Kate Humble shares her Naturalists Expert Advice

How did you become passionate about wildlife and sciences?

I grew up in a fairly rural part of the UK and – importantly – in an era when there was no home computers, social media, cable television.  We had a garden, I lived next door to a farm and I spent a great deal of my childhood outside.  Wild birds and animals were just part of the landscape I grew up in and played in.  I took them entirely for granted.  But when I was 19 I travelled to Africa.  There I saw birds and animals that I had never seen before and the experience opened my eyes to the wonders of the natural world.  Sometimes it takes the wondrous and unfamiliar to make you see the wonders on your own doorstep.

Science – my fascination for it – also came quite late.  I didn’t enjoy science at school and studied arts subjects, but through my work as a researcher, producer and then presenter for television I have been lucky enough to meet truly inspiring scientists from all different disciplines.  It sounds obvious, but communication is always key.  Once I started meeting scientists who weren’t just leaders in their field, but were also passionate about sharing their knowledge to non-scientists like me, it became a subject matter that I wanted to make as accessible as possible.


Having travelled the world so extensively for work and holidays, have you noticed changes over the years that you think are caused by anthropogenic emissions and hence climate change?

Sadly I have.  Climate change is real and its effects – many of which are devastating – are being seen all over the world and are impacting habitats and all the living things that depend on them.  I have been several times to the Arctic and seen how the permafrost is melting, sink holes opening up, homes being destroyed, coastal erosion.  Glaciers are receding at an alarming rate, animals like polar bear, caribou, migrating birds are all struggling to breed successfully, find enough food.  In other parts of the worlds there has been an increase in forest fires and drought.  Rivers and streams are drying up, crops failing.  Other areas – including the UK – are seeing huge, damaging flood events which in turn can trigger deadly landslides.  I dive and have seen the impact on warming ocean temperatures and acidification on coral reefs, which are dying.  The signs are everywhere.


What are some of the biggest challenges you face as President of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in conserving and protecting the environment?

The biggest challenges facing anyone working in conservation – and it doesn’t matter what area it is – is a human unwillingness to make the fundamental changes necessary to halt the one over-riding thing that effects all life on earth and that is climate change.  Conservationists can only do so much – they can protect small areas of habitat as reserves, undertake captive breeding programmes, monitoring, education, but ultimately small, individual projects can only do so much – they are temporary sticking plasters.  We need to look at the world as a whole.  Our planet, as far as we know, is unique.  It supports life because of the variety of ecosystems that exist on earth, but each one is connected: damage the oceans, you damage the forests.  Burn the forests, you effect temperate zones and so on.  The conservation of our planet needs to be dealt with on a global scale and we humans need to make tough sweeping changes to the lives we’ve become accustomed to if we want our world and the life it supports – including our own – to have a future.


What are some of the measures – local, regional, global – that you find admirable and think have a positive impact?

The Climate Strikes started by the young Swedish campaigner Greta Thurnburg and the Extinction Rebellion movement are a great example of local initiatives that have had global reach.  They have engaged ordinary people of all ages with the subject of climate change and put it on the political and global agenda in a way it has never been done before.  David Attenborough’s series Planet Earth brought into sharp focus the desperate need to reduce plastic waste and people are definitely more conscious of that now, but change is slow.  Rwanda banned all plastic bags a decade ago and that has made a huge difference.  Why every other country doesn’t do the same is a mystery.  One brilliant initiative I came across was started in Holland and has now spread worldwide is the concept of Repair Cafes.  In many ‘developed’ societies, we have lost the culture of fixing things when they break.  Often it is cheaper and easier to throw them away and buy a new one.  And manufacturers of good – particularly electronic goods – will actually design products to break after a guarantee has run out and make them very difficult for someone to repair so that they can sell more.  But this is unsustainable, wasteful and hugely damaging to the environment.  Repair Cafes are usually set up once or twice a month in community spaces and volunteers will help people fix their broken goods – coffee machines, clothes, bicycles – anything you can think of.  It is a brilliant was of reducing waste and bringing communities together.


Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Why/why not?

I’m both!  I feel ashamed of my generation – we had the knowledge, the scientific evidence was all there that our activities were damaging the planet – and yet we ignored it.  But there is a groundswell, an urgency that I don’t think I’ve witnessed before.  People – particularly the younger generation – are realising that we have an enormous shared responsibility to protect our planet for the benefit of all the life it supports.  It is going to take brave political decisions, we are going to have to adapt, change the way we live, produce food, travel, use the earth’s resources.  It is a huge challenge and a huge task, but I think – I hope – we will join forces and meet that challenge.

See Kate at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature


Kate Humble: Thinking on My Feet

Friday 07 February, 12:00 – 13:00

Language: English with simultaneous Arabic translation

“Humans have always been migrants, the physiological urge to be nomadic is deep-rooted in all of us.”

Popular broadcaster and environmentalist Kate Humble is the perfect advocate for the simple act of walking, and Thinking on My Feet explores a year-long journey, recording her impressions and perspective achieved through travelling on foot. It’s a heartfelt call for enhancing health and happiness, one step at a time.

Hear a fascinating discussion of Kate’s book and her life working with wildlife and the inspirational places and people from her travels.

Kate Humble: Thinking on My Feet