Young Leaders Course

Attendees of the BTO Young Leaders Course in a wood near Cameron's Cottage, 2023.

Applications are now open

There’s never been a more important time for young people who care about birds and the environment to take positive action.

If you’re aged 18–24, this residential course will help you develop your leadership skills and better equip you to make a difference.

Key information


The course is completely free of charge, and there are a limited number of travel bursaries available to support travel to the site.


We can pick up participants in Southampton, which is accessible via bus and train. There is parking available for participants who wish to drive.

About the course

The course will run from Tuesday 13 August to Friday 16 August and is completely free of charge, with a limited number of travel bursaries available.

It will involve a wide range of interactive indoor and outdoor sessions covering a variety of skills from organisation to influencing, all designed to give you more confidence to play an active leadership role in the environmental sector.

Although there will be time for bird watching in the heart of the New Forest, please note this is not a birdwatching course and this will not be the main focus.

Course objectives

  • Build confidence in communicating, both digitally and face-to-face
  • Develop organisational skills, essential for effective leadership
  • Learn how to reach and persuade key influencers to support your cause
  • Practise leading practical engagement activities
  • There will also be a chance to think about ways you can improve your CV, and learn about the various employment opportunities at BTO and elsewhere in the sector.
  • Fill out the Application Form to register: deadline is 11.59pm Tuesday 16 July 2024. 
  • Download the Young Leaders Course Application Pack (PDF)

2024 Course Leaders and Speakers

We have an exciting group of leaders and speakers lined up for this year’s course. Read their bios below! 

Sophie - Author, podcast producer, presenter and Communications Coordinator for Beaver Trust

Sophie Pavelle is a science communicator from Exeter, Devon. After gaining a First in Zoology (BSc) at the University of Bristol (2017) she studied a Masters (MSc) in Science Communication at the University of the West of England, gaining a Distinction (2018).

Her dissertation Into the Digital Wild: Utilising, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook for Effective Science and Environmental Communication is published in Frontiers in Communication (2020), the results of which were presented at a conference at Brown University, USA (2020).

Sophie's debut book Forget Me Not: finding the forgotten species of climate-change Britain, was published by Bloomsbury in 2022 and won The People’s Book Prize for Non-Fiction (2023) and was longlisted for the 2023 James Cropper Wainwright Prize for Conservation Writing.

She currently works as the Communications Coordinator for Beaver Trust, and presented their award-winning documentary Beavers Without Borders, and co-produces and hosts their podcast The Lodge Cast.

She is an Ambassador for the Wildlife Trusts and sits on the RSPB England Advisory Committee and is a Trustee for UNESCO Exeter City of Literature. Her writing appears in New Scientist, National Geographic Traveller, The Guardian, and others. Sophie is currently writing her second narrative non-fiction book for Bloomsbury, published March 2025.

Dr Anjana Khatwa – Earth Scientist, presenter, advocate and author

Dr Anjana Khatwa

Dr Anjana Khatwa is an award-winning Earth Scientist, presenter and advocate for diversity in natural heritage spaces. For over 20 years, she has worked as a learning and engagement professional in the natural heritage sector helping people of all backgrounds understand how our planet evolved, changed, and survived over 4.5 billion years.

Anjana appears regularly on-screen engaging audiences with her insight and knowledge about geology, landscapes and fossils. She has published numerous academic papers on glacial geology, developed award-winning teaching resources and won the Royal Geographical Society Geographical Award for excellence in educating the public about the Jurassic Coast.

Anjana has also been awarded the Halstead Medal from the Geologists' Association, the RH Worth Award by the Geological Society, a Silver Commendation from the Geographical Association and won a National Diversity Award in 2020 as a Positive Role Model for Race, Faith and Religion.

Born and bred in Slough, Anjana had a humble upbringing in an urban environment but grew to love the natural world through holidays to places such as Kenya, which is where her family originate from. Anjana has a BSc. in Earth Science and a Ph.D. in Geography where she specialised in glacial geology.

Her diverse background and voice bring a unique perspective to her work. In 2021, she was longlisted for the prestigious Nan Shepherd Prize for her first ever book proposal exploring the secret stories of rocks. Her debut non-fiction book, The Whispers of Rock, will be published by the Little, Brown Publishing Group in September 2025.

Anjana lives in Dorset, close to the Jurassic Coast, in a house filled with rocks and fossils.

Dr Richard Benwell - Chief Executive at Wildlife and Countryside Link

Dr Richard Benwell

Richard Benwell is chief executive of Wildlife & Countryside Link, a coalition of 76 nature charities. He is also Chair of Oxfordshire Local Nature Partnership, and a Trustee of UK Youth for Nature.

Previously, he was Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State at DEFRA, and has worked for RSPB, WWT, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, as well as being a board member for Westmill Solar Cooperative.

Prof Russell Wynn - Director at Wild New Forest and Chair of the New Forest Biodiversity Forum

Russ has a marine science background, and in his 20-year career at the National Oceanography Centre he published over 100 scientific papers and took on a variety of senior management roles, including Associate Director for Government, International, and Public Engagement.

He switched careers in 2020 to fully focus on wildlife conservation, and for two years was Manager of the England Curlew Recovery Partnership, before establishing the New Forest Biodiversity Forum

He also delivers ecological surveys in and around the New Forest as Director of Wild New Forest and is a Trustee of Curlew Action and an Honorary Professor at University of Southampton.

For the BTO Young Leaders Course, Russ will be discussing ecological surveys and the resulting management advice, particularly how leaders need to strategically form partnerships and engage with stakeholders to enable effective conservation delivery.

Chris Marais – BTO’s Youth Engagement Coordinator

Chris Marais

Chris has nearly 10 years of experience working on different youth programmes and initiatives in England and Australia, setting up his own projects, as well as working for Mencap, Peace Child International and The Challenge Network. As part of the BTO Youth team, he focuses on mental health and well-being, both for our volunteers and young people beyond BTO.

He will lead on how to look after yourself as a leader, and what mental health means in a work setting more widely.

Partners and support

The Young Leaders Course is supported by the following organisations: 

Cameron Bespolka Trust

The generous support of the Cameron Bespolka Trust made the course and its contents possible.

The Cameron Bespolka Trust is a charity that has been set up in Cameron’s memory to inspire young people to love and appreciate animals, in particular birds, nature, and our environment. By experiencing the outdoors first-hand, teenagers can connect with nature and make a difference to our planet.

Raptor Aid

Funding from Raptor Aid supported the provision of travel bursaries for young people travelling to the course.

Raptor Aid CIO aims to help educate, support and carry out bird of prey conservation in the UK and abroad. We hope to help more people understand birds of prey, including how they live and how we as the human race can live cooperatively with these incredible birds.

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