My nature love story (Reflections on the eve of COP15)
As delegates from around the world gather for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as COP15, there’s a lot happening in Montreal. I’m fortunate to be attending COP15 as part of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) youth delegation, and I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge of international biodiversity conversations.
My COP15 journey started at the Global Youth Biodiversity Network’s Youth Summit at the Grand Quay of the Port of Montreal, where young leaders from across the globe gathered to discuss the important negotiations taking place over the next two weeks. The sessions focused on youth empowerment, navigating the overwhelming scale of COP15 and networking, but throughout the two days there was an underlying theme of love.
Inspired by #NatureForAll, a global movement to encourage a love of nature, participants were invited to share their own journey of falling in love with biodiversity. For some, a love of nature is something they were brought up with from an early age, but others found it later in life. One by one, youth at the summit spoke about their memories of planting community gardens, exploring their local park or evenings at the cottage. No matter who was speaking, the common thread linking everyone’s stories together was a deep passion for biodiversity.
Megan (right) and her friend at Algonquin Park, ON (Photo courtesy of Megan Quinn/NCC staff)
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my nature journey. These days, the rugged landscapes of eastern Ontario feel like home, but my first impactful memories of nature didn’t happen until I was almost a teenager. I grew up in the industrial landscape of Northern England, in a town best known for coal mining and steel working. I always loved the outdoors, but it wasn’t always a safe or accessible place to be. The first time I truly fell in love with nature was shortly after moving to Canada, when a friend invited me on a wilderness camping trip.
Those few days in Algonquin Park were a steep learning curve. I saw the biggest mosquitoes I’d ever seen, made friends with a chipmunk who then stole my lunch and, to this day, have a scar on my leg from when the marshmallow I was trying to roast exploded. However, what I remember most from this trip is the vastness of Canadian nature. For the first time in my life, I stood in the forest and couldn’t see anything made by humans. That’s a feeling I’ve never forgotten, and one that still takes my breath away every day in my job as NCC’s coordinator of conservation biology for eastern Ontario.
Megan and Esme Batten, NCC's midwest program director, at Algonquin Park, ON (Photo courtesy of Megan Quinn/NCC staff)
In 2019, I recreated my original Algonquin Park camping trip, this time with my good friend and NCC program director Esme Batten. Over a decade later, the landscape was just as enchanting as it was the first day I fell in love with nature!
Everyone has such unique stories of how they fell in love with nature, so I asked some of my fellow NCC COP15 youth delegates to share their stories too:
Happy memories of home
"I grew up on a cattle/sheep farm in the heart of rural Manitoba, and for me, nature was always there. When the prairie crocuses began to bloom, winter was officially ending; when the lady's-slippers were up, that meant summer was just around the corner; then when the goldenrods covered the prairie in yellow, it was time to finish off any summer jobs before the frost. So, much of my childhood was defined by what was going on in the grasslands I called home, and I didn't fully realize this until I moved away for university. Now, seeing a familiar flower always brings back happy memories of home." – Steven Anderson.
Happy child, one with nature
"Indigenous Peoples are born with an inherent connection to the land. We have nature deeply rooted in us and our culture, with forests like our bones and water like our blood. I have always felt a connection to nature since I could remember, but a strong memory I have is coming home every night before the streetlights came on with black feet, twigs in my hair and grass stains on my knees from playing in the park by my childhood home. I spent so much time climbing trees, feeling the grass under my feet and building kinship with the land. Every time I go out into nature, it's like I become that child again, wild and free and one with my surroundings." – Raechel Wastesicoot.
On the eve of COP15, I invite you all to also think about the time you fell in love with nature. My hope is that all participants at this historic event, whether they are at the delegation table or simply observing, take the time to reflect on their own love for nature and biodiversity and let it guide their COP15 journey.