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Writing for wildlife with Simon Mustoe

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Simon Mustoe is an ecologist, wildlife travel guide and author of his blog www.simonmustoe.blog and newest book Wildlife in the Balance. Originally from the UK, Simon has worked with, and appreciated wildlife across the world – the collation of this experience he has compiled in first, a blog and now his book. Simon believes that while people generally understand that nature is important, and many scientific papers are published with amazing revelations about wildlife, it is rare that we explain why this is important. Simon tackles this topic and more in his book, Wildlife in the Balance where he explains the importance of nature and wildlife through a collection of stories from his experience. Simon also shares his advice for anyone looking to increase their connection with nature, or work in wildlife conservation.

Writing for wildlife with Simon Mustoe | #itsawildlife

SIMON’S JOURNEY

Simon grew up in the UK and came to nature when he got his hands on a bird book at the age of four or five-years-old. He remembers the page with a Golden Oriole and Green Woodpecker – birds so beautiful he was inspired to start drawing them. A few years on, Simon joined the RSPB which continued to cultivate his interest and passion in nature and ended up studying ecology at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

Following the completion of his degree, Simon ran an ecological expedition to Madagascar and ended up with a job as an environmental consultant in Cambridge. Years later, after emigrating to Australia, Simon continued to work as a consultant but also began getting more involved in wildlife conservation. Simon explains –

“Over the years, I’ve accumulated a fairly broad perspective, I guess, from various elements of the ecological world. And on top of that, I’ve travelled to learn more about wildlife.”

Simon feels lucky that growing up in Cambridge he felt as if he were surrounded by nature-focused organisations – WWF, RSPB, BirdLife International, the British Antarctic Survey, the International Whaling Commission – and with that, the passionate people who were part of these groups. Simon reflects –

“In my first couple of years in Cambridge, I got to make many friends near the pinnacle of global conservation at that time. And in fact, many of those friends have travelled and they’re now running projects all over the world.”

“And these are friends for life because you share a common interest – and I think that’s one of the remarkable things about wildlife – it’s a leveller: it doesn’t matter where you’re from, when you create a bond through a shared experience in nature, it lasts a lifetime.”

Simon arrived in Australia in 2000, the year after the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act had come out – a seminal piece of work that pulled together the disparate environmental laws into one coherent, overarching text, under the Australian constitution. Because of his experience working with these types of documents, Simon was immediately able to put his expertise to use.

Years later, Simon pulled away from ecological consulting, finding the focus was never truly on taking action to protect the environment. He explains –

“The difficulty I have (and it’s the same all over the world) is these pieces of legislation, as powerful as they are, aren’t implemented the way I’d like… I’ve always found the best projects I’ve worked on are the ones where you actually create habitats.”

“Rather than engineering a solution using concrete, we can engineer a solution using nature.”

Simon already sees projects heading in this direction and is excited to see more over the next decades to come.

WRITING FOR WILDLIFE

Simon is an author, blogger and wildlife travel guide – we spoke about his inspiration and how his science communication platform evolved. Simon explains –

“I would say mental health is a bit to do with it – I mean, we all need to get out into nature and I like sharing that with other people. The travel side gives us a chance to do that and it brings a different perspective.”

Simon believes that often when we’re working we think in a fairly rigid and limited way, whereas when we spend time in nature more freely, we can free our minds and think more broadly.

“So, when I decided to sidestep consultancy and take quite a big drop in income as a result of that, I decided it would be more interesting to start exploring the communication aspects of ecology.”

The blog began as a platform to share a series of stories that eventually became Simon’s book –

“The book itself is a culmination of 30 years of thinking, and probably about 15 of those wondering why I do what I do. And I meet so many ecologists working in conservation who do what they do – for all the right reasons – but they can’t explain why.”

That’s been a core driver for Simon behind his book – and in writing it, he realized the story had a narrative arc that never appeared to him until that time –

“That is, there is a really strong premise for why animals matter and our entire industry and in fact everything we do on the planet – because ecology as an industry is just the way we should live and this is underpinned by incredible stories of wildlife and how important it is for our future.”

For Simon explains, at some point around WWII, the western world took a huge turn away from nature and carried on down that path. And yet, at the same time, the knowledge, understanding, appreciation of nature’s seems to have increased – so many scientific papers have been published – and so Simon rationalized that while wildlife and nature must be important, it didn’t make sense why nobody could really explain why.

Simon had been thinking about writing what became his book for a number of years but when COVID hit, and he had several months of lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, he finally found the opportunity to sit down and wrote. He explains –

“The process was such a monumental undertaking and I think it’s probably different for everybody, but for me it was a case of trying to consider everything as a publisher would and I tried to get award-winning editors involved from the beginning.”

For Simon, the book drew on 30 years of experience and when he began researching the initial stage, he realized there was an overarching narrative that united his collection of stories:

“I suddenly realized there was actually a story behind it and that blew me away completely!”

Simon says that once he uncovered the narrative it made the whole job of writing the book immensely rewarding and he completed the draft for review after only six or seven months!

ADVICE FOR WORKING WITH NATURE

“Studying ecology is great, but you don’t need to be an ecologist to work in conservation. In fact, conservation is crying out for other skillsets so whatever you do, you can look for a job within a conservation group that uses your skills and experience.”

And to improve your knowledge and experience with wildlife, Simon also advocates for people to spend more time in nature. Simon also suggests not trying to influence too many people – if you can influence a few people now and again, that’s all you need to do. He explains –

“I didn’t go into writing the book or the blog thinking great, a million people will read the book – I didn’t go in there thinking that I’d like to change, reach everybody, but if I could influence a few thousand people even, it’s remarkable what impact that can have, so keep it realistic.”

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more from Simon? Simon can be found on his blog www.simonmustoe.blog where he posts every month – or search his Wildlife in the Balance book to get your hands on a copy. You can buy Wildlife in the Balance online as an eBook and Audiobook, and as a paperback to order from all good bookstores worldwide. Or you can buy it directly from Simon here.

Simon is on social media on Facebook @wildiaries, Instagram @wildiaries, Twitter @wildiaries and Linked In @simon-mustoe. You can also email Simon at simon@wildiaries.com or find opportunities to travel with him here.

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