. 

A year on, I was very lucky to be selected as one of the first BTO Youth Representatives, based in Gloucestershire where I was on placement at the time, working with the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust Reserve Team at their Slimbridge site. Due to COVID-19 and my slightly nomadic life moving between Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Dorset for my studies (I liked to think of myself as a ‘Roving Youth Rep’!), I mainly focused on developing online resources for young people with the other BTO Youth Reps.

These were well received, reaching young people across such broad age and geographic ranges, and showing them they were not alone during such an isolating time. I particularly enjoyed making our Birding 101 series, but always wished I could put more time into it… More on this wish later! It’s been so lovely to hear how much the young people enjoyed this series and to watch their confidence grow, with many Equipment Donation Scheme recipients and Bird Campers having taken part.

In the autumn of 2022, after finishing my degree and spending some time volunteering at Bardsey and Spurn Bird Observatories, a position as a Training Officer at BTO was advertised. I’ll always remember the moment I got the call to say I’d got the job: I was sitting watching Bearded Tits pinging around a reedbed at RSPB Lakenheath Fen, Suffolk, on a freezing cold winter’s day. Perfect!

I’ll always remember the moment I got the call to say I’d got the job: I was sitting watching Bearded Tits pinging around a reedbed at RSPB Lakenheath Fen on a freezing cold winter’s day. Perfect!

Bird Camp Wales 2023, where Kate supported BTO Youth to deliver a weekend of nature-filled adventure for young people.

My role involves organising and delivering training courses, largely focusing on bird identification, and creating website and magazine content for our supporters and volunteers. It still feels like a dream that I am working for BTO, where it’s actually my job is to share my bird knowledge and passion for wildlife with others. The wish to have more time to run training events has come true!

Engagement is such an important part of BTO’s work. Whether it is interacting with our wonderful existing supporters, or reaching new audiences, it all helps to raise awareness of our work and build a sense of community. The training courses also upskill our attendees, equipping them with the skills to take part in our citizen science surveys, which in turn helps us better understand our bird populations. At BTO’s recent 90th anniversary event it was lovely to meet some of our participants in person, and hear how much they had enjoyed the courses. One attendee said our training had completely changed the way they birdwatch! It’s that sort of feedback which makes it all worthwhile.

I hope that my work can reach out to those who are perhaps less sure of themselves or don’t feel as integrated into the birding community, and help boost their confidence. It’s my way of giving back to an organisation that has given me so much.

For me, it all goes back to those first interactions at bird ringing demonstrations, YBOV, volunteering and the associated support which opened up my world. Those opportunities had such an impact, and I hope that my work can reach out to those who are perhaps less sure of themselves or don’t feel as integrated into the birding community, and help boost their confidence. It’s my way of giving back to an organisation that has given me so much.

I think we all are all guilty of comparing ourselves to others and convincing ourselves that everybody else knows everything… But I like to remember that everyone starts somewhere, and that a hobby is only worth doing if you enjoy it. Expect some ID challenges, but if the pressure becomes too much, take a step back! It’s also important to appreciate that people enjoy engaging with nature differently, and we should celebrate that. 

I am very grateful to everyone who has been so supportive throughout my journey. To all of the staff and volunteers in the sector who have taken me under their wing over the past 10 years, made me feel so welcome, and offered me opportunities, thank you!

Inspired by Kate’s journey? 

Join BTO Youth

BTO Youth offers a range of exciting opportunities and support for young people aged 11–24. Check out the BTO Youth Hub to find out how you can get involved! 

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Kate Fox, 04 August 2023

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