Indy Kiemel Greene is one of the UK’s most prominent young birders. At only 15 years old he has become a well-known name amongst Britain’s naturalists. Indy is a keen photographer, writer and has done much work with the BBC including an appearance on Winter Watch. Hailing from Sherwood forest, Indy has grown up watching the many bird species that reside and migrate through his local area. He seeks to help spread his love of nature to others and share his profound feelings for the natural world.
It was Sherwood Forest that had the biggest impact on me growing up. It was here where my love for the natural world began. Only a stone’s throw from where I lived stood the best playground in the world. It was where I used to climb the trees and watch the birds all day long. My parents, being nature lovers too, used to take me to this playground all the time. Now, I take them.
Sherwood Forest once used to span from Nottingham City all the way up to York. It was filled with oak, birch and pasture, a lovely and open landscape, full of diversity. Unfortunately, it’s now very fragmented. The grey is growing and the green is shrinking, which will come as no surprise to many. The parts we have left are disconnected and species cannot migrate through the forest. What remains isn’t what the original forest would have looked like, it’s now commercially farmed pine forest. This saddens me greatly, but there is hope. The remaining part of the forest that the RSPB manages is stunning, it’s as Sherwood would have been in the ancient past, like the incredible oak trees which are thousands of years old and still standing, and have seen so much. Those trees are hope.
When it comes to Sherwood’s animals, it was birds which were my first passion. My favourite bird is the Goshawk. There are only a couple of hundred left in the UK. Sadly, they are persecuted within the northern regions, especially the Peak District, on the grouse moors. The gamekeepers don’t want the birds of prey taking their grouse. They ‘enhance’ the landscape and burn the moorlands for young heather shoots for the grouse to eat – this releases a lot of CO2. Luckily, I’m able to see them most days when I come up to the barn to perch. I’m able to watch a couple of individuals come to roost and I sit and listen to their beautiful calls.
In November, on a cold wintry evening, I hadn’t yet seen any Goshawks come to roost. I’d turned my phone torch on to navigate the mud of the barn. All of a sudden, a kestrel started alarm calling. I shone my phone torch up and there it was. I could see the fiery reflection of a pair of Goshawk eyes coming straight for me. I put my phone to my chest and it swiftly banked right, only several feet away. It was a magnificent adult female gliding only a couple of feet off the ground. I could feel the power in its great wings and its burnings eyes. Those eyes go through the soul. That was one of my most memorable Goshawk experiences.
I ask myself today though, why pigeonhole yourself into being a birdwatcher? There are millions of insect species in the world. Especially in the colder months where there isn’t much to see in the skies, I will go and watch the bees. Many years ago, when I used to walk around back then, I’d always be looking up. But one day, my friend told me to watch where I was going and look down instead. And there I saw an ashy mining beetle poking its head out from its burrow. From then on I was hooked. They’re simply stunning. Their colours and lifecycles are mind-blowing and fascinating all at once.
People hear about problems in their own patch and think about doing something locally. A local project we’ve been working on recently in Sherwood is creating bee banks. Here in the UK we have 170 species of bee, and incredibly, 150 of them are solitary bees. These solitary bees are made up of aerial and ground-nesters which dig holes in walls or bamboo tubes, and block chambers up with leaves and clay. In Sherwood, we focus on the ground-nesters, specifically the ashy mining bee and tawny mining bee. We drill holes into sandy soil that are like an upside down tree, with branches forking off so that the bees have small chambers to lay their eggs. In the past, the sandy soil would have been created by wild boar trawling through the forest. Today, we act as the boar would have and we cut into the banks with vertical and horizontal strips to create habitats for lots of different bees, helping their populations. It’s this hands-on experience I absolutely love.
In helping the bees, we also help another creature which I adore, the black oil beetle. These beetles are only the size of your thumb with jet-black and a blue-purple iridescent back – they’re stunning. After they mate, they hatch into millimetre long worm-like creatures which climb to the nearest grass stalks, and wait for a solitary bee to descend and collect nectar from the flower source. When the bees land on the grass flower head, the beetle young will attach onto the bees legs and will travel with the bee, back to its own burrow. Once in the burrow, the young beetle will hop off the bee’s back and eat all of the nectar for the bee’s young, and even its eggs. It will then spend the winter in that burrow, and hatch out to become a gorgeous black oil beetle. This is kleptoparasitism. The bees don’t just pollinate, they also bring life to the beetles. That’s what I love. When I first got into nature it was all about the birds, because they were the simplest to learn. But now I want to delve even deeper and learn all I can about the insects and plants and their interdependence.
It’s not just the forest that inspires me, it’s our wonderful ocean too, especially the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland. Two decades ago, my parents boarded the Sealife Surveys whale-watching boat, which was where they first met. Seven years ago they took me on the very same boat, with the very same crew. It was a beautiful week. We were out on the sea every single day. The skies were uncharacteristically clear and blue. I was allowed in the wheelhouse as Dad knew the skipper, and from there I could see out and watched seven minke whales chasing a shoal of fish. After that, I volunteered for two weeks every summer. I saw some incredible wildlife up there, including white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, otters, seals, sun fish, arctic terns, common terns, porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins. We even had a microphone on the sea-bed where you could hear the crabs clicking away on the ocean floor.
Our Earth is bountiful and it is responsible for every meal we eat, every glass of water we drink and every breath of air we breathe. My love for nature is as vast as nature itself. It travels across Scottish oceans teeming with whales and dolphins, and is the Goshawk-filled skies above. But I can always trace it back to one of the last green strongholds of the UK, where a bit of my heart will always lie, in Sherwood Forest.