The women who inspire
Four women from across BTO share their stories of the women who inspire them for International Women's Day 2020.
This International Women’s Day, BTO wants to celebrate the women that inspire us. From our mothers and sisters to teachers and ornithologists, we asked four women to tell us who they were inspired by. Read their stories below. For more inspiring stories, head to our social media.
Standing next to a chalkboard in a classroom in Esher in 1973 was a jovial lady with a very distinctive laugh, chatting away to the gathering adult class; for this was the evening. I was at a class called ‘An Introduction to Birdwatching’; I needed a hobby.
From the very first words, which didn’t really make sense, I was hooked. We learned about holes in sheer sandbanks: “What were they?” My friend giggled and said Rabbits, but no – Sand Martins! I didn’t know they existed. Then there were Dunnocks with a red gape, wait, what?
Nothing mattered. Here was a lady who was so enthusiastic that she could inspire anyone, whoever they were, to participate in anything relating to the particular subject she was promoting.
Some background information about Mary. After the second world war, in which she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, Mary Duncan from Harrogate married Eric Waller, an RAF navigator, had two children, was an active Guider, and became a Justice of the Peace. She started birdwatching, and, in 1956, ringing at Dungeness Bird Observatory, gaining her A permit in 1968 and serving as Chairman for over 30 years. She often said that she had used the first ringing pliers in the country.
Back to 1973. Classes continued but Mary was hospitalised. Her opening line, on return, was: “With birdwatching as a hobby you will never be bored, no matter where you are”. Then she told us in great detail about the Tawny Owl which she saw several times from her hospital bed.
Field trips to the local Royal Parks were a feature where Green Woodpeckers would feed amongst the herds of deer. A Pied Wagtail flew over; how on earth did she identify that with such a fleeting glimpse? Of course, now I know.
As an avid ringer, Mary got us involved putting up nets, scribing, etc. in exotic places like Berrylands’ Sewage Works, at ridiculously early hours. We all joined Surbiton and District Bird Watching Society of which Mary was a committee member and past chairman. This was where I discovered my real interest. The club had covered a site, Arbrook Common, in BTO’s Common Bird Census since 1964. This is where I ‘learnt my trade’ from Mary, and others, which prepared me for involvement in BBS some 20 years later.
BTO was a major part of her life. She was thrilled to be asked to join council in 1977, saying they wanted a woman, and someone who wasn’t afraid to speak up. She fitted the criteria well and deservedly the Jubilee Medal was awarded to her in 1985.
Mary raised thousands of pounds over the years, starting in Dungeness where she forced twitchers of the day to give cash in support of the Observatory, to her legendary BTO Raffles. She ‘persuaded’ new recruits like me to hawk tickets to all the delegates, regardless of status.
Still active three weeks before her death, aged 92, she was scribing for the Hersham Ringing Group. That is an inspiration for anyone, certainly for me.
- Muriel Cadwallender, BTO Volunteer and Regional Organiser for BBS, with thanks for help to Dave Coker for historical information.
The person I would like to talk about for international Women’s day is someone who has inspired me through her lifelong work and dedication to science. Jane Goodall is widely considered to be one of the world’s most influential primatologists and possesses an incredible depth of knowledge on chimpanzees. She conducted studies on the social interactions between chimpanzees in the wild, starting in 1960 in Tanzania. Goodall studied the chimps in, what at the time, was considered to be a rather unconventional way. She imitated their behaviors, spent time in their trees and amongst the animals she was observing. This permitted her to become trusted by the chimpanzees, allowing her to notice a number of previously unobserved behaviors. Among other findings, Goodall saw that chimpanzees have a complex social system including a primitive ‘language’ involving 20 distinct sounds.
She is also the first person to observe chimpanzees eating meat and making use of tools. This is inspirational to me because, not only did she go against the scientific convention of the time, but she also produced some incredible findings and had the determination and passion to carry on her work for the majority of her life. Additionally, her work challenged many conventional notions about chimpanzees at the time, outlining the revolutionary nature of her research. Lastly, as a young woman aspiring to a career in conservation myself, Goodall’s story really appeals to me on a personal level. It is said that at a young age she watched the behaviour of hens and how they laid their eggs, was inspired by books such as Dr Doolittle and Tarzan of the apes and dreamt of going to Africa. She translated this passion into her later work and research with chimps. I find this inspiring because I’ve had a passion for nature from a young age and dream of having a career as fulfilling and successful as Goodall’s.
Being able to see a successful woman like Goodall as a role model and pioneer in her scientific field has inspired, I’m sure, many young wildlife enthusiasts to follow their aspirations. It is reassuring to see opportunities become more available to women in conservation recently, and to observe a passion for wildlife lead to a viable career in conservation for people with an interest such as Goodall. She has inspired me to pursue my own interests by getting involved with BTO as a member of their Youth Advisory Panel. In more recent years, Goodall has spoken out, as a powerful voice, about climate change, especially relevant in today's society. Her passion and incredible storytelling continue to educate and encourage the next generation to get involved with important issues such as climate change and speak out about what they believe in. To finish talking about Jane Goodall, I feel this quote captures her inspiring and influential nature: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
- Megan, Youth Advisory Panel
Tarja served two terms as the president of Finland between 2000 and 2012, as the first woman in my home country to hold this post. With an education and working background in law, she joined politics in the 1970s as the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, and held several ministerial positions before taking up the presidency.
Being in my teens when she became the president, she was hugely inspirational to me growing up, and continues to be so to date. Looking back now, having her as someone to look up to at that age was hugely influential, showing me that anything can be achieved with the right attitude and hard work.
My admiration for her does not rely on her having become a woman in power but rather on how she has achieved her credentials and how she has always conducted herself. She was hugely popular as a president, and I think this had a lot to do with her personable and down to earth character. For example, she famously was seen dumpster diving for reusable items and regularly attended the Sunday market to buy her own vegetables just like everyone else.
Today, she continues to hold close links with the UN and campaigns towards equality and sustainable development, both of which are values I hold close to my own heart. I think there is a lot we can learn from her on how to conduct ourselves, and how we should all strive for inclusivity, equality and sustainability in our personal and professional lives. She has shown to me that women, or anyone for that matter, can achieve anything they want by sticking to their guns, without having to abuse power for their own benefit. As a young female professional myself having someone like her to look up to has been crucial. She shows me that women can be leaders, and that to succeed one needs to lead by example, be an effective communicator and work hard: then the world is your oyster!
- Nina Schönberg, BTO Scotland, Scottish Raptor Monitoring Coordinator
The women that inspire
When I was first asked to write this article, I immediately thought about which famous people I am inspired by. I have a Pinterest board made up of strong women and I had a flick through to see if I could pick a few to write about. But the truth is, when I was flicking through it, I didn’t feel inspired to write about any of them.
It’s true that they are strong, amazing women who have all achieved great things in life. There are 171 women on there, ranging from leading politicians, activists, conservationists, actors, characters from books or TV shows, writers, to sportswomen and even queens! They have all inspired me at one point in my life, but I definitely couldn’t write a whole article about them.
I gave up and put my laptop down for the night. The next day I had to take my daughter to nursery and leave her for the first time – a very difficult time for any mum! I was very nervous about leaving her and feeling really upset after waving goodbye. In the office I met another mum whose car had broken down and was waiting for recovery. We drank tea and chatted about how hard it was leaving children for the first time and a bit about our lives. While I was chatting I realised that the women who inspire me to be better everyday are just normal women doing normal things, keeping everything going and everyone together, getting things done. People like:
- The mum from the nursery waiting room who is so sweet and caring and comforts strangers in their hour of need
- The bird club volunteer who gets mocked at meetings for talking too much, but still speaks her mind and works harder than anyone else there
- My best friend who is building her own house because she is so creative and doesn’t let anything limit her
- My granny who spends her retirement volunteering to help elderly people in her community
- My friend who works three jobs to provide for her family and is still following her passion by studying for a Masters degree on top of that
- My colleague who is so incredibly and unapologetically her bold and beautiful self, even when it doesn’t fit in with the social norms
There are so many examples of these women, working hard, caring for others, following their passions and standing by their beliefs in little ways on a daily basis. These are the women who truly inspire me to be better everyday.
- Claire Jones, BTO Regional Representative
Which women inspire you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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