Ashley Mitton is reminding youth to connect with nature.

Photo: Ashley Mitton

Photo: Ashley Mitton

Building on the theme Parks, People, Planet: Inspiring Solutions, the International Union for the Conservation of Union (IUCN) is hosting the premier global event on protected areas, the World Parks Congress (WPC), on November 12-19 in Sydney, Australia. The Starfish Canada will be featuring stories of Canadians and their journeys into protected areas as we lead up to Wednesday's Congress.

“Connecting with nature is a personal journey…the first step is getting people to experience it.”

From a young age, Ashley Mitton developed a passion for the natural world. “I read every book I could on whales, dolphins, lions, tigers, bears… As I got older, this love for animals became a love for their natural space and the wild world always left me with a sense of wonder.”

Ashley, who is participating in the 2014 World Parks Congress, has been involved with many projects such as Natural Leaders Alliance of Canada, Parks Canada Youth Engagement Initiatives, as well as No Walls, an initiative that is designed to encourage a relationship between youth and nature.

It is her belief that through promotion, support and engagement, she will be able to see No Walls “taken on by individuals and organizations around the world and see it grow into a large global youth initiative that has people connecting to nature.” “I think this is a valuable piece to share with all people at the Congress both young and old, so that it can spread to new networks and continue as a strong global initiative of nature connections...The idea and message can be molded into other projects and be adapted to suit the needs or how people connect differently with nature.”

This year's IUCN World Parks Congress, being held in Sydney, Australia, is a “landmark global forum on protected areas,” and is an amazing opportunity for young passionate individuals to get involved in discussing and strategically thinking about addressing current gaps in conservation and sustainable development. On this opportunity, Ashley has expressed excitement in experiencing a new place and being able to participate. “[I] am so grateful for this chance… I am looking forward to connecting with young people around the world who are passionate about protecting the planet, through empowering nature stewards and inspiring everyone to form greater connections with nature.” As she describes, making this link with the natural surroundings “lays the foundation for protecting nature.”

As a wildlife biologist, Ashley knows about the intricate networks the living world has with each of its components, but reminds us that we can sometimes take this knowledge for granted. “I feel like we have forgotten how connected we are as humans to the earth and we need to be reminded of that connection if we are to protect it. The protection and preservation of the earth is an essential piece of our future and it is our generation that will or will not stand up to protect it. This fact is why I think it's so important that young people see the value in nature, experience it, and feel that connection to it.”