A Focus On Nature, the youth nature network, runs a mentor scheme matching aspiring conservationists with established professionals.
In 2017 I discovered A Focus On Nature (AFON) and the variety of things they do; one of which being the mentoring scheme. I saw the mentor scheme advertised on their website, and thought it would be a great opportunity to meet and learn from professional wildlife photographers. I wasn’t sure what my chances would be of getting a place on the scheme, I thought something which sounds that good must be pretty competitive, but I figured if I didn’t apply then my chances of getting selected would be zero. At least if I applied I stood a chance!
Both Carl Chapman and David Tipling offered to help me, and as I felt they both had expertise in slightly different fields I jumped at the chance to be mentored by both of them.
After applying I heard that two of the three mentors I had picked in the application process had offered to be my mentors. That was great news! Both Carl Chapman and David Tipling had offered to help me, and as I felt they both had expertise in slightly different fields I jumped at the chance to be mentored by both of them. It would also give me the chance to brush up on my bird identifying skills, they were somewhat basic at best, but as both David and Carl are both experts in that area I was sure they could help.
Meeting up with Carl and David allowed me to discover parts of Norfolk I hadn’t seen before. If you’re like me sometimes you can get stuck into the habit of going to the same places, and not discovering new ones which are just on your doorstep. My first meeting with David was at his hide near Holt. Here we introduced ourselves to each other and had a chat about how the mentor scheme could work for me. I also got to learn about bird behaviour and quiz David on the camera equipment he was using. Since then I’ve been able to go back and use the hide again, and try out the new one he has built – the special one way glass even drew in an inquisitive pheasant that could see its reflection…a little too close for the 200mm lens! You can see a video on my Facebook page Catherine Bullen Photography. From the hide I’ve also been able to see birds I had never seen up close in the wild before, such as buzzards and sparrowhawks. It’s offered a really fantastic opportunity for photography.
As Carl Chapman is the county cetacean recorder when meeting up with him I was able to learn more about the marine life around Norfolk, and what sometimes washes ashore. Whilst exploring, we saw an Iceland Gull which had been spotted in Salthouse and was still there when we ventured out. It always impresses me how people can identify birds when to me they just seem to be a speck in the sky. Carl has helped me to learn different ways to ID birds, and my knowledge is definitely growing. He is full of advice and encouragement. It’s not always easy to meet up, with both of us having busy schedules but having the mentors just an email away is really helpful, and if I’m ever looking for advice or second opinions it’s invaluable to be able to contact them and know they will help if they can.
If you’re thinking that the mentor scheme could help you then apply! I highly recommend it: it’s an opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people and is an experience that opens new doors. Go for it!