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This student has published a book of poems and sketches for environmental awareness

Jenny Barruol interviews wildlife poet, photographer and student Alicia Hayden to talk about the importance of the creative storytelling industry for environmentalists and how students can show their support.

By Jenny Barruol, Third Year Spanish and Russian

In many ways the city of Bristol lies at the heart of the UK’s fast-growing environmental storytelling industry. Home to both the BBC Natural History Unit and the University of Bristol’s very own Cabot Institute of the Environment, Bristol has become a national hub of sustainability research and education in the past decade.

The environmental storytelling industry has grown significantly in the last few years, with more and more young people wishing to pursue a career in this field. There is also a higher demand for products issued from creative wildlife storytelling. This suggests that creative storytellers play an important role in educating people on the natural world and the necessity to protect it.

Rain before Rainbows is the poetry collection that Hayden wrote, illustrated and published in 2020. | Epigram / Alicia Hayden

Documentaries, books, poems, photos, films, songs, visual art and many other forms of creative storytelling all have the power to appeal to very broad audiences. This is why they are so crucial in urging people to act upon the environmental crisis.

Alicia Hayden, a student at the University of Oxford, is one such wildlife poet, photographer, filmmaker and artist who puts her creative storytelling skills at the service of nature.

Hayden explains, during a Zoom interview, that she was urged to write her recently published wildlife poetry collection Rain Before Rainbows after watching Extinction: The Facts, an Attenborough documentary. I spoke to Hayden about the structure of her poetry collection, the importance of communicating about the climate crisis with young people in the UK, and the role that students can play in the environmental creative storytelling industry.

Hayden’s book aims to inspire people to act upon the climate and extinction crisis, whilst recognizing the beauty of the natural world. Hayden does this cleverly by separating her collection into two parts.

The first part, entitled Rain, contains poems such as Where is the Sun? or The Immovable Stone which convey messages surrounding the destructive impact of human activity on wildlife. The second part, Rainbows, depicts more positive and optimistic messages with poems such as Hedgehog or You and I which describe the innocent and simple beauty of nature.

The collection is accompanied by drawings of various animals, all drawn by the poet herself. These drawings certainly add emotion and life to the poems with which they are matched; therefore engaging the reader even more.

Hayden is an accomplished creative storyteller as she has experience with various forms of storytelling. She has received numerous awards for her poetry and photography; these include being shortlisted multiple times by the British Wildlife Photography Awards and designated overall winner in 2016 by the Zoological Society of London. Through her work, whether it be poetry, photography, filmmaking or art, she manages to inspire people to protect and cherish nature by showing how fascinating and extraordinary it is.

Hayden drew all of the illustrations in the book herself. | Epigram / Alicia Hayden

Creative storytelling also has the power to provoke emotions and feelings in the viewer; whether it be sadness and fear or admiration and hope. Although, Hayden suggests that conveying hope is more effective than shocking audiences: ‘If I want to inspire people to conserve the natural world then I would definitely do a more hopeful thing because that’s obviously more effective.’

Ultimately, Hayden (and most wildlife storytellers’) aim is ‘telling the stories of animals and people that are helping conserve them.’ Hayden explains: ‘I think you need to tell people what’s happening because I don’t think that climate change and biodiversity loss are really covered in enough detail, especially in school curriculums, and I think that’s a real problem.’

This suggests that creative storytellers, especially in the wildlife industry, have taken on the responsibility to educate their audiences, especially younger ones.

And what can students do who are passionate about using creative communication methods to advocate for sustainability? In Hayden’s words, ‘Making a small change, it doesn't matter how small or how big, as long as we all do something, can really have a big impact. You'll start by doing one small thing and then you'll do another small thing and so on. And all these small changes add up.’

Hayden reading from her book. | Epigram / Alicia Hayden

For example, Hayden has independently produced and shot various short films featuring animals such as an adorable wood mouse and stunning British landscapes. This does not require her to travel too far from home. Her work tends to depict small, local animals who live here in the UK, allowing us to reconnect with them. In fact, she explains that local wildlife ‘is often overlooked and it’s important to give it a voice and recognition’, which she does through her various creative talents.

Overall, those such as Alicia, who choose to tell stories about the natural world and convey messages about the seriousness of the environmental crisis, play an incredibly crucial role in educating and inspiring the public to take action. And with the help of social media, it has become amazingly easy to reach diverse audiences.

‘You'll start by doing one small thing and then you'll do another small thing and so on. And all these small changes add up.’

‘Anything creative is better at connecting with people. You can communicate a message to the wider audience and hopefully that message will bring some sort of positivity and some change.’

As students and young people in general, we have access to lots of digital platforms such as Instagram where we can share lots of creative content for free whilst having an impact on audiences that may not come across this sort of content otherwise. Almost any form of creative storytelling can be shared digitally and therefore, I deeply encourage anyone and everyone to give a voice to nature by setting up a podcast, an Instagram page or a blog (to name only a few possibilities...)

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Other inspiring University of Bristol graduates who are taking the environmental photography and filmmaking world by storm include Lizzie Daly and Bertie Gregory. Bristol offers such a fantastic starting place from which to explore the world of creative storytelling, it is no wonder that alumni like Daly and Gregory have worked on impressive wildlife projects with landmarks such as the BBC or National Geographic.

Find out more about Alicia Hayden’s work here:

You can buy her poetry collection (50 percent is donated to Tiggywinkles – a wildlife hospital) by following this link:

Featured Image: Epigram / Alicia Hayden