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Meet Harriet Nimmo

Meet Harriet Nimmo

Harriet Nimmo’s passion and expertise lie in her ability to communicate the real values of the natural world. In the process she manages to build bridges between the private sector, conservation NGOs, the media and the public, to help raise awareness, understanding and appreciation of the planet’s biodiversity.
Photo: Courtesy Harriet Nimmo.

She grew up in a London suburb, probably one of the least biodiversity-rich places in the U.K., and had little connection with nature through school, family or friends. Yet, she is amongst the most effective natural history and conservation communicators on the planet today. Armed with a BSc/MSc in Zoology, she is the Chief Executive of both ‘Wildscreen’ and ‘ARKive’ and was named European Professional Woman of Achievement in 2003. Bittu Sahgal met her in Mumbai where she recently travelled to promote Wildscreen, an international festival of wildlife films, arguably the most influential and prestigious event of its kind anywhere.

So what drew you into nature’s web, Harriet?

I’m a classic example of a geeky kid watching wildlife on TV! I watched children’s programmes such as Animal Magic (featuring anthropomorphic talking zoo animals), and the Daktari African adventures (which to my disappointment, as an adult, I discovered were all filmed on a Hollywood set) – and then progressed at an early age onto any and every wildlife documentary I could watch. It was wildlife TV that totally turned me onto nature.

You are obviously passionate about communicating the value of the natural world, but how would you describe your own personal mission?

There are so many ‘missions’ that compete for my head and heart. But at this point I surely want to help build bridges between the private sector, conservation NGOs, the media and the public, to help raise awareness, understanding and appreciation of the world’s biodiversity to a wide civil-society audience.

That explains a lot! And what exactly is Wildscreen’s mission?

Simply put, we aim to: “celebrate, applaud and encourage excellence and responsibility, in wildlife and environmental filmmaking – films which increase the global viewing public’s understanding of the natural world, and the need to conserve it.”

Serving as a catalyst for the best wildlife filmmakers in the world, Wildscreen now has associates ranging from the BBC and Animal Planet to Natural History Museums. Seen here is the legendary Sir David Attenborough, during the filming of the Panda Award-winning film ‘Life in the Freezer’. Photo Courtesy: Wildscreen. Ben Osborne/Naturepl.com.

Who supports all this?

Our patrons include such legendary individuals as HRH Prince Philip, Sir David Attenborough, Prof. E.O. Wilson and Dr. Sylvia Earle. Support comes from partners and well wishers who share our vision, including Osborne Clarke Solicitors, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the University of the West of England and the WWF U.K. We work closely with the British Council, which organised this visit to India.

So is Wildscreen a media organisation, or a conservation body?

It’s actually a part and parcel of the international wildlife and environmental media industry. But conservation is a huge part of our purpose. The vast millions in whose hands our planet lies will probably never venture under the sea, or into the fragile rainforests that are vanishing. Through the medium of film if we can inspire a greater interest in Earth’s living riches and if we are able to educate people about the threats to the biodiversity of the natural world by illustrating its wonders, our job will have been done.

You deal constantly with world-famous wildlife people, but do you have wildlife ‘magic moments’ of your own you could share? Any one creature that grabs you above the others?

Wild dogs. I love wild dogs. As a young child, I watched Hugo Van Lawick’s moving documentary, ‘Solo’, about the wild dogs of the Serengeti and soon became obsessed with wild canids. Eventually, about 10 years ago, after many saved-up for holidays, and fruitless trips failing to locate these elusive carnivores – I came across a pack in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. I spent an entrancing day with them… as they mostly slept in the shade! Formerly exterminated as vermin, it is only recently that African wild dogs have at last come to be valued. Yes, wild dogs are up there on my list of favourites! On this trip to India, I had the thrill of seeing dhole in Kanha. I was more excited about seeing this species than the tiger – and realise how privileged and lucky I was!

Heroes?

David Attenborough, of course. No doubt along with 1,000s of others too! Aged 13, I wrote to him asking for career advice. He replied suggesting I go to university to study zoology – a completely alien idea to my family at the time, which took a lot of persuading. To cut a long story short – that is how I ended up doing what I do now. Sir David is a Wildscreen Patron, and so I now have the pleasure of working with him on many occasions (and have still kept his hand written letter to me from all those years ago!).

Prior to becoming Wildscreen’s Chief Executive, Harriet Nimmo was responsible for developing ARKive, for which she was named European Professional Woman of Achievement in 2003. In 2005, Harriet was nominated as one of the U.K.’s five most talented Cultural Leaders by NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), an award that involved a three-month secondment to South Africa with Conservation International. Photo: Courtesy Harriet Nimmo.

Let us switch tracks for a bit. Do you feel that film as a medium can actually do the trick? Can it make people love places they have never visited?

Of course, it can. Films and photographs are an emotive, powerful and effective means of building environmental awareness. Often, as in my own case, films can help ignite the very first spark of interest in natural history. With interest comes knowing. With knowing comes caring, and with caring there is hope. Without wildlife films and photographs, the vast bulk of humanity would have little knowledge of the plants and animals that share our planet. This is especially true today, with more and more of us living in cities, disconnected from nature.

Why don’t you tell Sanctuary readers a bit about ARKive, which you said was available to anyone in India with a web connection?

It’s a Wildscreen initiative and I think Sir David put it best. In his words: “ARKive is a vast treasury of wildlife images that have been steadily accumulating over the past century, yet no one has known its full extent – or indeed its gaps – and no one has had a comprehensive way of gaining access to it. ARKive will put that right, and it will be an invaluable tool for all concerned with the well-being of the natural world.”

Thank you Harriet. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. When do you get back to India?

When Sanctuary decides we are going to take Wildscreen to its network of one million Kids for Tigers! I absolutely love India and you can count on the fact that I will be back at the drop of a hat.

Sanctuary readers are encouraged to visit: http://www.wildscreen.org.uk/ and http://www.arkive.org/ to learn more about the vast library of natural history footage and imagery that has been placed in the public domain.

Uniquely positioned at the heart of the international wildlife and environmental media industry, Wildscreen has been celebrating, applauding, gathering, protecting and sharing images of wild species and places, to promote appreciation of biodiversity and nature. Photo Courtesy: Wildscreen. Ben Osborne/Naturepl.com.

First appeared in Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXIX No. 2, April 2009.

 
 
 

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