In Conversation with Alex Collins: One of Bristol’s Young Activists

In conversation with Alex Collins: one of Bristol’s young activists on the front lines of the battle against the climate and biodiversity crises.

I sat down with Alex Collins, a 20-year-old wildlife filmmaker and conservationist based in Bristol. He was fresh off the back of the COP26 climate change conference, where he represented Reserva: The Youth Land Trust as a youth council member. I was keen to find out about his experience at this global event and gain an insight into the direction of the conservation movement at this pivotal moment.

Tell me about yourself – how did you get into conservation and why is it important to you?

Growing up in the countryside but going to school in a big town you quite quickly see the contrast between nature and urbanisation and those who do and don’t care about wildlife. I was always into nature and being outdoors, but I wasn’t aware that I wanted to go into conservation until I was around 17. My interest was piqued when I learnt about the importance of ecosystem services, which are all the things that ecosystems provide for people. For example, insect pollination is a crucial component to agriculture but, without healthy ecosystems insects can’t survive and perform these vital processes. I also think that learning more about the natural world during my biology degree led to the realisation that nothing I was studying would matter if it all ceased to exist in the next 20 years.

 What are the climate and biodiversity crises facing us and why should we care?

 I think they’re strongly interlinked, so solving one is integral to solving the other. The biodiversity crisis refers to the rapid decline in the variety of species on earth due to human actions such as development, climate change and pollution. There are so many reasons why we need variety of life, from new advances in medicine that emerge every week from studying other species to economic implications for countries that rely on their biodiversity for ecotourism. When you think of threatened species you might think of jaguars in South America but, the UK is ranked in the worst 10% of biodiversity loss worldwide. As for the climate crisis, the rise in temperatures is making farming near impossible in the global south, which is strongly linked to food shortages and social conflicts that are costing people their lives. Another big one is flooding – there are significant areas of the world that are set to be underwater in the next 10 or 20 years if we don’t change.

 What is Reserva, what do they do and how did you get involved?

 When I first started making films about conservation, I made a wildlife Instagram account and that was the first time I came across people my age who were doing similar stuff. I reached out to someone my age who was involved in Reserva and it went from there. Reserva are a youth-led non-governmental organisation with a team of about 50 young people worldwide under the age of 26. Essentially what we do is raise funds to buy land that will protect biodiversity hotspots or areas where a significantly unusual amount of biodiversity exists. We just announced last week that we fulfilled our first goal which was to buy up an area of land in the Chocó rainforest in Ecuador, which is now 244 acres of protected land that we raised the funds for.

 How was COP26? What was achieved and do you think it was a favourable outcome? Are you optimistic about the future?

 It was great to meet the Reserva team from all over the world and speak to so many inspiring young people, but in terms of what was achieved between governments, I thought it was quite poor. I don’t know if you’ve heard of greenwashing but it’s a term that’s been thrown around a lot recently to describe how powerful leaders will go to a conference like COP26 and give a rousing speech to give the impression that they are tackling the climate crisis, when they are the problem. There was plenty of greenwashing, but also making promises to audiences that would not know whether what they’re saying is good enough or not. The aim of the conference was to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels, with an upper limit of 2 degrees after which the planet is virtually uninhabitable. Based on what’s been decided though, it’s looking like warming could reach between 1.7 and 2.4 degrees. It’s frustrating because the young people who are inheriting this problem seem to understand and appreciate the issues much better than people in power, yet access to areas where the important decisions were being made was highly restricted.

 How can young people in Bristol get involved in conservation – on local scale and on a broader global scale?

 I think the first step would be to find one thing that interests you because there are so many areas of conservation. Once you’ve found a niche, such as conserving otters, every area has a regional group that will be focused on saving the species that you’re interested in, so find them and reach out. There are loads in Bristol but the main one is Avon Wildlife Trust – they’re the biggest conservation group in the county and they’re linked up with all the wildlife trusts in the UK. If you’re not interested in UK wildlife, it’s as simple as googling tropical forest conservation and there are so many volunteering schemes like Reserva to get involved in.

 It’s easy to feel powerless, what are small changes that anyone can make to help the situation?

 It’s the simple stuff that we’ve all heard before like reducing the amount of meat in your diet or turning the lights off when you’re not in the room. But it’s more about being aware of the energy you are using and embodying a way of thinking that will then translate into the way you communicate with people about these problems and spread the message. It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to go vegan, but just eating a bit less meat and thinking about whether we really need to do the things we are doing – like cycling or walking instead of driving to work. I think the most important thing is educating ourselves, because until we do that, we can’t truly appreciate the gravity of the situation that we’re in.

What have you got coming up in the future?

I am currently working with two charities – I’m making a promotional film for Curlew Action, which works to conserve curlew birds which are one of the UK’s most threatened species, and I’m going to be making an investigative film for an animal rights charity called Naturewatch Foundation for their campaign against puppy farming, which is illegal in the UK. With Reserva, we’re looking to recruit more members and hopefully expand our conservation efforts to protecting an area of marine wildlife. I’m also currently in talks with the CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, which is one of the largest conservation charities in the UK, about setting up a youth council with representatives from each county. I think bringing together all the most powerful youth voices in one space would allow us to combine forces and focus our efforts towards lobbying in Parliament for real change.

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