If anything, varying degrees of lockdown have taught many of us the importance and significance of natural spaces, particularly ones inside busy cosmopolitan cities. It’s also important that these spaces, the last bastion for a lot of Britain’s wildlife, remain protected and accessible to everyone. This is why a group like Flock Together, a support group combatting the underrepresentation of people of colour in nature, needs to exist. Safeguarding the right to roam for every member of society, no matter their race, belief system or upbringing. 1TRL caught up founders with Ollie Olanipekum Nadeem Perera following a recent pre-lockdown bird walk where they tested out some of 1TRL’s latest footwear.
“So, good footwear is essential.” Ollie answers, as we ask what a beginner needs to get started. “I’ve been wearing an orange pair of the MQM Ace (LTR), they’re turning into my casual everyday shoes.” As for outerwear: “You need a decent waterproof that ticks all the boxes jacket-wise,” gesturing to Nadeem who was donning a very weatherproof puffer during our conversation “but anything waterproof. It’s really just the bear essentials you need, layers, binoculars…which you can pick up for 20-30 quid. And a guidebook!” One thing the two unanimously decide on is the holy bible of birdwatching, and an essential handbook to anyone who wants to get started, “The Collins bird guide, I’ve had the same one for years.” says Nadeem.
The origins of Flock Together come from a chance encounter between the pair on instagram. Ollie, who is a creative director by day, is a regular birdwatcher and frequently posts pictures of birds he’s seen. With the death of George Floyd in the US heavily affecting communities across the world, bird watching became his escape from the tumultuous events occurring in the summer of 2020. “Post BLM, it was really tough. I was using bird watching as a coping mechanism at my local pond. I’m always sharing stuff so I was uploading photos of the birds there, then this guy is naming the species in the comments. I’m thinking: no way you’re a birdwatcher.” It was 26-year old Nadeem, who has been a bird watcher since he was 16, linked up with 36-year old Ollie who had the idea of creating a bird watching group for people of colour. Since then they’ve done numerous walks exploring the incredibly important green spaces that intermingle with the concrete of the city of London.
“I think I’ve just spotted a woodpecker” Ollie tells us as he leans to look out of the window during our video call, whose feeding station attracts the full spectrum of avian wonder flying around London right to his back garden. Which brings us onto the pair’s favourite spots in their home city. For Ollie: “Different moods need different spaces. Shirley Woods in Croydon, or Hackney Marshes are great spots, but really it changes every week.” Whilst Nadeem goes for “Richmond Park, the place makes you forget you’re even in London.” a notion also agreed to by Ollie.
Although Flock Together doesn’t plan on ending at the Capital’s boundaries. “We want to take Flock Together global, and have chapters throughout the world. Giving everyone who needs it the tools to get out there. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes. If you can discern football shirts you can discern birds.” But it’s much bigger than the birds, Nadeem tells us. “It’s the whole ecosystem. Nature is interdependent. If the temperature isn’t right, certain plants won’t grow, and certain insects eat those plants and the bird will eat those insects. By proxy of learning about the bird, you learn about the natural world as a whole.”
Conservation is a key part of Flock Together. Nadeem, who works in a school, and Ollie want to use Flock Together to educate children on the importance of green spaces and maintaining wildlife. “Growing up in these large cities, you’re not really encouraged to enjoy it. But it’s a benefit we want to share with our wider community. Particularly the young, opening up a new path, making bird watching accessible. Because we need healing.” Ollie explains. “So many ideas have been missed because we’ve been locked out of this space. It’s also hugely important for mental health, because bird watching is such a peaceful activity.” This coincides with global lockdowns, where green spaces and connecting with nature has been a daily lifeline for millions.
The core of Flock Together is to make the outdoors, and particularly bird watching, accessible and open, and not just the space of Bill Oddie types in khaki shorts. “Brands have a big role to play too, being visible, showing that we’re meant to be here.” Nadeem continues: “Urban is a term used to tell us where we belong. In the past, it’s evident that the richer in society sit in these country mansions, surrounded by acres of land, and collect their cheques from us whilst locking us out of places where we can enjoy nature.” This metaphorical boundary building has been erected over our countryside since the inception of the U.K. Fence Posts hold together lines of wealth and class, stretched out over the verdant hills and leafy forests of rural Britain. This distribution of common land into privatised commodities has always sought to undermine those who relied on it. Hunting became poaching, collecting firewood became theft and living became trespassing, all on the estates of the country gentry, many of them historically slave owners. This has resulted in a severing of ties between certain communities and nature. As Ollie explains “People need to reconnect with the outdoors. Breath that fresh air and come back in a better state of mind.”
Wildlife populations in the U.K. are plummeting, making it one of the most wildlife-depleted counties in the world. Set against the backdrop of a rewriting of environmental legislation makes movements such as Flock Together even more important. By accessing nature and educating everyone on the importance of it, people begin to care more, stand up, and take action. With every bird walk, Flock Together makes strides to conserving the natural world we all hold so close and all deserve to explore.