2021 Winter Newsletter

Welcome to 2021!

We here at Nature First are thankful for a new year and the anticipation of a gradual return to the life we once had. We are also very thankful for all of you who are part of this important movement. We are still in a challenging time as the virus continues to impact so many of our lives and plans. We realize that most of you are still dealing with restrictions, shutdowns, the continuing threat of illness, loss of loved ones and impacts on your own income and the economy. We also acknowledge the mental health impact this crisis has had on so many of us. It has been deeply felt, not only by us, but also by our families and our communities. With all of this, we realize that Nature First may not be at the forefront of your minds, so we want to give special thanks to every one of you who are advocating for our wild places and applying the Nature First Principles during these difficult days.


In many places around the world, we are seeing the damaging results on public lands and other natural places due to increased outdoor activity because of the virus. The sharp rise in visitation has led to an increase in trash, trampled vegetation, abandoned campfires and a wide variety of other environmental impacts on natural areas. However, as we continue to see the negative effects on our lands and wild places, we believe this is an excellent time for education and awareness. We see many of you doing this and it is wonderful to see this movement continue to gain momentum. We’ve even seen places like San Diego, California putting signs up in their parks promoting the Nature First Principles. Keep up the good work of educating people about how to be responsible in the natural world.

Sign posted in the parks of San Diego, California, USA


Today, we would like to highlight a member who is leading by example and showing what it means to be an ambassador for the natural world. Simon Baxter is a nature photographer from the United Kingdom who is well known for his YouTube videos and stunning woodland photography. We asked Simon a few questions about Nature First and the creative ways he has found to give back to the areas that he loves to photograph.


“I joined Nature First in the spring of 2019 as I agreed wholeheartedly with the principles that the organization is communicating. It sends a positive message to the community that should always be in our thoughts as outdoor photographers and lovers of nature. Being someone who has been affected profoundly by the freely available therapeutic benefits of nature, I feel it’s important to align ourselves with nature’s needs and use our work as a force for good.”

Simon has started a program called “Meg’s Grove” which so far has raised funds for the planting of almost 1,800 trees. This project is part of the larger Trees for Life initiative in Scotland. He also is out actively collecting litter in the areas he photographs and says that when signs of his presence in the forest become visible, he makes sure to give them time to recover before returning again to photograph.

“Ever since starting my YouTube channel in December 2016, I’ve always tried to express my love for woodlands, wildness and in particular the enriching process of photographing and connecting with the local landscape. My message has been to inspire photographers to find creative and personal fulfillment closer to home and demonstrate that understanding and caring for the landscape can inform and improve our photography. “

Thanks so much to Simon for sharing with us and we hope this encourages all of you to think of ways in which you too can make a difference with your photography and the Nature First Principles. If you know of someone who is making a difference with their photography, please let us know.


The Nature First Partnership Program allows like-minded organizations to join forces with Nature First to extend our reach in promoting responsible nature photography. We’re partnering with a number of  organizations, many of which are doing great things for the environment. You can find a full list of our partners on the partnership page of our website.

Photo Cascadia was one of our first partnerships. This is a unique organization, a collaboration of seven photographers from the Cascadia region of the United States, whose names are familiar in the nature photography world: Erin Babnik, Sean Bagshaw, David Cobb, Adrian Klein, Kevin McNeal, Chip Phillips and Zach Schnepf. They work together to explore, to educate, to offer inspiration and to encourage stewardship and conservation.

Sean Bagshaw recently said, “Photo Cascadia hopes to inspire others to connect with, value and champion the natural world. It’s important that we walk the walk and be part of the solution, not the problem. Through our writing, teaching and speaking we have always hoped to educate and enlighten. Now we share that message through the mission and principles established by Nature First.”

Recently, the Photo Cascadia team released a new hardcover book to help promote a greater love and desire to protect the spectacular nature in their region. It is titled Oregon, My Oregon, Land of Natural Wonders. Visit the Photo Cascadia website to learn more about them and to be inspired: Photo Cascadia.


While you may feel like you don’t hear or see much from Nature First, behind the scenes there is a lot of activity taking place. We have nine volunteer staff members and 30 community advocates located across the world. As a staff we have meetings and discussions going on almost every day to build the foundations of this organization and ensure that this movement is making an impact. The community advocates are also hard at work in their own regions and also collaborating together across the globe.

Some of our staff members have been working to register Nature First as an official non-profit organization in the United States. This is a long process, but we are well on our way. We also have a number of staff members working to create a communication strategy for the organization while others are working on technical aspects to enable us to better communicate with all of you. Rick Dunn is the latest addition to the Nature First staff, and he is helping us work through the legal aspects of registering. Brynn Schmidt has been hard at work leading our social media efforts. We were recently joined by Matthew Ross who is now leading our partnership program and Günther Ebner is our newest advocate representing southern Germany. 

In addition to these projects we have many other ideas and plans for the year ahead. To help us all in practicing our second principle, “Educate yourself about the places you photograph.”, we are planning to work with members across the world to create regional guides that will help visiting photographers educate themselves about potential impacts before they visit new areas. We also hope to start bringing together photographers from specific genres of photography (wildlife photography, outdoor portrait photography, photo workshop leaders, etc.) to develop an expanded set of guidelines for what responsible photography looks like in their area. We also plan to create a sponsorship program to help fund the future development of this movement. We would like to develop a team of videographers to help communicate the message and we also hope to develop new printed materials to help communicate the ethos of Nature First. Our number one goal will continue to be to spread the message of responsible photography and to encourage photographers to become advocates for the natural world. You can help us with this by publicly sharing your involvement with Nature First and encouraging others to take the pledge to practice Nature First Principles.


There are a couple of other very practical ways to help this movement. Firstly, we are developing a writing team led by Jennifer Renwick, which will prepare articles that help promote the ethos and principles of responsible nature photography. If you are a writer or an editor and would like to be part of this, please apply. You’ll want to have several samples of your work available for evaluation. Contact us for more information. 

Secondly, we are working on a slogan for Nature First. A slogan is a way to quickly get the message of the organization across and to help people remember and explain what makes the organization different. It should be short, simple and memorable, communicating the essence of Nature First around the globe. As a member of Nature First we would like to involve you in this process and to encourage you to submit your creative ideas (preferably in English). If your suggestion is chosen, we’ll send you a gift of $200 to say thank you or if your suggestion inspires us in forming the slogan we’ll send you a beautiful hardcover photography book. 

Thank you all again for being part of this movement to recover the role of photographers as protectors and ambassadors for our natural world. 

Erik Stensland
Managing Director, Nature First

Photos contributed by:
Erik Stensland (sunrise), Matthew Ross (crowd), Andreea Popescu (wheat), Kristel Schneider (trees).