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‘This is our world’ – last chance to walk among nature’s giants!

An elephant towers above my head; just a few footsteps away a mother giraffe stands protectively over her young calf. From this vantage point I can see a closely camouflaged lioness stalking a skittish zebra. I’m not on safari in Africa though; I’m standing in the Royal Horticultural Halls in central London, surrounded by lifesized acrylic paintings of animals in their natural habitats.

The astonishing ‘This is Our World’ exhibition was comprised of a collection of work by acclaimed British-born artist Omra Sian.

Incredibly, some pieces spanned more than six metres in height and seven metres wide!

The exhibition focused on educating, informing and inspiring visitors from all walks of life about wildlife, conservation and climate change, and was curated by not for profit organisation Art World Conservation.

Each artwork was accompanied by a poignant description of the endangered species depicted and the reason they are threatened – so it was no surprise that the exhibition was hosted in partnership with the Born Free foundation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

It’s honestly hard to not feel overwhelmed standing among such detailed and textured scenes showcasing the heart of the African Savannah, the icy Arctic Circle, the lush Amazon Rainforest and the dramatic scenes found deep in the ocean.

Apparently this is the first time the acrylic-on-canvas paintings have been displayed collectively — due to public demand!

There really is a power in seeing these images of some of the planet’s most iconic wildlife species standing side-by-side, as the exhibition title suggests; it really gives a sense of one world, which belongs to us all.

High-definition paintings include the endangered black rhino, majestic lion, towering Rothschild giraffe and elusive great white shark, and information throughout the exhibition (which has also hosted talks from leading wildlife charities and conservationists) offered the chance to learn more about efforts to protect wildlife from threats including climate change and the illegal wildlife trade.

The Artist

Artist and conservationist Omra Sian has been a professional artist for over 30 years.

He spent over 10 years meticulously researching and creating this unique body of work, and travelled around the world to study his subjects in their natural habitats.

Omra hopes that the imagery will both inspire and educate visitors to learn more about conserving the planet and why it is paramount we all do so.

He says: “I once read a quote that said ‘life begins when you come out of your comfort zone’ – so I made sure I stayed out of mine to create this collection.”

“The collection makes people challenge the way they think about the natural world. It is the IMAX of wildlife art and the images painted are scientifically correct.”

“It really was a labour of love! To create canvases on this scale required me to climb up and down scaffolding up to 40 times a day, or paint whilst lying on the floor for hours at a time, so each piece really does represent a huge amount of physical and mental dedication, as well as investment of time.”

“The event will inspire, educate and inform visitors – young and old – about the world we live in; the creatures and habitats we share it with and why they are so important to conserve. Often the simplest of changes by many people can make an enormous difference and this event is about inspiring those changes. Educating children is paramount as they are the future, and I hope the painting will inspire them to learn about flora and fauna, as I did when I was a child”.

A child’s depiction of the Siberian tiger painting shown above is displayed at the end of the exhibition.

It is hoped that this collection can be taken around the globe to education and inspire everybody to conserve the planet for a sustainable future.

Good news if you aren’t able to make it to London for its final days!

Like this? Read about my own conservation art exhibition here.

See what happened when Millie Marotta held her ‘Colouring for conservation’ event

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Rhino’s Up: One six-year old’s fight to protect the last Northern White Rhinos

Working in conservation and education will always feel like a blessing to me. To see how children react to the issues facing the natural world around them, and to discover time and time again how they seem to intrinsically care about the environment and the wildlife they share it with — it truly fills me with hope and positivity.

One such story that’s started August off on a positive note is that of six-year-old Frankie and his fundraising mission for Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Frankie (pictured above) is on a mission to save rhinos after discovering that there are only three northern white rhinos left in the world.

He decided to launch a fundraising project called ‘RhinosUp to raise £48,000 – the amount that a poached rhino horn might fetch on the black market.

His plan is to create a living sculpture in the shape of a northern white rhino out of bee-friendly plants. Frankie hopes his flowerbed — made in partnership with Fauna & Flora International — will encourage people to think about the plight of rhinos and spread the message that poaching has to end.

Read the full story (and watch Frankie’s video) on National Geographic Kids’ website here.

National geographic kids rhinos up article

Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO said: “I am making a special trip to the UK to meet with Frankie. I am amazed at what this formidable young man has managed to achieve at such a young age.”

“If only the world were made of more people like him, we would not be facing the extinction crisis that we currently are. The northern white rhinos need all the help they can get, and what Frankie is doing will make a huge difference in how we protect them and for the survival of the species.”

Well done Frankie!

For more information on Frankie’s ‘RhinosUp’ project, and to donate online, visit www.rhinosup.com

 

Want to know more about rhino horn poaching?

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Calculating extinction; finding ways to get children thinking

‘The sixth mass extinction is already underway’ the Guardian reports. ‘We only have 20 years to halt it’ the Telegraph adds. A new study by the University of Lund, Sweden, and the University of British Columbia, Canada has advised that the best ways to reverse the impact we are having on the planet is to stop using air travel, to give up the car, have fewer children and switch to a vegetarian or plant-based diet. Trading tumble dryers for hanging clothes out to dry and switching off lights are also factors that we can contribute, to do our bit.

It’s great when these stories come back around and remind us to think about our impact on the planet, but to me, nothing says it better than the incredible documentary; Racing Extinction. Now that the initial hype of a documentary release has died down, I found myself wondering about the impact of the school resources that I worked on whilst at my previous job at Discovery Education. Do they still have the same momentum without the film release? Because they need it!

racing extinction species campaign

Educating children is the key to improving the condition of the planet for future generations. Giving them the chance to see the mistakes of the generations before them, and empowering them to not only avoid those mistakes, but improve upon them, is an incredibly powerful tool.

For this reason, when I was approached through my job at National Geographic Kids to suggest a challenge for gifted children, as part of Potential Plus UK‘s 50th anniversary, I felt it was a good opportunity to think about what the last 50 years that the programme has been in existence have meant for natural history.

Creating a Maths challenge, I suggested a method for estimating the amount of species decline, which included researching the rapidly increasing rate of extinction — and looking ahead over the next 50 years to estimate how many more species we are likely to lose if things don’t change.

The challenge was included in the ’50 Challenges for 50 Years’ Book, which was launched on the organisation’s Family Challenge Day and given to the gifted and talented children to try at home with their family.

potential plus calculating extinction

Check out the challenge on Potential Plus UK’s website, and give it a go yourself. As well as testing your maths skills, I’m hoping it serves as a humbling opportunity to see the need to protect species — and the consequences we may face if we don’t.

More about my work with Nat Geo Kids

Want to know what happened when I met Dr Jane Goodall on behalf of Nat Geo Kids?

Want to know more about Nat Geo Kids inspiring natural history learning?

Discover my work in conservation education with Discovery

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Discovery Education blog: VR apps for classroom conservation

Virtual Reality can take students out of the classroom and into entirely new lands, environments and experiences — from global travel to outer space — and it is primed to be the next big learning opportunity to integrate into the learning environment. (The ‘New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology’ report published by the World Economic Forum identified VR as a key opportunity for technology to be used in the advancement of social and emotional learning [SEL].)

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vEcotours VR app used in class at Cambridge Elementary School

There is a wealth of fantastic, educational material available for students to immerse themselves in, and I’ve been getting to grips with that from Discovery VR, the Natural History Museum, London (which I’ve previously written about here).

For a recent post on Discovery Education’s community blog, I looked at vEcotourism, which offers virtual tours across the globe to see endangered wildlife in their natural environments. They have recently introduced a new ‘kid’s version’ of their Mount Elgon virtual reality tour to visit the world’s only salt-mining elephants.

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This particular version is narrated by children and has been trialed in classrooms alongside project work to ‘adopt’ some of their other tour locations, challenging students to research the habitats and the species that live within them, and produce their own voice-over narration.

Read the full blog post here: http://blog.discoveryeducation.com/blog/2016/09/14/what-to-do-with-web-2-0-tools-vr-apps/

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The new naturalist’s kit bag…

What equipment does a naturalist usually need?

vEcos Adviser and Ambassador (and renowned wildlife biologist and conservationist) Ian Redmond suggests a binoculars and hand lens, but soon, a virtual reality headset could also be a vital piece of equipment!

Ian Redmond vecotours VR headset

I’ve recently explored how natural history and conservation are establishing a firm place in the classroom (and assembly hall), with a recent review of Discovery Education‘s Racing Extinction virtual field trip and having visited a school in London to deliver a whole school Racing Extinction assembly alongside Born Free Foundation‘s Dominic Dyer.

But also making its way into new school learning is the presence of VR, virtual reality.

A recent post on Discovery Education’s community blog examines a new paper published by the World Economic Forum called ‘New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology’ in which VR, apps and wearable technology are recommended as opportunities for technology to be used in the advancement of social and emotional learning.

discovery blogs

Jumping on this trend, vEco have just published a new video, created by Craig Redmond, discussing how their 360-degree interactive, immersive tours, live tours and planned VR app are ahead of the game! Watch the video in full here (or click the image below)!

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Diving the Great Barrier Reef… at the Natural History Museum

I began this blog in 2011, when I was living, working and studying in Australia. I spent 14 months on the other side of the world, working towards my degree at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

Great Barrier Reef 1

No trip across Australia would have been complete without visiting the incredibly beautiful Great Barrier Reef, and this was one of the absolute highlights for me (see picture left!).

Incredibly delicate and evidently damaged by climate change and pollution, I chose to snorkel around the reef rather than scuba dive, as this would have been my first time using scuba diving equipment and as an inexperienced diver, I didn’t trust myself to know enough to avoid further damaging the reef.

Nonetheless, the experience was unforgettable. Vivid in colour and full of life, the reef really is quite a spectacle.

This weekend, I visited London’s Natural History Museum to recapture the experience.

Sounds a little odd, doesn’t it? But the Attenborough Studio is offering the chance to take a virtual reality tour of the Great Barrier Reef, with Sir David Attenborough himself.

I’ve never worn a virtual reality headset before and didn’t really know what to expect, but putting on the Samsung VR Gear was the perfect way to brighten a Sunday afternoon with a bit of fun and a bit of wonder!

Admittedly, the visuals in the headset didn’t feel quite ‘real’ but it was a fantastic way to combine technology, education, and immersive documentary film making and to go deep under the water with David Attenborough just over your right shoulder, becoming your tour guide for the journey!

At the end of the 20 minute ‘show’, I was ready to take the gear off and give my neck a bit of a rest – but the feeling of possibility and connection to the location definitely stayed with me for much longer!

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Digital conservation and virtual reality tourism

Virtual reality technology is going to change the game of conservation in a huge way.

I spend a lot of my time indulging in digital content and documentaries, both for my job and as a hobby. I work as a sub editor for Discovery Education UK by day* and blog, build websites and try my best at photography in my spare time. (*Disclaimer: all thoughts on this blog are strictly my own).

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Having visited the BVE expo at the end of February with my good friends at Chiswell Studios, I have found a new excitement in all the potential opportunities of making virtual reality (digital worlds entirely created by people) and augmented reality (elements of the real world, but with digital graphics interspersed) media content for a more interactive audience experience.

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BBC’s Jon Page speaks about the change in the audiences’ role

I listened with particular interest to the seminar: ‘Creating a new broadcasting system with audience experience in mind’ by keynote speaker Jon Page, Head of Operations at BBC Research and Development (pictured above). Jon spoke of the way that audiences look for a personal, two-way experience to get the most of their media and positioned them as ‘explorers’ rather than ‘consumers’.

He showed us a video created by the BBC to demonstrate the type of audience experience they believe they will be catering for in the not-so-distant future:

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Aside from some of this imagined technology potentially impacting the type of content I would make for schools at Discovery Education (see the child doing his homework at 1:58), the video interested me in the way that it made Autumnwatch an interactive game.

‘Gamification’ was one of the buzz words of the expo’s seminars this year, along with ‘immersive’ and ‘responsive’. Jon even described what was happening with the imagined new version of Autumnwatch as ‘citizen science’ – and seeing as ‘citizen journalism’ is now so embedded in our culture that we barely give it a second thought anymore, the idea of the whole nation becoming ‘scientists’ to a degree, doesn’t feel that far fetched.

It seems now that the first generation of Internet gamers has grown up, the requirements they demand from their media consumption is somewhat different to the generation before. And how fantastic that we have the technology to deliver it!

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The entry page to a 360-degree, immersive digital tour of Mount Elgon, Kenya.

Enter vEcotours. With all this amazing technology and adapted content design, there must be a way we can use it for conservation education? …Exactly!

This World Wildlife Day, I posted about the live guided tour of Mount Elgon in Kenya that I would be taking — and I can say it was fascinating to share an online, immersive experience with people from all over the globe and various time zones; one where we could have a two-way conversation.

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Screen grab of the digital tour’s portals to other 360-degree landscapes

With Ian Redmond at the helm, guiding participants through the virtual world and into various portals of information (still images, videos, article clippings, etc.) and answering questions over his mic from the ‘explorers’ using the chat bar — and another member of vEcotours, Jay, responding to all other conversation in real-time via text on screen — that ‘personal, two-way experience’ that I heard about at BVE appears not to be just round the corner, but already here!

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A screen grab of some of the additional multimedia presented on the tour.

Never one to let an opportunity pass me by, I’ve decided to offer my web publishing and writing skills to vEcotourism and have joined the team as a blogger!

I’ll be sure to post info and updates of what I get up to with vEcotours on this site too, so please keep an eye out for those! But in the meantime, why not check out what all the excitement is about and take a virtual tour of one of their locations? Turn the volume up and enjoy!virtualtouroverview

You can follow vEcotourism on Facebook and Twitter for more info too.