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Combating the extinction of nature experience with Cathy Cavallo

Cathy Cavallo (pronouns: she/her) is the Chief Operating Officer and Social Media Manager for Remember The Wild, Australia’s leading nature connection non-profit organisation, reconnecting people with nature for the better health of people and planet. The mission of Remember The Wild surrounds driving a value shift towards a greater appreciation for the natural world and they do this through festivals, films, social media, nature-inspired murals and more. Cathy shares her story, the importance of nature engagement for effective conservation and her advice for anyone looking to jump into the science communication and nature connection space!

Combating the extinction of nature experience with Cathy Cavallo | #itsawildlife Image: Rowan Mott

CATHY’S STORY

For as long as she can remember, Cathy has been obsessed with nature, always looking for birds, turning over rocks and puddling in rockpools. Cathy says –

“I had a very fortunate childhood having grandparents and parents that really loved nature and who were very knowledgeable about nature.”

In her childhood, Cathy and her family moved from Australia to the UK for a couple of years, a country with a really strong tradition of natural history enjoyment as well as a number of great organisations that foster a relationship with nature for kids. As such, Cathy spent time out in parks, butterfly netting and pond dipping. She explains –

“I think part of my love for nature started there, and then coming back home to Australia, I saw how much more life we had and how remarkable, diverse and unique our wildlife was.”

Cathy spent time snorkelling on the coast and in the bush with her grandparents and knew from a young age that she wanted to work with animals. She went through school, undergrad and then further studies, all the time realising she had a deep curiosity for natural history and knowing the natural world around her, as well as for ecology and how nature fits together.

Cathy did a general undergraduate degree in science followed by a Masters in marine biology, focused on the reproductive ecology of sea turtles. This led to a PhD studying the foraging ecology of little penguins on Phillip Island in Victoria and Tasmania.

But Cathy noticed as she continued her studies that her stress and anxiety around the maths and statistical aspects of her research projects became a struggle. However, she loved the learning and sharing components!

“As I was studying and really enjoying research, but struggling with aspects of it, I started to see that my skillset was better applied to communicating those stories and reconnecting people with nature and with science.”

As she finished up her PhD, Cathy started working with an amazing little non-profit called Wild Melbourne, which later became Remember The Wild.

“With them, I could spend all my time telling stories and getting people reconnected with nature because that’s my obsession – spending time in nature and sharing the magic of those moments with others.”

“I think a barrier for many people to nature is thinking you have to go somewhere pristine to see nature when, even in a big city, it’s all around us!”

“So, it was a no-brainer for me to jump off the academic train at that point and get into the non-profit space, which I’m really loving!”

REMEMBER THE WILD

Wild Melbourne which later became Remember The Wild was formed by a small group of students at Monash University who identified a huge gap between traditional nature conservation marketing and people’s experiences and stories and connection with nature. Cathy joined a year or two in and explains –

“Everyone in that group could point to experiences they had when they were younger that connected them with nature… and we became aware of this extinction of experience* that was happening – as people were spending more and more time inside or rushing around, not having those spontaneous wild experiences in nature”

It started out with a little website called Wild Melbourne that focused on the stories (rather than facts) of Victoria’s nature to help people connect. In 2017, this grew to Australia-wide with the launch of Remember The Wild which is now a registered charity focused on reconnecting people with nature, deepening those connections for people that already have them, and making nature more accessible to the general public. Cathy explains –

“If you’re lucky enough to grow up with mentors that encourage you to connect with nature that’s awesome. But generationally, we are seeing fewer and fewer people growing up with this experience of nature – and then they can’t share that with family and children.”

“So, we see ourselves as a really important circuit breaker – reconnecting people with nature at a local level. And when you build knowledge and understanding and empathy for your environment, you then become custodians for it and it enriches your life when you protect it, spend time in it and care for it.”

THE EXTINCTION OF EXPERIENCE

Remember The Wild aims to combat the broadscale loss of experiences in nature that society is facing on a generational scale. And, not only are people losing touch with nature, but nature is disappearing before us at an alarming rate. Cathy explains the connection between the two –

“The extinction of experience is really a two-pronged attack on our connection with nature because not only are we spending more time inside, often behind computers – but we’re also losing species at a rapid rate.”

“You hear stories from 200 years ago – settlers tripping over small mammals in the dark, tall ships sailing through seas thick with turtles, and yet today, every species of sea turtle is threatened with extinction.”

“So, the two-pronged issue is that we’re not running into nature around us and there is actually less nature to be run into. And when people see less of their environment, they have fewer opportunities to connect with it and form those deep relationships that we need to save these species.”

HOW CAN WE (RE)CONNECT WITH NATURE?

Although Remember The Wild was initially formed to reconnect people with nature for the benefit of nature (because, of course, if you don’t know or care, you can’t protect it), it has transformed to also focus on the benefits of reconnection with nature for us as people. Cathy reflects –

 “We now know it’s really important for public health and social cohesion to have regular connection with nature.”

Cathy explains that one of the best ways for busy people to reconnect with nature, is by finding a ritual or a daily habit that’s already important to you – and combining that with nature.

“For example, my partner and I take our morning cups of tea outside each morning. We sit on the balcony for 20 minutes and watch things happening around us then.”

“And I think people are worried that they might be bored by sitting still in modern society and watching nature – but there are so many benefits to being mindful. And if it’s something you do regularly enough, you will start to notice the different plants and animals – as well as how they change seasonally.”

For Cathy, she found that regular connection with tea – but there are plenty of other ways – morning coffees, afternoon beers, fitness activities, dog walks, watering the garden or walking to the bus stop or the shops are all simple ways to reconnect.

And of course, these things do take time – but Cathy explains it’s about making the time – and an easy way to do this initially is by combining your daily activities with nature, and it builds from there:

“The more curious you feel about the world around you, the more attentive you become! And the more you pay attention, the more you want to know!”

And, long-term you might even start to notice improvements in your immune health, fitness and even empathy levels towards different people. Which is unsurprising when we consider, like all animals, our health is so closely tied to that of our ecosystem, our community, our planet.

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more from Cathy? You can follow her on Instagram @instacavallo or on Twitter @CavalloDelMare. You can also find out more about Remember the Wild, on their website or using social media – on Instagram @rememberthewild, Facebook @rememberthewild, Tik Tok @rtw_naturedose and Twitter @RTW_Aus.

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* The extinction of experience is a term initially coined by scientist, author and nature champion Robert M Pyle, to describe the snowballing alienation of humans from nature. Pyle wrote: “As cities and metastasizing suburbs forsake their natural diversity, and their citizens grow more removed from personal contact with nature, awareness and appreciation retreat.”

2 thoughts on “Combating the extinction of nature experience with Cathy Cavallo”

  1. Cathy’s story is so inspiring! She is such a nature warrior! Her lifelong love of the wild, from eucalyptus trees to the tiniest creatures and wild flowers has engaged our family in greater awareness and active nature spotting- all the beauty and diversity of the Australian bush, right in our backyard, local waterways and forest trails.

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