I grew up in a seaside village on the lush sub-tropical South Coast of Natal, now known as KZN. In the afternoons after school, I’d go down into the sugarcane fields or mangrove swamps or walk in the reed beds along the two lagoons that bordered our village. There were plenty of birds of all kinds, and as a keen birdwatcher from an early age, I knew them all.
One day an old man told me that the best way to watch birds was to sit still in the bush and let them come to me. Which I did – sitting quietly, tall trees overhead, with birds flitting back and forth close by. I became very connected with nature as a boy.
When I was thirteen, the apartheid government declared our village an area for Indians under the infamous Group Areas Act, and we all had to sell up and move out. It was deeply traumatic for us, our friends and families, many of whom had been living there for three generations.
We moved to Durban and I went to high school and university there. Soon after graduating, I left for Cape Town and got a job as a copywriter in an advertising agency. I learnt the tools and tricks of commercial persuasion which I was to put to good use later on.
After twelve years in agencies, I had had enough of the ad world, and left to look for clients in environmental and conservation organisations who could use my skills and experience.
Since then, I’ve founded national environmental magazines, convened environmental journalism conferences, and consulted to leading companies on sustainability and communications. I have also developed a special interest in the recycling field – creating behaviour change communication campaigns for municipalities and corporates.
I feel very fortunate to be able to give my two children a good education – while also helping to raise awareness and action amongst people in communities and businesses to respect and protect our much beleaguered but beautiful natural environment
– Hugh Tyrrell