Why is Science Communication Important? An Interview with Sophie Pavelle [II]

Part II of my interview with @sophiepavs!  See Part I here.

Give us a short overview of your three weeks; did you achieve what you had hoped to?

Starting in wild and windy Bude, armed with a 12kg backpack and my extensive camera crew of an iPhone, selfie stick and tripod I set off to Crackington Haven. The first few days were very experimental – it me a while to find my rhythm and figure out the best way to film and communicate the wildlife, let alone hike the unforgiving north coast! Safe to say, once I ‘found my feet’ and trusted in both my Zoology degree and physical preparation, I allowed myself to be fully immersed in all that Cornwall had to throw at me!

Apart from boasting some of the most diverse and naturally beautiful areas in the UK, Cornwall is home to some unique gatherings of biodiversity – reflected in the multitude of designated and proposed Marine Conservation Zones, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s), nature reserves of national and international importance, and continual signs of habitat restoration and landscape management. Such work is instigated and overseen by organisations such as the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, The National Trust (owners of the South West Coast Path, Natural England and others – and I couldn’t wait to explore them and see what they had in store.

I found it interesting that I seemed to be the youngest person walking the coast path by a good 30 years! Apart from the weekend ramblers I barely saw anyone close to my age hiking and enjoying the surroundings, which gave me more motivation to continue with my pursuit to bring British wildlife to people on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I filmed and narrated short clips of each day’s wildlife, rock formations and general ‘nature stuff’, later producing a 5-7 minute informal ‘vlog’ which I uploaded every evening (Cornish wifi dependent of course!).

These videos were, again, very experimental yet I could not have predicted the global audience they began to attract. Barely a week in I began to receive messages from people in Australia, Moscow and Sweden, and others! – all apparently ‘hooked’ on following my updates, and expressing subsequent desires to get out, be adventurous and even come to the UK and see Cornwall for themselves! I guess this re-affirmed my initial curiosity about exploring the power of social media, and its potential for widespread use as a science communication tool to speak broadly to the younger, more digitally inclined audience.

So, yes – I was amazed at the reception of my adventure. Of course there are things I would change, but overall it went better than I ever could have imagined!

It seems you knew everything there was to know about all the wildlife .  Did you know all of this simply from being a wildlife enthusiast, or did you have to carry out a lot of research prior to the hike?

Haha – I trawled the Internet for days leading up to my trek, but nothing is better preparation than just getting stuck in and allowing yourself to be fully immersed and owned by the trail and the wildlife along the way.

Although my research gave me a good idea of what to expect, I never would have guessed that I would play witness to an elusive mother and calf harbour porpoise, a peregrine ferociously fending off two huge buzzards, the enormous gannet commanding the waves near Polzeath, the surprising quantity of coastal kestrels and a nationally significant breeding ground for the impressive fulmar…all this right on our doorstep and astounding me every turn of the headland.

I did have to double check a few things before I proclaimed them!! But a mixture of research and experience – but nothing is better than learning on the job and having a good old guess!!

What were the highlights?

I was totally unprepared for the sights I would see between Port Isaac to Padstow at a headland called The Rumps –absolutely teeming with seabird and seal activity. Here I saw at least five grey seals ‘bottling’, a common behaviour when ‘chilling out’ in an upright position with their heads exposed. I also was treated to my first gannet – Europe’s largest seabird, commanding and instantly recognisable by its bullet-like diving behaviour, hitting the seas at an impressive 60 miles an hour! Sea-spray, sea-caves, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwake-galore, the Rumps was unforgettable!!

Other wildlife highlights included an almost daily dose of kestrel’s and each time I was astounded by their precision and focus in a hover as they orientate themselves into the wind to a nearly totally stabilise them. As I hiked further south into the more tropical, temperate climate around The Helford River and Falmouth, I was joined by buzzards and a few juvenile peregrine falcons – and on my day off, Atlantic puffins and several beautiful, elusive harbour porpoises on a boat trip with AK Wildlife Cruises.

A personal highlight was actually just bloomin’ DOING IT! Leading up to the trek I was losing sleep and feeling anxious about the 300 miles that lay ahead of me, but overcoming the distances each day felt like a mini triumph – which slowly amounted to a huge boost in self-assurance and confidence in my ability. I also was amazed that I never felt lonely – sure, I felt isolated at times, but I relished the fact that the wild environment and nature around me was my sole company day after day. I also think nattering away to my phone for hours on end making the vlogs probably kept too much loneliness at bay!!

Sophie hiking whilst filming with her iphone.

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