Written by Cally Ullman-Smith, winner of the inaugural David Robertson Youth Award (2015)
Life has certainly been busy since the day I was nominated for the inaugural David Robertson Youth Award of the NBN and presented with the award at the NBN Conference in 2015. I remember my Mum and I chatting happily about the Highland Seashore Project with a good friend, when my name was called and I went up in front of everyone and collected my award and what are now my favourite binoculars. After that it was all a bit of a blur of handshakes and congratulatory slaps on the back, it was one of the best evenings of my life.
How had I ended up there? It all started in 2010 when I joined the Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG), where I could develop my interest in herpetology with some brilliant recorders. HBRG forwarded me a record for Palmate Newts by Loch Linnhe in 2011 and from there my interest in coastal Palmate Newts developed, surveying one coastal site from 2012 to 2017 for which I am currently writing up my findings. I had the pleasure of having an acknowledgement for my surveying work in ‘The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland’ by Chris McInnery and Pete Minting. I was also a volunteer and seashore recorder for the Highland Seashore Project (HSP) which developed local community understanding of biodiversity and enabled local recording of species from 2013 to 2017.
Volunteering for the HSP I had the opportunity to attend and help at a number of workshops on species identification skills lead by specialists, where local community members could interact with professionals and get experience of real-world science. I helped collate and submit records to the HBRG and write for the HSP newsletter. The HSP was three years of amazing opportunities, where I developed a number of new skills and learnt from some very awe-inspiring people. I developed the idea for the bilingual Highland Seashore card game with Dr James Merryweather, wildlife photographer Charlie Philips and natural historian and Gaelic specialist Roddy Maclean. It was based on simple classification principles and 3000 packs were printed and distributed to every Highland Primary Pupil. I also had the opportunity to work with the brilliant and much missed Andy Jackson of Subsea TV. I spent a lot of time with Andy as he dived the local lochs, he taught me so much about natural history film production in producing the HSP web film. Overall, I learnt how to represent the work of the project through numerous local community presentations culminating in my being a panel member at the annual Highland Environment Forum in 2015, where I represented youth involvement in Citizen Science.
After the close of the HSP in 2017, I volunteered for a local Climate Challenge Fund project for the Broadford and Strath Community Trust, I’d learnt a lot about the effect of climate on species diversity on the coast and wanted to help develop community understanding. I helped set up and promote a campaign and events schedule. I also worked weekends, as an assistant field ecologist on herpetological surveys and data analysis.
In 2018 I helped organise community events, heading a team of youth volunteers for the Eilean Ban Trust, which manages an important otter site. I developed contacts with ‘Skye Arts’, who enabled me to be employed as a production assistant on the short film ‘Cladach’ directed and filmed by Margaret Salmon. I found locations and identified species for filming. The film premiered at the 2018 BFI Festival in London.
In 2019 I began working as a volunteer for the Kyle and Lochalsh Community Trust (KLCT), with my school’s Charities Team, using Plock of Kyle as a base for events and natural history walks. In 2020 with over 300 hours of volunteering time, I am the nominee Saltire Award Ambassador for Skye and Lochalsh.
Of course, the Covid 19 Pandemic has meant a very different 2020 for us all. I was given a chance to share my love of the natural world through a five-minute broadcast for children, with my Mum, Janet Ullman, for Radio Skye. We had the last part of the Captain Bobo show every Friday at 4.20pm, where we told a story from one of our rambles on what we had seen that day and tell the story of the very small to the very tall, from woodlice to Red Deer. It has been a lot of fun where I’ve learnt to script write, edit a recording and actually deliver a broadcast, however a lot of the sparkle comes from our very talented producer at Radio Skye, Suzy Lee. Lately we recorded three special broadcasts for the Dol Dhachaigh drivetime show for the run up to Christmas, where anything from Christmas evergreens to Reindeer on the Cairngorms were our natural choices.
Onto 2021, there will be a lot of emphasis on school work, but working with Radio Skye will enable me to keep on encouraging and sharing a love of exploring our beautiful local wild life.
Listen to a recent recording from the Radio Skye broadcasts by clicking the play button below: