Sam Needs is a Welsh writer with a Master’s in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University. He is currently based in Perth, Australia, where he works with the Said Poets Society, a non-profit who help young people to express themselves through storytelling and performance poetry.
What interested in the Lost and Found project?
I was most enthusiastic about its alternative approach to raising awareness of conservation issues, as I’d never encountered a project like this that used narrative fiction. In a culture where click-bait headlines and bite-sized articles have become the best way to get people’s attention, I am a firm supporter of Lost & Found’s decision to use stories to spread their message. Whether or not they are as attention-grabbing, they are certainly more effective at getting people to invest in the topics at hand.
What is your favorite Lost & Found Story so far?
My favourite is probably that of the South Island Takahē. One of the first things I do for each story is to figure out what genre I’m working in. With the Takahē, I was taken by its rediscoverer’s boyhood obsession with the bird, and decided to write something in the vein of a children’s adventure story. This is a genre I enjoyed when I was younger and now enjoying toying around with as a grown writer.
Who is your conservation hero?
I found the story of David B. Wingate very impressive. In the absence of any real finding or plan for the future of the rare Bermuda Petrel, Wingate simply took responsibility for saving it. He moved his family to an uninhabited island and started tearing up weeds and chasing out invasive species (including one particularly deadly owl) in order to create a sanctuary for the birds that represented the islands before European Colonists arrived (which had been their downfall). And he succeeded.
What do you do when you are not working on Lost & Found?
Outisde of Lost & Found, I enjoy working on a variety of other writing projects, whether it’s poetry, comics or even dungeons and dragons campaigns – whatever seems best for getting the story across. I also work with local non-profits, the Said Poets Society and Spoken Word Perth, which aim to encourage young writers and create safe spaces for them to express themselves.
How does storytelling factor into conservation?
I think storytelling is integral to conservation. But I think it’s integral to everything, really.
While the gradual loss of species like tigers, pandas, etc. is widely mourned, there is much less concern for creatures like Bocourt’s Terrific Skink. This is understandable, given that the skink, which is a medium sized lizard living on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean lacks charisma when compared to a tiger. But when you cast the skink as the king of an island that is slowly disappearing beneath his feet, who is beset on all sides by invaders, with his home constantly at risk of destruction by fire, storms and tidal waves…it’s a little more exciting.
I believe that getting people excited about conservation is one of both the most important and the most difficult challenges that projects like Lost & Found face. This is why I am such a proponent of their approach of using storytelling to create this kind of engagement. Reporting the bare statistics – talking about how there are X fewer tigers than ten years before – may certainly startle some people into action. But by examining those statistics, and the cause of those population declines, and the environment in which the populations they exist, and the stories of the living animals they represent- how these creatures spend their days, how their families are formed, etc. – I believe we are better able to get people excited about saving them, instead of being afraid of losing them.