August 26, 2022 13 min read
Lizzie Daly is an adventurer, explorer, and wildlife biologist whose passion to protect our wild spaces and care for our oceans has led her to conduct research and make wildlife films all over the world. Lizzie grew up in Wales — an outdoor lover's paradise — and that is what sparked her curiosity for the outdoors. Determined to celebrate Wales and its rich wildlife, she continues to celebrate stories of wildlife on her doorstep, as well as embarking on expeditions around the world. We caught up with Lizzie who told us more about some of her adventures, her top tips for budding adventurers as well as giving us her most interesting animal fact.
Thank you for joining us, Lizzie! You’ve now become a well-known adventurer, explorer, and wildlife biologist. When did you first find your love of the outdoors?
I was six years old when I knew I wanted to be an elephant scientist. That was first and foremost, and for me, the passion for the natural world has been instilled in me since I was young. As is the case for so many naturalists. It came from my family. You know, they didn't come from a science background. But they always took me hiking and backpacking across the UK, sometimes we'd go to France and Spain and it would always be done on a very tight budget. So that love for the outdoors has always been there because of my environment. And for that I've been very lucky. But actually, I don't know what came first because it's kind of like a chicken and egg situation. The more time you spend outdoors, the more you get to connect with that environment, the more you learn about it, and the more you get to experience that wildlife. So, you know, being Welsh and on the West Coast, I spend a lot of time in Pembrokeshire and have done since I was young. So being exposed to a place where there's rich sea beds in protected areas, which has meant that I can go snorkelling, see sharks and watch sunsets. As a result, you learn a lot about your surroundings. And I think that comes that comes with adventure and exploration, and so much about learning by yourself comes also with learning about your surroundings. I think they're very much intertwined.
What is your favourite topic to film and how do you choose them?
That's a good question! I love bringing science to life in the environment. It's this kind of cross-section between my role as a scientist and my role as a filmmaker or storyteller. Getting people excited by science is an absolutely amazing feeling because there’s still this massive difference between these two worlds. The best way I think you can do that is through a journey or taking somebody away into a place that's unknown, new areas of science, things like that. I recently came back from the Amazon trip in Peru, which was amazing, because it's exactly that. It was a really rare opportunity where I was able to actually collect data in the fields, which would benefit communities, the environment, hopefully the protection of new areas, and we were doing that on the most ridiculously remote, adventurous trip ever. Adventure and exploration is the exciting vessel to be able to convey the most important stories about science, which for me, are the absolute fundamental underpinning of our understanding of what we need to do to protect our environment. It was probably my most exciting trip because it’s still so fresh - I’m still covered in mozzie bites! We were in a very remote area which is hardly explored and only a handful of scientists have been there. It was a real honour to be there.
Do you have a favourite location to film?
The Arctic or Antarctic. The Arctic, for me is a really special place. There's something about the depths, the mood, the colours, the wildlife. It’s where I've had the most thrilling and also most devastating shoots experiences, you know, seeing things like large aggregations of Whales, Orca, feeding, breaching. I've seen an Orca literally out of the water, full body, like 30 metres away from me, it was unbelievable. But this is also a place where I've seen Polar Bears jumping from fjord to fjord because there’s no more glaciers to cross. There’s this fine balance of beauty and despair that comes with the extreme cold environment as well. You’re pushing yourself. You’re also kind of in this weird daze of snow glare, unsure of what the heck's going on, what day it is, who you are, what’s for dinner, so it’s like this beauty that comes with that but it’s also a very difficult environment to work in.
As well as a scientist and film maker, you are also a bit of and adventurer. You ran 140km solo in temperatures reaching -35 degrees in the Finnish Arctic Circle, which is an incredible feat. Could you tell us a little bit more about this endeavour? What sort of wildlife and terrain did you encounter?
This was in January of this year, it was a solo challenge and a short film is actually going to come out later this year and an article on it about my experience. I actually didn't see a lot of wildlife. It was very much the depths of winter, with lots of darkness, and a lot of snow. In terms of the terrain, it was through a national park and the point of it was to talk about changing environments and the local Sami culture there has hundreds of names for different types of snow. But in that stretch, and across Scandinavian countries, there is new snow with no name. And that snow is climate-derived. So it's basically impacting their lives, their livelihoods, how the Reindeer feed and just everything about that environment is kind of seeing a new change. So that purpose was to showcase that in terms of the story. But it was pretty difficult. I had push boundaries, it was a really brilliant experience. I got just a touch of frostbite and a cut on my face, my water froze, I had to go back on myself a lot of the time. A lot of the trails were completely covered in snow so there were a lot of adapting routes and things as well. It was incredibly cold, so it was one of the most difficult physical challenges I've ever done in my life so far. But I think that one was particularly poignant and important because of its messaging of it.
Is that what kept you going?
Definitely. Yeah, I think often we go to these places, and of course, I go to shoot there for 10 days, and then I disappear so I only get a snapshot of these environments and the changes there. Towards the Arctic regions, it’s got really close places in my heart.
I've learned about the Sami culture before, I've met Sami who have done that for generations. It was kind of a reminder that people like myself and the Western culture, we fly into these places, we say, Oh, that's nice. I'm sorry to hear you have these problems. But I think I wanted to bring the reality of the toughness and the challenge that we have ahead, I guess, to the floor. And that's kind of what it was all about, for me as an individual, but obviously, it's not actually about me at all. It's about where I am, what's happening, what will change and so much more. So, yeah, it was a very striking, shocking journey for me.
Credit: Tom Campbell
You also filmed Humpback Whales and Orca underwater in Arctic Norway, filmed in Antarctica and led offshore Blue Sharks trips in the Celtic Deep. What inspired you to undertake this? Did you learn anything interesting from this experience?
There’s lots of similarities to take in all of these environments. I was going there consistently for three years to photograph the Orca and the Humpback Whales there. Myself and a few of the Whale guides and experts would go every year just to look at the changes and document them and to work with Orca research there and learn more about their work. It's interesting because there were changes every year, whether it's due to the impact of tourism and people coming to get the shots, or changes in terms of when Herring come in. Herring come into the fjords to basically stay over the winter, and that's what brings in the hundreds of Orca and Humpback Whales. So there's changes there, and these Herring are essentially moving up further north. So Orca are being found further north up the Norwegian coastline. The problem with that is that they’re very much at the top already, and it will come to the end when they’ll just open to the North Sea. So what will happen to those Herring and the Whales? We don't really know. So there’s interesting changes there.
Again, in Wales, 25 plus miles offshore, you've got this beautiful stretch of kind of deepwater where there's a shelf that drops down to about 100 metres. There's so much we don't know about that stretch of water and who migrates past it but what we do know is there is an insane amount of marine life. You know, Fin Whales feeding, Blue Sharks, Thresher Sharks, I saw three species of shark in a day. That’s on my coastline, you know. Lots of people don’t realise we have that here. Incredibly important, international recognised seabirds live and travel across this stretch of water such as Manx Shearwaters and Puffins and Guillemots. So, there, I think the most scary thing is I've seen how utterly diverse and brilliant it is, I've also seen how little we know or have studied, you know, in terms of this area, and its protection, it is currently unprotected. And then the change that's going to come with it as well, because I've also seen fishing vessels out on that stretch of water, regulated and unregulated. So it's kind of this panic mode, where you're like, you know, it's an absolute privilege to be able to travel all over the world and see these wondering things, but actually there’s a lot of similarities close to home. That’s one in particular I’ve got my eye on because you see see utter brilliance and beauty, but there's also quite a lot of question marks and scariness with it as well.
You’ve seen and done so many amazing things. What has been your greatest experience or achievement so far?
That is such a good question. I guess with my career so far, I feel that there are lots of different roles, I guess, and different things bring their own excitement and value. Quite early on, I made my own documentary on seal shooting at salmon farms, which created a genuine impact, you know, got to courts and the salmon farm moved their pens and they got fined because they were shooting seals. So that in that sense gives a tangible change from wildlife filmmaking, right? That's ultimately why we do it, to be an agency of action and change.
I think the one that stood out to me most recently was last year at COP 26. I had the opportunity to host inside COP 26 as part of the UN. It really gave me the biggest kind of wake-up call because you're sat inside the blue zone, you know mingling with the politicians, world leaders, decision-makers, which is a place I'm really uncomfortable with because normally I'm on the other side out on the streets campaigning. But it was a rare opportunity to kind of be that bridge between the two worlds and understand how there is a lot going on at the minute when it comes to climate decisions and the next steps we need to take both on a global scale. Now, there is a lot going on but there's also a lot that isn't going on. The fire in the bellies of those on the streets was everything that I had here. And I felt like the whole experience was a real eye-opener because all I wanted to do was almost get the microphone and start shouting into the microphone about the actual urgency. I still think I'm still processing it now, I’m still trying to understand what the takeaways were. And basically, I left COP 26 feeling like wow, you know, I was able to interview Vice President Al Gore, it's a great opportunity. But what does that mean? What’s happened since COP 26? What did all those interviews lead to? Have these decision-makers actually met their targets when it comes to talking the talk? I think it was then which really split hairs when it came to, for me, those who talk the talk and walk the walk. And I think everything so far in my career's been really great because I've learned things about what to do and what not to do and how to be and how to impact but that for me was a real turning point in understanding my role in the climate conversation.
It's clear you know a lot about different types of wildlife, do you have any interesting animal facts?
Oh, yeah, I do. Based on a recent film, one of my struggles, when you do these films, is to try and get people to commission you on stories that no one else will commission. So the ugly, the gross and all of that. I love Lamprey. They’re prehistoric fish and they look very scary. They are unbelievable creatures and there are three species in the UK. They have remained unchanged for over 300 million years, and they live in our rivers. No one knows this. So I got a chance to do a film on it, which was a great experience. They spend most of their lives out at sea, suck onto big fish like basking sharks and when they’re ready to breed, they basically come up into rivers and they spawn and end up dying, a bit like salmon. They are older than the dinosaurs and they’re in our rivers. I think species like that which don’t get the limelight don’t get the recognition they deserve.
What tips would you give to someone who wants to up their adventure game and take on their first big expedition?
Have a very clear understanding of what you're going on an expedition for. I think there are lots of ways that you can really almost prepare yourself as an individual before you go on an adventure or an expedition a lot that comes with just basic stuff, like, connecting with others who may be able to bring skill, understanding or knowledge to your expedition, whether that's with them being on it, or just, you know, you asking them, giving them a call and being like, Hey, what're your thoughts on this? I think that's a really important part of it. I learned the hard way early on and made mistakes, I guess, that perhaps were avoidable because I didn't reach out to other people and ask for help. I think that's something that people maybe overlook, not because they think they can do it by themselves, but maybe because in the unknown there’s a lot of underestimation when it comes to expeditions.
If anyone reading this wanted to just go on an expedition, then the planning of it is really important. But if anyone was reading this and just wanted to go on an adventurous hike, or go snorkelling or, you know, push themselves, I'd say definitely be bold.
Don’t be defined by the barriers of what you read on social media and things which could be considered stereotypes. For example, there are far few great, adventurous women in the media space. There's a lot out there. I've got some great friends and Megan Hine is one of them, who are unbelievable adventurers, and just really inspiring when it comes to pushing the boundaries. But it's important that you don't define your experience by limitations that you may see, you know, by comparing yourself to others, to find people who you align with who inspire you excite you, learn from them, ask questions, be curious, and build up. Learn as much as you can, and the fear of the unknown slowly diminishes because you're building up your confidence and experience and upskilling.
Credit: Dan Abbott
What advice would you give to someone who wants to immerse themselves more with wildlife?
Everyone has a very different background. Not everyone wants to go on a monster adventure, or they may want to go see wildlife. It doesn't have to be a massive adventure for you to immerse yourself. You could be living in the middle of London, you still want to immerse yourself in wildlife, then you have the capacity to do that. So I think in whatever capacity you want to experience the outdoors and wildlife, let's say if it's a walk through London, a coastal hike or a proper offshore trip, have an open mind when it comes to when you're in these environments. You should be very aware of all your senses. You want to be listening out, you want to be hearing different noises, and you may be wanting to learn more about the environment, seasonal changes, and weather. You know, for me, whenever I'm outside looking for wildlife, it's almost like I'm trying to see things as if I was an animal. I often walk through Cardiff and I'm listening out for the screeching Peregrine Falcons whereas other people are shopping.
I guess just going into the outdoor environment, it can take a moment to try and adjust yourself to immerse yourself in that environment. And that could even be something as simple as taking a two-minute break or sitting down and thinking about how it feels to be on the grass or to see the trees, take a pair of binoculars, and take some notes. What are you hearing? That can apply to any environment, whether that’s the urban environment, urban wild, or coast.
Do you have any more big adventures or exciting film projects on the cards?
I've just had quite a few shoots. There's a big awards coming up at Wildscreen Festival which is a film festival that happens every few years. That's going to be in October. But other than that, just keep an eye out for the Amazon expedition, which is coming out. There are also a few other films that I can't really talk too much about that are coming out over the next few months. So just keep an eye out for those. I post all the updates of what’s to come on my social media accounts.
Now for some quick-fire questions:
Favourite way to relax and unwind?Going for a lovely slow woodland run.
Land or sea?Sea.
Is there anything you’re afraid to try?Bungee Jumping.
Who/what is your biggest inspiration?I would say Dr. Joyce Pool, she is a female elephant scientist. And she was the one who first inspired me to want to study elephants.
What's your must-have piece of equipment?My compass.
Do you have any superstitions or rituals?No.
Favourite post-adventure meal?Veggie Sunday roast.
What has been at the top of your bucket list?I’ve done a lot of the Arctic and the polar environments, and had a bit of experience in tropical rainforest environments. I’d either love to do a real desert expedition, that would be a really great way for me to push myself and push boundaries, but also the open sea, like really deep in the ocean somewhere. I’d quite like to do a big open sea expedition or voyage and harness the wind and see what happens, just you and the ocean. I get really sea sick by the way, but I love the sea!
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