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Flock Together: meet the London birdwatching group for people of colour

During lockdown, Ollie Olanipekun co-founded Flock Together, a birdwatching group for people of colour. He explains why you need to lose yourself in nature right now

Written by
Time Out London contributor
Illustration: Alva Skog

Everyone benefits from being in nature. It’s an opportunity to breathe. We’re glued to our phones and bombarded with hecticness on social media. The headlines can be daunting. Exploring nature allows us to escape – and right now, everyone needs that escapism.

I’ve been birdwatching for about seven years. I was drawn into it when I had a very stressful job. It was therapeutic. In May this year, I was out birdwatching and I posted some photos on Instagram Stories. Someone started replying and naming all the birds. I clicked on their profile, expecting to see the traditional birdwatching person, and it was [Flock Together co-founder] Nadeem Perera. He said he was an avid birdwatcher. I asked where he lived, thinking he’d say the Lake District or something, and he said Stoke Newington. I was like: I live in Clapton! We decided to set up a birdwatching club.

We made a flyer for our social channels and we had so much interest. We did our first walk on Walthamstow Wetlands with about 15 people. Outdoor activity, especially birdwatching, has been presented as a space for white people: we’ve all got the image of the khaki-wearing, middle-aged white male. If that’s the image that’s forced upon you, you feel it’s not for you. We had 74 people on our last walk before lockdown. It’s unlocking something. We’ve been all over the place – Walthamstow Wetlands, Richmond Park, Lee Valley, Epping Forest, Bushy Park. We are fortunate in London to have so much green space. We want people to understand that you don’t have to get on a train to Yorkshire to enjoy nature. It’s on your doorstep and it costs no money.

In Bushy Park, we saw a great spotted woodpecker – we stood there in silence observing this bird. When you experience wonder and awe it opens up so many positive feelings. Whatever you’re battling with internally, when you’re looking through binoculars and you spot a bird, your brain is clear for those few minutes. That’s what we want to help others to experience.

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Illustration: Alva Skog

Ready to get outside? Check out London’s prettiest walks.

Or go further afield and explore these 13 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty near London.

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