Anna H., our Head Girl introduces 'Birdgirl' at Cambridge Literary Festival

Anna H., our Head Girl introduces 'Birdgirl' at Cambridge Literary Festival

We were delighted to see St Mary's Head Girl, Anna H., introducing author and equal rights campaigner 'Birdgirl' - also known as Mya-Rose Craig - onto the stage at the 2022 Cambridge Literary Festival.

Mya-Rose recently published her autobiography, Birdgirl, and joined the popular Festival to discuss her campaigning and passion for birding with fellow birder and acclaimed author, Helen MacDonald.

For St Mary's students, Mya-Rose is an inspiring role model. As a British British-Bangladeshi ornithologist, environmentalist, diversity activist and author, speaker and broadcaster, she launched her popular blog, Birdgirl aged 11, and by age 17, she became the youngest person to see half of the bird species in the world. She is also said to be the youngest British person to receive an honorary doctorate in science, from the University of Bristol, in recognition of her creation of the non-profit organisation Black2Nature which campaigns for equal access to nature for black and minority ethnic children and teenagers.

Mya-Rose had just 200 yards to travel to the event ('How green is that!'she exclaimed on Twitter): it was held in St John’s College, where she is currently in her second year of a degree in Human, Social and Political Sciences. (Mya-Rose already holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol for her services to inclusiveness in conservation and access to the environment). A large audience was enthralled by the speakers' anecdotes on their experience of some of the most extraordinary birds in the world, from the tiny bee hummingbird to one of the largest raptors, the harpy eagle, which is on the cover of Birdgirl.

It became clear that Mya-Rose is not a mere twitcher; she delights in a world which thrums with the sounds of birds, and is as aware of the iridescence of a pigeon and gladdened by the return of the swallows to the UK, as she is amazed by the dinosaur-like cassowary. Like Helen McDonald, Mya-Rose Craig values the increasingly inclusive camaraderie of the birding community: seeing a rare bird with others is a precious experience that is both personal and shared. She also spoke about how absorbing the challenges of the pursuit can be, and how when you are engaged in it, you are removed from personal everyday concerns, so that it can have a positive effect on your mental health, a dimension which has been of great importance to her own family.

Mya-Rose drew on her wealth of such experiences to field (among others) questions about the environmental impact of international birding (which she said had turned hunters into tour guides and changed attitudes of local people who had formerly killed birds for sport, and heightened awareness of threats to once-common species). She also discussed whether pursuing a rarity far from its normal habitat and unlikely to live long is morbid (a situation which she said was characteristic of nature and not to be undervalued for this reason – though she cited exceptional cases of birds making themselves at home in alien environments, like the black-browed albatross in Yorkshire). 

It was a wonderful conversation that will be vividly remembered by those who attended it. For a few young people, it might even be life-changing!

St Mary's was proud to sponsor the Cambridge Literary Festival this year, as it offers such an inspiring series of events to everyone in the city.

Learn more about our recent Eco Schools Award

2022 Cambridge Literary Festival