I was involved in health from the age of 18 to 50, a GP for more than 20 years. Now I am involved in health in a different way as a volunteer for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Flamborough. If people have a healthy attitude to Mother Nature and to life, are being active and it makes them feel good, that’s better than drugs!Volunteer
Emma Dawber was a GP and also worked with Macmillan Cancer Support teaching end of life care. Now she’s bursting with enthusiasm in her role as an Inspiring People Volunteer at our Living Seas Centre, especially when youngsters are involved.
Emma, in her early 50s and the eldest of six children, has no children herself (“I’m a naughty aunty!”) but is in her element taking school parties out rock pooling.
“It’s a limpet,” she tells a handful of Year 3 children, all peering at the sea snail on her hand. “When the sea comes over, the limpet goes for a walk for its dinner.”
“Children get so excited about rock pooling and the beach; some have never been before,” says Emma, who volunteers twice a week. “It’s magical seeing them, an honour and so exciting to see them enchanted by natural things in life. They are mesmerised, so joyous to be here. The feedback is brilliant, they send us cards and letters and tell us what an amazing time they’ve had. Coming here is a healthy activity, they are being educated in a very positive and healthy way.”
“I am proud to be a public face here,” adds Emma. “I take it very seriously.”
One of her favourite activities is taking summer visitors to see puffins, an iconic but endangered bird. “One of the wonders of the world! It’s amazing to show them to people who have never seen these wonderful birds, and to people who are not usually into birds. Sometimes they are squealing with delight. Better than anti-depressants.”
School children also collect litter on the beach with Emma and discuss the devastating damage it can do. “For example, we have seen the impact of balloon bits, with birds tangled in them,” she says. The pupils hear how polystyrene breaks up into tiny bits and disperses, looking like plankton. Cans and plastic last a long time and ropes from fishing boats are used by gannets to make nests, which is not good for their babies. This all makes the youngsters think. “Lots of children go back to school afterwards and will not use balloons,” says Emma. “One child was in tears, they had always thrown litter but said they wouldn’t do it again.”
Emma and the children often do seashore art “making art from natural things like bones, dead crabs, seaweed.” She also helps out in the shop, sells drinks, directs people to the beach, does gardening and cleans the kitchen. "We turn our hands to anything. It’s a good team. We don’t mind mucking in.”
Emma, who says her knowledge of marine life was limited (“I have learned a lot from the marine biologist here and read books”) got involved with the Trust after leaving the NHS in 2016. “I’d always had an indoor job and thought, what am I going to do? I’ve got lots of energy, I like mixing with people.”
Nature was high on the list of what makes her tick. “Throughout my childhood and at school in Oxford my hobby was always being outside, walking, running, kayaking. My favourite thing at school was a biology field trip to Pembroke.” Emma had visited many Wildlife Trusts but as she was already living and working in Yorkshire, wanted to give back to the county that welcomed her.
“I started with the Peering with Puffins activity, was bowled over, and became more involved. On every level, whether on the beach or giving directions to visitors, it all helps to enthuse people about Mother Nature. Seeing other people’s wonder is a piece of heaven sprinkled with fairy dust.”
Emma hopes everyone can nurture Yorkshire and its wildlife. “It’s good housekeeping. We need to look after Mother Nature and make sure we treat it with respect, not just for now, but for the future.” She also points out that it’s important to change behaviours too. “Just small changes can have a huge impact, such as not using balloons - they are my pet hate!”
She hopes to be at Flamborough for “decades”. The Trust certainly hopes so too!
Written by Helen Leavey, writer and journalist.