Celebrating Environmental Awareness Month
September is Environmental Awareness Month – a time when we’re all talking about environmental issues such as green living, eco-products, recycling, conservation and ways to protect our beautiful planet. I’m kicking off this month’s campaign with a Q&A with Conservation Biologist, Tolga Aktas.
Life is full of connections and, I didn’t realise when I spoke to Tolga’s girlfriend Hannah, at the Muddy Stilettos Award Ceremony, where I received my certificate for Best Jeweller and Winner for Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, that we’d be working on this important campaign together. Tolga is my Brand Ambassador for the September Campaign, so I asked him to tell me more about what he is passionate about, plus a little more about how he arrived on this journey of discovery and what he loves most about his piece of Silver Nutshell Jewellery.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Working with wildlife and nature was my destiny
My name is Tolga Aktas, and I’m a conservation biologist, writer, and photojournalist whose main interests range between conservation biology, ecology, rewilding, human population growth, and global food security. These interests and important topics are excellent opportunities to create stories with strong narratives which help protect the planet’s natural environment and provide a future where humans can co-exist with wildlife, nature, and each other.
I was born in London, and have lived there for the majority of my life. I’ve been passionate about the natural world from a very young age, which led me to eventually pursue a career in wildlife biology, ecology and conservation. Before that, I had to go through a career change from electrical engineering to finally realise that working with wildlife and nature was my destiny and the plan for my life.
As a conservation biologist, my role is to to protect the planet’s natural environment; understanding how everything is connected and provide a future where humans can co-exist with wildlife and the nature that surrounds our planet. My fundamental aim is to use my voice through storytelling and touch upon the important conservation and environmental related issues that our planet faces on a daily basis. Sharing little snippets of my journey through writing and work through environmental journalism and filmmaking – the exploration aspect of things will be a by-product of everything else I want to achieve through Ways of the Natural World.
What do you enjoy most about being a Conservation Biologist?
In all honesty the thing I enjoy most is contributing towards positive change and knowing that your personal contribution (whether small or large) has helped in some shape of form. For example, when I travelled over to KwaZulu-Natal, Zululand in South Africa both in 2018 and 2019; I was volunteering to help protect endangered species of wildlife and ensuring that future generations would be able to see these incredible animals the same way I did.
While I was out in the African bush, I was working with species such as the African wild dog, Lion, Elephant, Cheetah, Rhino (both black and white), Vulture, and Leopard. It was so rewarding to know that my small contribution, along with everybody else’s on the Wildlife ACT Endangered Species Project was ensuring that all of those species mentioned above, along with many other species in the food chain, and each of the habitats within their ecosystems were not only being appreciated, but were also being protected and managed efficiently on a daily basis.
Tell us about the wildlife and woodlands in Gloucestershire?
The Cotswolds is an incredible place to live and work
I originally come all the way from a little borough in Southwark, London called Bermondsey. There wasn’t much wildlife there growing up as a child, nor wild spaces to escape to. So, coming to The Cotswolds back in 2017 to study for a BSc in Animal Biology at the University of Gloucestershire was a game changer for me. I was able to experience British wildlife on a whole new level and living in Gloucestershire enabled me to spend precious time at some very cool nature reserves.
The ones I love visiting the most are Highnam Woods, Alney Island Nature Reserve, and Coombe Hill Nature Reserve – all of which have given me opportunities to develop my career and build my reputation as a Biologist, here in the South West and also online. I love living here in The Cotswolds because it’s an incredible place to live and work. It will be a difficult task to finally move from here if that day ever comes – which I hope it doesn’t!
Where in the world would you love to work and make a difference?
I love how each place and project focuses on the protection of the species
I have always been passionate about Africa, and I was delighted to have been given the opportunity to experience a small part of that continent a couple of years ago. I think I would still love to play a part with conservation work over there in the future, but I am also interested with potentially working in Romania and Turkey. There are some exciting projects happening in those two countries, and it would be great to get more people talking about it.
For example, in Romania there is an organisation called Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC) and they are working to create the Yellowstone of Europe, surrounding the protected area around the Fagaras Mountains. Since the FCC’s projects inception, they have managed to purchase over 25,400 hectares of forests and alpine meadows in the south-eastern Carpathians for restoration and full protection. The fact that Romania alone has 6 million hectares of forests, where a significant portion of it is still virgin and such natural environments are still crucial habitats for bears, wolves, and lynx is truly remarkable.
Similarly, Turkey revealed its first ever wildlife corridor back in December 2011, where its protected area connects the Sarikamis-Allahuekber National Park in Kars, Northern Turkey, to the extensive forests of the Black Sea and the Caucasus forests on the Turkey-Georgia border. Again, a significant amount of land (23,500 hectares) and an important wildlife corridor to protect bears, lynx, and wolves.
I am not sure why exactly but these three locations on our planet have been a huge interest to me. I love how each place and project focuses on the protection of species, at the same time as reducing the levels of human-wildlife conflict.
So explain, what is it about the Silver Nutshell Acorn that you love?
To be honest, I don’t own much jewellery and what I do have, has a lot of sentimental value in my life. If I wear jewellery, it has to mean something. This Silver Nutshell Acorn necklace feels really special to me and I love that it was actually cast from a real acorn. It is a perfect reminder that small things can grow into beautiful things – even big things like an oak tree.
You can relate that to anything in your world, I guess, i.e., whether it is a small step on your journey that eventually leads you to a huge success or something magical in your everyday life etc. I actually have no words for it because I never imagined that I could admire a piece of jewellery as much as I do with my little acorn. Oak trees are one of my favourite trees as well, so I guess that has a lot to do with it!
Tell us something about yourself that we’d be surprised to know?
Before I began my career in wildlife conservation back in 2014, I was working as a electrical engineer apprentice at Harrods in Knightsbridge, London. I worked there for nearly five years before realising that my future wasn’t to fix circuit and change lights to simply make the clients happy. I wanted something more in my life so just like in the movies, I went straight to the managers office and said “I am leaving for a new career in wildlife conservation!” I haven’t looked back since and love every minute of my new adventure.
What could we all do to support Environmental Awareness Month?
The most simple and inexpensive thing we can all do is to simply just get lost in nature and appreciate its beauty. You actually don’t have to go too far most of the time. It can literally be your front or back garden, a local park or woodland, or perhaps a nature reserve or national park. The only way any of us can truly appreciate the natural world is to experience it first hand. When we do that, we learn to cherish it, and share it with others. I believe that is the most genuine way to create awareness about our environment and our natural world.
Where can people follow your work and find out more about you?
The best place to find me will certainly be my website Ways of the Natural World, where you can read more about the projects that I am involved in. There is also a blog on there too, where I have written about my experiences. If you’re really interested in knowing more about what I do, simply search online for ‘Tolga Aktas Conservation’ or Tolga Aktas Wildlife and all sorts will pop up about what I am doing right now, and what I’ve done in the past. Look out for interesting articles, podcasts and even some on-screen appearances for charities/brands, etc.