Protecting wildlife through film

A laughing man, kneeling in front of a birdwatching telescope with binoculars over his shoulder, offers food from his hand to a group of ducks
Luke Hawkins and the ducks of Leighton Moss, RSPB nature reserve

A Lancaster undergraduate has ambitions to be the next David Attenborough or Simon Reeve, using documentaries to help protect wildlife by connecting people with nature.

Luke Hawkins has been birdwatching for as long as he can remember – identifying birds with his local wildlife trust in Durham when he was only six or seven years old

He started watching nature documentaries even earlier: David Attenborough’s Life of Birds fuelled Luke’s love of birds and of nature more generally.

“Living in the UK, birds are what you come in contact with – looking out of the window, walking down the street, they are everywhere.”

This love of birds and nature brought Luke to Lancaster University to study Ecology and Conservation, which has “a wonderful focus on the natural world which you wouldn’t get from a biology degree.” Now, as Luke approaches graduation, he has decided he wants to make nature documentaries himself. He’s started filming a series of Nature Diaries of the birdlife at the RSPB nature reserve at Leighton Moss, where he volunteers.

“I’m coming to it as a naturalist rather than a film maker. I started messing around with video only this year and then got friends to tag along to film me. I love telling people about nature, it’s not enough for me just to go off on my own, I want to share it with people. It’s partly for the joy of seeing people enjoy nature for themselves but also to highlight pressing environmental issues,” says Luke, who has invested in a digiscope, which allows him to film what he is seeing through his telescope. Ideally, he'd like to find another filmmaker, with expertise in camerawork and editing, to collaborate with.

Luke is not a total novice at the media. He has already presented an environmental radio show for fellow students on Bailrigg FM and was runner up in a RSPB competition to find a young nature presenter when he was a teenager. While at school his team reached the final of a UK Government competition to come up with policy to reduce carbon emissions while growing the economy.

“I had to present our policy idea – about electrifying road freight – to people in the Treasury. I like the challenge of presenting under pressure, of pitching an idea to people.”

He’s also presented to fellow students in person, having volunteered to lead two bird identification sessions at Leighton Moss for students on the Ecology field skills module, impressing them with his knowledge and ability to communicate.

Luke loves communicating: “My role at Leighton Moss is going into hides and talking to people, showing them what is going on. It’s nice to spend an extended length of time with people, helping them understand the way different bird species behave.”

Luke models himself more on the author and TV presenter Simon Reeve, who has recently fronted a BBC series on the Lake District, than on David Attenborough.

“David Attenborough is brilliant, but with his films you just see the animals and people don’t seem to exist. I’m interested in the intersection between nature and people.”

This focus on people and nature is one of the reasons Luke chose the Ecology and Conservation degree, which straddles the social and natural sciences. His favourite module has been Climate and Society with Dr Andy Jarvis.

But he’s also enjoyed learning about bird interactions with other parts of the ecosystem, whether it’s with an organism like a parasite, climatic variations or the soil. “The quality of academic staff at Lancaster is brilliant and the place just has a friendly vibe.”

Luke has taken advantage of Lancaster’s good partnerships with external organisations: he is doing his final dissertation on reintroducing sand lizards to the Fylde coast, working with Fylde Council.

“It’s really cool and a great opportunity to get involved with something that is making a real-life difference. The project is going well, but it has been a bit tricky because sand lizards are amazingly difficult to find!”

Luke has applied to do a master’s degree in Wildlife Filmmaking in Bristol after he graduates this summer and is busy creating his showreel.

See some of Luke’s Nature Diaries here.

Find out more about Luke on his website or via Instagram @luke_wildlife or Twitter @luke_wildlife

Learn more about studying Ecology and Conservation at Lancaster University.

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