I have always loved animals and nature. When I was a kid my favourite subject was science. Somewhere along the way that got a little lost, but when I suffered a mental breakdown in 2014 (you can read more about my mental illness experience if you are interested) I knew that I needed something to focus on as I rebuilt my life.

I started reading National Geographic and bought copious books on conservation and environmental issues, quickly reigniting a passion inside me for the natural world and our impact upon it. This was the start of the journey I am currently on.

I took this to the next level when I started this blog in 2017, I was really interested in blogging and thought it would be a great platform to put what I was learning out there and then it just grew out of that really! I signed up for my degree and started my first module in February 2017, taking on the second module February 2018 and now waiting to start my third. I am learning more and more with each assignment , and although it is hard at times, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

My degree is a BA (Hons) Environmental Studies with The Open University. My first module was “Environment: Journey Through A Changing World” and it built upon the knowledge I had learnt from my previous reading and watching over the past few years previous to studying. It gave me a greater understanding of topical environmental issues, including; the Amazon, the Arctic, Water, and cities/towns. It was a great introduction back into education after the best part of 7 years away from it!

This was me at the meal with my boyfriend that he treated me to when I finished my first module. It felt like such a huge step for me, taking control of my life and my future. Taking positive steps towards the life I wanted and not shying away from hard work.

It’s so important to celebrate every achievement, big or small!

My second module was ‘Investigating The Social World’, which was definitely much more challenging. It encompassed a lot of topics that interlinked my environmental interests, but that were completely new to me! I learnt so much, but it wasn’t easy – to say the least! I learnt about politics, geography, sociology, economics, immigration, criminology – it was so interesting, but very broad. However, I dug deep and I was able to complete the module and this really built my confidence in what I was capable of.

I am currently in the process of choosing my third module, due to start October 2020. I am really excited to dive back into my degree, after a little bit of a break to go travelling (pre-COVID19!) and to take another step towards graduation… estimated for 2024!

To supplement my education, I decided to take up some volunteering role to gain practical experience in the environmental and conservation field. These have been so worthwhile and my success with them has increased over time as my confidence has grown and I have regained control over my life. I started volunteering in 2017 with National Animal Welfare Trust and Hanwell Zoo – however, these petered out due to my anxiety.

I undertook my first successful volunteering stint with The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd in Scotland. I stayed with them for a week in 2018 and it was so fulfilling. I helped look after the visitor centre, the animals and taking the guests of tours in the Highlands! It was unlike anything that I have ever done before and that is what made it bloody brilliant!

I continued looking for opportunities to volunteer and gain relevant experience in my chosen field. When I went travelling with my boyfriend at the end of 2019, I knew that it was a perfect opportunity to get some hands-on experience in a foreign country. After some research I signed up to do 2 weeks of volunteering with the Wildlife Friends Foundation, Thailand. I would get to work with a huge variety of animals, learning so many new skills and it was, again, such a fulfilling experience to be a part of the next, happier chapter of the animals lives. (You can read more about my time with the WFFT on the blog!)

I am obviously a little stuck for volunteering now, as we are in a lockdown at the time of writing, however – I am not one to be stopped! Throughout lockdown I have been volunteering remotely for NatureSpy. I have been helping out by reviewing camera trap footage and recording the variety of species that they have captured. It is different to my previous volunteering, but it is great fun to see the animals in their natural habitats and to feel like I can gain new, relevant skills even in a pandemic!

So, next steps on my environmental journey is to keep on with my studies, find new opportunities to volunteer in the coming years, and keep working on this blog. I am also trying to learn how to live as sustainably as possible, with zero waste options and alternatives around the home. This is ongoing, and there is always more to learn, so I am content to just keep striving to do my best.

If you have any recommendations for other ways I can continue my environmental journey, then do let me know by commenting below.

Written by Rebecca Hansell for Small World, Big Cause Blog.

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