In the beginning, there was a dead cat shark

Andy O’Callaghan, Youth Project Officer for Our Wild Coasts tells his story of how he got involved with Our Bright Future 

Our Bright Future. It is a title that can be interpreted in many different ways but, for me, those three words speak of hope: although there are many issues to be tackled by our generation, we have the power and capability to do something amazing. All it takes is for young people across the UK to raise their voices a little bit higher and get proactive in conserving their local areas so that one day their children can enjoy the fragile habitats being lost in every corner of our gorgeous country.

And that is where I now find myself, employed on an Our Bright Future project called Wild Welsh Coasts, working with young people across North Wales to conserve their local areas. I know, that word conservation can immediately put you off but fear not! Kayaking, snorkelling, coasteering, and time in the outdoors are all on the menu for Wild Welsh Coasts. What better way is there to discover a place you may have lived in all your life than to really get up to your ankles in it?

As for me, I have been a natural world enthusiast for as long as I can remember. When I was five years old on a trip to the seashore in Llandudno I found a lesser spotted cat shark (or Dogfish to those who still know them as this) washed ashore. Unfortunately the Catshark didn’t make it but I was fascinated by the creature. Where had it come from? How did it eat its food? Did it attack humans? Surely there are no sharks in North Wales!? I had to know more.

From that point I knew wildlife and conservation was my calling in life, and I eventually went on to do a degree in marine biology and zoology. Those were the best three years of my life, surrounded by people just as enthusiastic as me about the natural world, and where an everyday question would be something like ‘I wonder if a Periwinkle gets scared when a Dog whelk starts its attack?’

Walking through life towards my degree and the ominous beckoning of the real world, I also discovered a passion for youth work and equality. Way back when, I was a proactive member of my school’s youth council, eventually being elected to become a county representative and national representative of young people across Wales. This was a fantastic journey where I participated nationally and met some amazing young people and professionals. It also gave me the confidence to run for head boy at high school, a campaign I won!

As year three of my degree drew ever closer, and my youth work career started to gain momentum I faced a big decision. Do I pursue a career in marine biology or youth work? Due to North Wales’ economic climate I pursued youth work and secured a job straight after university working with young people identified under the Equality Act (2010). This experience was incredible, and proactively changing the lives of young people across North Wales is a feeling that cannot be described.

However, a twinge of what could have been with marine biology still sat with me until a job opportunity with North Wales Wildlife Trust popped up on a circulation email. A way to combine youth work and the natural world?! The job was perfect and I had to go for it and now here I am doing what I dreamed of.

If you put your mind to it there is no limit to what you can achieve, and that is what Wild Welsh Coasts is here to do. We are here to facilitate your potential as young people to make a change and actually get outdoors and learn how conservation should be done, with a lot of adventure and wildness along the way. I have started my journey already, and I hope that you will take the plunge and start your bright future too.

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