Young people discover wildlife and the outdoors together with BackyardBio
How did you fall in love with the outdoors? What was the spark, the inspiration or motivation that persuaded you to open the door and explore? There are many paths to nature and this reflects a core #itsgreatoutthere message – that for anyone who has decided to get more active, the outdoors presents the lowest barrier to entry, however they decide to participate. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest attractions of nature is the opportunity to have close encounters with wildlife, whether that’s witnessing majestic birds of prey in the high mountains or any number of mammals and insects foraging in parks and woodland.
You don’t have to go far to find something amazing and that experience might just be the catalyst that encourages you to explore some more. Bit by bit, stride by stride, forest by forest and peak by peak, your territory expands and before you know it, your love of the outdoors is deep and there for life. That voyage of discovery can start at home, which is what international education non-profit ‘Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants’ is counting on with a new campaign called BackyardBio.
Launched as a pilot initiative in September 2020, BackyardBio encouraged children to get out and explore the wildlife near them, documenting and sharing what they found. The project proved to be much more successful than anticipated, and plans are now being developed to go global with BackyardBio from May 2021.
We caught up with Jesse Hildebrand, Vice President of Education at Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants, who shared some of his insights from the project and discussed the synergy between #backyardbio and #itsgreatoutthere.
Interview with Jesse Hildebrand
Exploring By The Seat of Your Pants is a really intriguing and engaging name for an organisation, but what’s it all about?
Exploring By The Seat of Your Pants (EBTSOYP) is all about breaking down the classroom walls and connecting scientists and explorers around the world with kids through live virtual broadcasts! We run 50+ programmes a month on every topic that you can imagine – space exploration, marine plastics, habitat conservation, you name it. It’s all for free and stays on YouTube, so thousands more kids can tune in after the fact and learn from some of the world’s top experts. One of the biggest things that differentiates us from other virtual educators is our commitment to highlighting really epic moments live from the field – think a remote pacific atoll, the coastline of Antarctic or from a helicopter tranquilizing rhinos in South Africa. We love the opportunity to bring these incredible moments to our network of kids to inspire them to learn more and think that anything is possible.
Tell us a little bit more about your own background and how you got involved in the project.
I’ve always been involved in science communication – Steve Irwin and David Attenborough are my heroes so I take any chances I can get to share my love of nature and science with the public! In 2015, I had recently started Science Literacy Week, a nationwide science festival across Canada, when I was approached by EBTSOYP founder – and at that time classroom teacher – Joe Grabowski who told me about his new project and his plans for it. I was immensely excited and inspired and served as volunteer-in-chief alongside him for several years, before becoming a full-time employee as part of the two person team in late 2019. It’s the best job I’ve ever done and gives me immense opportunities to connect kids with the coolest stories and people worldwide!
You recently ran a pilot for a new campaign called BackyardBio – what did that involve and how well did it go?
BackyardBio was our first ever campaign designed to promote direct participation and action – in a nutshell, it’s about encouraging the public – and especially young people – to get outside, exploring the nature near them, photographing the organisms they find, and sharing them via social media, such as INaturalist, and through direct connections with classrooms around the world. It went way beyond our wildest expectations – especially during COVID when teachers had very little capacity to take part in anything at all. We had 125+ classrooms register, and 14,000 observations made of 4000+ species on INaturalist. We connected classrooms from across Canada and the U.S and abroad together, and the feedback was tremendous from individual educators and students everywhere!
You have some very exciting and ambitious plans for #backyardbio in 2021 – can you share some of your key objectives and key milestones over the next year?
Absolutely! May is traditionally our month celebrating biodiversity, leading up to our grandest programme of all, the Global Biodiversity Festival (globalbiofest.com). As such, we want to work with partners worldwide and teachers to make BackyardBio the largest nature programme/activation on the planet. We want kids from every country on Earth to take part and share the wildlife that lives near them. We’re hoping for 100,000+ observations to be submitted worldwide, and for top naturalists and nature explorers to share their inspiring stories to excite kids. Finally, for 22nd May – the international day of biodiversity – we’ll be really ramping up our marketing to encourage everyone in the public to share their images and paint a comprehensive portrait of life on earth through #snapshotoflife on twitter, Instagram and on www.INaturalist.com/projects/snapshot-of-life. What better way to celebrate and showcase the majesty of life on earth than to get people exploring and cherishing it personally!
Although they approach the natural world from different perspectives, #backyardbio and #itsgreatoutthere clearly have amazing synergy, particularly in the young target audiences – in what ways do you think the two campaigns can collaborate?
The more the merrier! BackyardBio is just meant to be an easy and fun activity that any family or classroom can take part in, whether they’re super enthused or just have 10 minutes to spare one day during the month. #itsgreatoutthere and its mission to encourage people to get out into nature is a natural partner for our campaign, and you could easily use #backyardbio as a means to get more of your community exploring the wilds near them. From our end, our network would likely love to hear more about your campaign and get involved, so it’s a nice opportunity for cross promotion.
We’re guessing that you spend a lot of time outdoors and in nature. Do you have a favourite destination and activity (other than finding wonderfully diverse wildlife)?
I sure do! I’ve been very lucky to travel quite a bit in pursuit of wildlife in my life, but frankly my favourite destination (and fitting for the #backyardbio idea) are my local parks. I live in Toronto, which has a bevy of large green spaces, ravine systems and a beautiful lakeshore – getting out for strolls in any of them is a lovely opportunity to recharge and see a bunch of really cool creatures. Nothing beats a nice little walk outdoors while being attentive to what is living around you!
What is the best way for people to follow the progress of #backyardbio, or get more directly involved in the project?
It’s super easy to take part and learn more. The website for the campaign is at backyardbio.net, and you can also register at inaturalist.org/projects/backyardbio or check out or contribute to the hashtag at #backyardbio. Come join us today!