TBB Talks To… Urban Birder David Lindo

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David Lindo is a wildlife and birding expert known as the Urban Birder.

Lindo is a published author, he has written articles showcasing his expertise in Urban Birdlife, including for the Royal Society for the protection of Birds. He has also featured on a number of shows nationally and internationally including Countryfile, The One Show, Urban Jungle, Countrywise and more.

He is also patron of Alderney Wildlife Trust, Spitalfields City Farm and Birding For All. He is a fellow member of the International League of Conservation Writers, the founder of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group and is on the committee of The Friends Of Wormwood Scrubs. We spoke to him to find out more about his passion for nature and nurture in today’s society…

Please introduce yourself to our audience?

I am David Lindo, also known as ‘The Urban Birder‘, I’m a broadcaster, a writer, I lead tours, I’m all about educating people and getting them to engage with their environment, with nature in Urban areas but through the medium of birds.

You’re a bird watcher?

There is a difference between bird watcher and birder, a ‘bird watcher‘ is a very old fashioned, boring title [no disrespect]. I’ve always thought of it as an Americanism, the term ‘birder‘ was actually first quoted in print by Shakespeare in one of his plays and was someone who effectively hunted bird.

How does a city kid become interested in “birding”?

I think in my previous life I was a Cougar and I use to hunt birds and one day one flew off and I thought “Oh wow that’s amazing” and I fell in love with watching birds. I was a bird watching Cougar which ultimately led to my demise because I wasn’t eating and just before I died I thought to myself “This would be an interesting thing to carry on in my next life“.

In my next life, I was born in Northwest London as a human. As a child, My parents, their friends, my friends, didn’t understand why I was fascinated with nature. My interest started with insects in the garden being fed on by birds but I didn’t know what the birds were. I was always told that nature was to be found in the countryside but I had no one to take me there so I developed my interest around where I was and I inadvertently became an ‘Urban Birder’ at a very young age.

I taught myself because I didn’t have a mentor; by the age of 8, I was a walking encyclopedia on the birds of Britain, Europe, The Middle East and North Africa. I didn’t meet another birder until I was 11 and by that point, I was way down the road in my interest.

Was it difficult growing up with such a unique interest??

Yeah. I had a lot of stick especially from other Black kids, I remember when I was about 6 or 7 and they would say to me ‘Why don’t you do something different, you’re acting like you’re English‘ as they spoke to me in their false patois accents. I said to them, ‘I was born here like you and at least I’m doing something different what are you doing?’. 

David Lindo ‘Urban Birder’ – Photo sourced: theurbanbirder.com

How has it impacted the way you’ve moved forward in your life?

At first, it was hard, I had this desire it was like an obsession and I knew even at a young age that I would be doing something with it later on in my life but I didn’t know what or when. When I went to secondary school, I went to a Catholic boys School in Harlesden, and I discovered girls, music, drink etc. and the birding took a back seat, I’m glad I did this because I learnt about socialising and about people and I’m glad I had that space because it made me more rounded. Now, it’s much more fashionable to be interested in nature, it’s much more of a selling point.

How important is it to be in tune with nature?

It’s very important, we live in cities and we see ourselves in a bubble as if we aren’t connected to nature. We are more interested in looking in our phones and we see nature as being in the middle of the countryside away from prying eyes or on David Attenborough programmes and nowhere in between. I just find it fascinating especially now given what’s happened with The Black Lives Matter movement there has been a lot of talk about Black people in conservation and the fact that there’s so few.

Some people have been pointing fingers at the conservation NGO’s and saying they are institutionally racist because there are no people of colour working for them. I’m probably at this moment the most experienced in terms of being out in the filed of any Black bird watcher in Europe and Britain combined and I’ve not really come across much racism at all from other birders. I’ve actually found it as a sanctuary, I felt safe travelling into different parts of the country on my own or with other people.

A lot of Black newspapers that serve the communities in the UK I find them racist because I think they perpetuate this stereotype that Black people should be Rapping or playing football or basketball, they don’t seem to encourage anything else other than the stereotypes yet they also shout out about racism, but I think they too have perpetuated that.

Bird watching is seen as something an older white man does, this is perpetuated by the media not Black people

There needs to be a lot done in terms of education and it’s not just education in schools. It’s not just Black newspapers, I’ve talked about the BBC, they portray nature as being the domain of white people so you turn on the television and there is a white middle-class man presenting nature to you, there’s a white man in Africa talking about African nature and there are black people carrying his bags for him.

So how would you encourage a young Black person from an Urban community such as Wembley where you grew up, to try Birding as a hobby?

I go to School’s and take people out. For example, I went to Bristol a few years ago in the BBC’s building – they have some grounds and I took two different schools out. The first school was a fairly posh school from the countryside, predominantly white; they were really into it. The next school was an inner-city school predominantly Black and Asian, I did exactly the same thing but first, there was a reticence because they were unsure and it wasn’t until they realised oh it’s okay to put my hand there, it’s okay to talk about that, only then did they really get into it. So for me it’s actually getting kids to realise you can get involved it’s no big deal it’s actually fun.

I call myself the Urban Birder because I’m trying to get people to understand no matter where you are even if you’re in the middle of a concrete jungle open your mind to the idea that there is nature all around you and you will see it. I am one man on my own trying to do all this fighting against the institutional stuff that the BBC largely do. Though I have done stuff for the BBC, a majority of their programmes are presented by white people which makes any kid in an inner-city area look at that and say, ‘That’s not for me’.

During this pandemic, people have been able to engage more in nature. How do we keep the momentum as the world returns to normal? 

There are organisations like The London Wildlife Trust, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Birmingham Trust that do things with people in inner cities to try and engage with them. I think it would help to visit your local parks and be more focused on conservation in an urban area. That would start making people think more differently. It has to trickle down as much as it has to trickle up so we need to be encouraged. For example, during the lockdown the media missed a massive trick to get people engaged they could have gotten someone on the camera and walked around and shot some stuff and shown just how amazing the cities can be when it comes to nature.

You were recently in conversation with Caroline Lucas MP, former leader of the Green Party whose mission is to save the planet and its people. What were the most far-reaching points in your discussion?

The most interesting thing we spoke about was this diversity issue, I’ve been very interested in that for a long time. She was quite shocked when I told her about the amount of racial abuse I used to get between the ages of 5 and 15. I was spat at, had loads of bottles thrown at me It happened to a lot of Black kids during the ’70s and early ’80s that was part of what you dealt with.

I may have also mentioned a story about when I went to a BAFTA talk by Lenny Henry and he was saying quite rightly that there are not enough Black people in front of or behind the camera. But then he was talking about Black people setting up their own production companies. I don’t agree with that, I don’t think ghettoising is a good idea. In the UK I have only ever come across maybe 10 people of colour who do what I do, but I don’t set up a Black Birding group I just invade this world and say ‘right, here I am, this is what I’m about and we are going to change things around here‘. I decided to do it nicely and get people involved and I’ve now become a role model and I’ve encouraged people who look like me to become Birders.

So I think you have to take the bull by the horns and demand your space.  I’ve never let theses barriers or perceived barriers stop me because if I had I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Now I’m respected around the world, I’ve written four books, I do TV, radio; I’m an ambassador for conservations. We need to teach people to be more proud and more determined and stronger mentally to get out there and say I’m the best so you have to see me!

Lastly, what would your advice be to somebody who would want to take the same route as you but may still have those fears?

The best advice is to go out and join groups because you’ll find that you will be welcomed and don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you want to do. Don’t let others inflict their fears onto you discouraging you from your passions. When I left school I left with nothing and was told I wouldn’t amount to much, so I got an office job and then decided to do a business studies course and I used people’s doubts in me to fuel my success. I passed my diploma. So just don’t let anyone hold you back.

What’s next for you?

I am currently hosting a series called ‘In Conversation With…’ a series of zoom interviews with some of the leading figures in the natural history sector. I will be in conversation with birders, ornithologists, broadcasters, writers and more so do visit the website to find out when the next talk will be and please join in and listen.

Thank you for speaking to The British Blacklist.

To find out more and listen to David Lindo’s web talks the events are free, open to all and are hosted online at theurbanbirderworld.com/live-webinars in partnership with Kings Place London.

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