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Meet our long-distance walkers: Katy

Our long-distance walkers have three different roles:

  1. They take the point of view of a marine scientist, documenting the nature they encounter on their walk through the eyes of a member of the scientific community, putting things in a scientific context.

  2. They communicate with local communities, talking to locals about their relationship to the sea, their sense of place and their heritage, telling these stories to a broader audience.

  3. They bring information, inspiration and excitement into the communities, talking to scout groups, citizen groups... acting as a connection point between the scientific community and the local communities.


Today we get to know Katy, who is poised to start her month-long walk from Burnham to the Wash on May 10th 2021, in just two weeks:

Chocolate, crimson and beige: the colours of mud, oystercatchers and endless sandy beaches. When I think back to my earliest memories of the British coast, those three colours are the ones that stand out in my mind. Growing up in Cambridgeshire, we went as a family to the North Norfolk coast every year and it was there that my interest in nature was piqued. I couldn’t think of anything more exciting than spending hours sitting in a log hide watching warblers flit between reeds or rambling miles along muddy paths overlooking vast saltmarshes teaming with curlews and avocets.

Fast forward 15 years or so and I am now lucky enough to be studying a BSc in Conservation Biology and Ecology at Exeter University’s Cornwall campus. I fell in love with the South West when I hiked part of the South West Coast Path (SWCP) last summer; not only was the sheer beauty of the beaches and cliffs along which I walked all-absorbing and empowering, but the sublime healing power the sea had on me after months of anxious lockdown - as I’m sure anyone who spends ample time by the sea can tell you - sparked something in me. Though virtually all aspects of the natural world fascinate me, my prime areas of interest are exploration, human wildlife conflict and engaging more people with nature, so I grabbed the opportunity to walk part of the English coast with the goal of uniting coastal communities with their local conservation research. I am very privileged to have had a fantastic education, especially in relation to the natural world, so I would like to be able to share this passion for passing on knowledge and inspire the next generation of conservationists.

From hardcore biologists to writers, musicians and artists, conservation needs to be a collaborative field. Too often we talk about conservation science as a niche with finite dimensions. We need to speak more of the language of conservation, engage the local communities who are at the forefront of these changes and fights and inspire tomorrow’s leaders; it’s all about communication.

Photo by Carl Chapman.

I will be walking the South East section of our coast, from Essex round to Norfolk. Whilst I know Norfolk and Suffolk fairly well, I’m excited to explore the coast of Essex, a typically urbanly-perceived county. As for wildlife I’m hoping to see along the way, of course seals are everybody’s favourite with their sleek bodies and inquisitive cheekiness. I can’t deny I’m looking forward to seeing my old favourite, the oystercatcher, but I’m also keen to see some species I haven’t seen before that are perhaps thought of as being more terrestrial. One of the key debates with coastal ecology is that it belongs neither in the marine nor the terrestrial domains; it is instead its own unique blend of the two, however this means that it is often overlooked by researchers who want to focus on one habitat or the other. By spending time at the intersection of these two environments, I hope to shed some light on the interaction between the ecological communities and the vital roles they play on our planet.

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