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Shaping a drama, telling a story

“But we are also trying to strike the right balance in terms of communicating the true state of nature without causing despair or gloom”

Naomi Fuller is Communications and Marketing Manager at Avon Wildlife Trust, as well as a member of the Communicate Committee. Naomi shared with us her views framing communications to share a message through storytelling.

As environmental communicators, we often aim to create media and public excitement with stories like this week’s ‘Oclantis: the underwater city built by Octopuses’. It has some classic ingredients of the ‘astounding nature discovery’ story guaranteed to create a stir; breakthrough research, animal intelligence, human-like behaviour that challenges our species superiority. But the story is also being played out far away – deep in the ocean and across the globe. It’s nature through a long lens.

Of course, the drama and awe-inspiring qualities of the natural world are a powerful way people feel inspired and curious. You only need listen to enthusiastic children talking about their favourite  TV depiction of venomous snakes, deadly predators or extreme climates, to be reminded how lit up they can be by the might and dangers of nature unleashed.

For those of us working in UK conservation organisations, our challenge is to spark that same inspiration and curiosity through stories about the nature closer to us. For us at Avon Wildlife Trust – and for the 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK – it means communicating the richness and diversity of the nature reserves we manage– from wetlands to ancient woodlands and abundant wildflower meadows. And there are so many ways to show the beauty and variety of the wildlife living in those landscapes through the seasons; the dormice, barn owls, rare butterflies and of course, beloved hedgehogs living in these different environments.

But as well as these picturesque and bigger landscapes and the species inhabiting them, a key focus is also on helping people connect with the nature closer to home, whether that’s in their garden, local park, cycle track or forgotten neighbourhood space. It’s about encouraging people to notice again those areas in our towns and cities which may have been dismissed as humdrum – and experience them as nature-rich and intriguing. And as predictions are that by 2050 two thirds of the global population will be living in urban areas, we need to tell those urban nature stories just as compellingly as we paint pictures of large-scale, natural landscapes.

But we are also trying to strike the right balance in terms of communicating the true state of nature without causing despair or gloom. When we know what we do about species declining, habitat loss and wildlife-rich space being nibbled away by housing development how can we frame stories to encourage people of all ages to feel nature offers inspiration rather than an impending sense of futility?

The Communicate conference is the place where through insightful debate, thought leadership and the creative sharing of ideas between practitioners – these daily challenges can be addressed and perhaps new stories can emerge.

On my cycle to work this week through autumn rain, I passed two teenage girls walking to school under a lime tree whose leaves were turning and beginning to fall.  A single leaf – mottled with yellows, golds and rusts – floated from the tree and into the hood of one girl’s coat and I watched her shake it out with a look of disgust while her friend giggled. “I don’t do nature,” she declared.

I mused on this scene during my day, wondering what it means to ‘do’ nature and what tools, techniques and stories could make a difference to those audiences who don’t. I’m sure that November’s conference will be a rich source of inspiration.

Communicate is the UK’s conference for environmental communicators, bringing together over 150 delegates each year to develop their skills, share best practice and debate the latest issues in engaging people with the natural world.

Find out more here

Communicate 2017 is sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council www.esrc.ac.uk