I've been a member of various Facebook birding groups for many years. Sadly, I'm crap at photography and I am not a bird ID expert, so I felt like I was mostly ghosting the groups, rather than actively contributing. I love to record birdsong on my portable microphone and I occasionally write bird poetry, too. However, I felt vulnerable and a bit silly sharing these creative responses.
In March 2020 Sarah Everard was murdered. 'She Was Only Walking Home' is a protest banner that is emblazoned on my eyes even now. I then read a column by Lucy McRobert on BirdGuides (bit.ly/3cn1tvz) and got angry that women birders felt unsafe alone. I go birding on my bike so I can make a quick getaway if I feel threatened, but why should I have to do this? I did some research and found that many female birders weren't going out for the dawn chorus because they felt so vulnerable; nightjar and owl spotting were definitely off limits. The activist in me woke up.
Artwork by Creative Women Birders UK members Carolyn Black, Nicole Burgum, Suzy Buttress, Claire Calverley, Elaine Cruse and Siân Gibbs.
The idea for an online women's birding group formed. If I was going to run it and make it valuable to all its members, it had to serve a purpose. It had to come from the heart. I wrote down my top three goals:
- To bring UK women birders together so we can go birding safely and improve our wellbeing;
- To share my creative responses to birds with like-minded women;
- To create a supportive, kind, community of creative women birders.
Number 3 was the moot point. How do you create that? Supportive, kind environments are not easy to form these days, especially on social media So, I spent a very long time pontificating over the rules for the group – to which all our members have to agree before being accepted. Then, with encouragement from Rebecca Armstrong – editor of this magazine – Creative Women Birders UK was born. Now, with around 140 members, the group is now more than I could have dreamed of: a beautiful, creative, supportive community of women who all love birds and birding.
Recently, I secured some Arts Council and Feast funding for birding talks, creative writing workshops and the occasional all-female birding trip. The British Trust for Ornithology, Devon Birders and RSPB are helping with this. Theatre Royal Plymouth is supporting me in creating a theatre piece about how birding contributes to women's wellbeing. I also hope to create a series of radio dramas based on the experiences of the Creative Women Birders.
Another exciting development is that Creative Women Birders UK has been recommended by Social Prescribing Networks as a group to join for women experiencing anxiety or isolation. Looking ahead, I'm hoping that members will host online or face-to-face creative birding activities or perhaps invite special guests to lead them. I would also like Social Prescribing networks to contact me so we can support more women's mental health.
- This column was first published in the October 2021 edition of Birdwatch.