A Snapshot of Life with Global Ambassador Sue Flood

In November, Renowned Photographer/Filmmaker Sue Flood became the first female Global Ambassador for The White Feather Foundation. In the following interview, we take a closer look into her world of wildlife adventures.
Sue Flood Interview The White Feather Foundation

Photo by Dee Ann Pederson.

It’s been proven that simply looking at wildlife images and nature is a stimulus to help lower stress levels.

TWFF: What inspired you to become a travel and wildlife photographer and filmmaker?
SF: Growing up in a small village in North Wales, I was an avid viewer of wildlife documentaries, and would be glued to the screen when David Attenborough was presenting from around the world. I remember watching him in Rwanda with mountain gorillas, or snorkelling with whales, or presenting alongside emperor penguins in the icy wastes of Antarctica. It seemed impossibly exotic and working on wildlife documentaries with him seemed to be the perfect job. Indeed it was!
TWFF: For over a decade, you worked in the BBC’s acclaimed Natural History Unit. What were some of your most memorable projects as part of that team?
SF: I was fortunate to work on some incredible projects, including almost five years on The Blue Planet, and also on Planet Earth, so finally getting to work with David Attenborough was a dream come true! There were so many life-changing moments but perhaps my most memorable that spring immediately to mind were snorkelling for hours with humpback whales in the South Pacific, a rather heart-stopping moment when we were approached by a polar bear when we were filming for Blue Planet, and being proposed to when the Arctic sea-ice that we were camping on broke up underneath us, leaving me, my cameraman (and partner) and our Inuit guide Olayuk adrift on a small floe, miles from help. All never to be forgotten!
TWFF: After you left the BBC, you embarked on many more adventures across the globe. On your website, it notes expeditions to seek out spirit bears in North America and time spent living aboard Russian ice-breakers. How do you decide what and where to explore? What were those once-in-a-lifetime experiences like?
SF: I am fortunate to have what I consider to be the best job in the world. To be able to document the beauty of the natural world, whether in still or moving images, and hopefully inspire people to want to protect it, is a great privilege. To paraphrase Sir David Attenborough, you have to show people how beautiful something is for them to want to protect it and I hope my images can make a small contribution to generating that interest. And, at this unprecedented time of stress caused by the world-wide outbreak of COVID-19, nature images and nature itself can help de-stress us. It’s been proven that simply looking at wildlife images and nature is a stimulus to help lower stress levels.

I certainly like being able to encourage girls and young women to follow their dreams — whatever it is, you can do it if you really dedicate yourself.

TWFF: You have a special fondness for the Polar regions and have spent much time capturing images of the Emperor Penguins that live there. What is it about this area you’re so drawn to revisiting?
SF: For me, the Antarctic is the most beautiful place in the world. The stark beauty, the vastness, the extraordinary wildlife, icebergs the size of skyscrapers… nothing prepares you for this breathtaking wilderness. To sit in the middle of an emperor penguin colony, surrounded by thousands of penguins and their chicks is one of the most magical experiences of my life.
TWFF: You have to be very brave to be in the line of work you’re in—is there anything that you’re afraid of in the wild?
SF: Ha! People often say this, but I really don’t feel brave. It’s certainly exhilarating sometimes though! You just have to get on with it. It’s all about treating wildlife respectfully and having common sense — don’t push your luck. Don’t change the animal’s behaviour. The animal’s welfare is of paramount importance. I always say it’s never animals you need to worry about, it’s either people (not usually, I’m happy to say!) or vehicles. That said, I really don’t like wasps — I’m allergic to them and not a fan!
TWFF: The majority of explorers that have studied and worked in the Polar regions have historically been men. Is there a shift happening that brings more women to the field? If not, what do you think it will take to encourage more women to pursue careers like yours?
SF: Certainly there are far more opportunities for women to work in the polar regions now than there used to be, I’m glad to say. For example, The British Antarctic Survey is now open to women, which it wasn’t until 1983 when I was studying zoology at University. I certainly like being able to encourage girls and young women to follow their dreams — whatever it is, you can do it if you really dedicate yourself. I’m delighted to now be involved with Girls Who Click, a fabulous organization, which encourages girls who want to be wildlife photographers and uses their work to further conservation efforts around the world. I think it’s important to encourage young people and tell them that they too can do it! I struggled to find my own way and it took my seven years to get into the BBC Natural History Unit after writing my first letter to them, and I always tell people, if I can do it, anyone can!

Together we CAN make a difference.

TWFF: What made you accept the invitation to become a Global Ambassador for The White Feather Foundation?
SF: I was honoured and delighted to accept Julian’s invitation to become a Global Ambassador for the White Feather Foundation as we share many common goals. I know that The White Feather Foundation supports so many worthwhile causes around the globe, from education, conservation, supplying clean water, helping to stop plastics in our oceans. All for the conservation of life. Together we CAN make a difference.
TWFF: As someone in the field, witnessing the changes to our natural environment often, what scares you the most about the climate crisis?
SF: The thing that has consistently scared me the most about the climate crisis is the indifference or, even worse, the scepticism, from many people about what is happening to our planet. But, as an optimist, I am also grateful for the many voices out there who speak up and stick their head about the parapet — David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Greta Thunberg, Wanjira Mathai, Sylvia Earle, not to mention the local conservationists on the ground who are making a difference (the Whitley Fund for Nature is a great organization which supports their work) — and I feel that people are really starting to listen. We HAVE to listen.
TWFF: Alternately, are there any areas where you’re especially hopeful when it comes to climate change and progress?
SF: There’s no doubt that the message is getting through to the next generation. When I talk to schoolchildren, they are usually remarkably aware of the connections between how we’re living and our natural world, and wanting to make a difference, in a way that they weren’t several decades ago.
TWFF: What’s one thing individuals can do to make a difference for the environment?
SF: I don’t think it’s a case of doing just one thing, but trying to live your life in a way that has less impact on the planet. Avoid single-use plastics, eat less meat or follow a vegetarian diet. If I’m working in the UK, I travel by train or public transport or car-share, where possible. Of course, I do have to fly for my work trips abroad, but invest with worthwhile organizations like the World Land Trust to help offset that travel.
TWFF: Tell us about what you’re currently working on and any upcoming project(s).
SF: I’ve been lucky to spend many years working in the South Luangwa Valley in Zambia, one of the world’s great wildlife hotspots, and am currently planning a book from there, where some of the proceeds will be put back into local conservation efforts. Also, I’m involved with a really interesting and exciting project in my home country to do with environmental education — it’s under wraps for now but I hope I’ll be able to let you know more soon!

To keep up with Sue’s adventures, follow her on Instagram and Facebook. If you’d like to support the environment with a donation to The White Feather Foundation, start here. #ConserveLife

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