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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Nature and history lovers to descend on Abu Dhabi this weekend 

Emirates Natural History Group to host members from across the country for two days of field trips and lectures 

A bird's footprint at Abu Dhabi's mangroves. Lee Hoagland / The National
A bird's footprint at Abu Dhabi's mangroves. Lee Hoagland / The National

Diving on Saadiyat reef, an urban archaeology tour of old Abu Dhabi and bird watching on the Bul Syayeef nature reserve – these are just some of the activities planned for the hundreds of people who will descend on the capital this weekend for two days of history, heritage and nature.

The event is organised by the Emirates Natural History Group. Founded in 1977 by a number of amateur enthusiasts, the group played a vital early role in documenting the rich history of the UAE.

More than 40 years on, the all-volunteer group is still going strong. There are more than 300 members across all its UAE chapters and the inter-emirates event on Friday and Saturday is a chance for them to meet in person. A gala dinner in honour of the group’s patron, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of State for Tolerance, will take place on Friday, where historian and lifetime member, Peter Hellyer, will be giving a keynote address. A photography, video and art competition will also be held.

Arabella Willing is chair of the Abu Dhabi chapter and said the group is always looking for new members.

“There are lots of activities that would be ideal for families and even after two days, we will only scratch the surface of what Abu Dhabi has to offer,” said Ms Willing.

From the original Abu Dhabi chapter, there are now branches in Al Ain, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. It’s journal, Tribulus, is highly respected. Regular lectures and field trips are also important. Now in its 40th season, the longevity of the group is a testament to the dedication of those early volunteers and the richness of the natural and historical environment in UAE.

“It’s cool to be a part of something that had such an influence in the early days in terms of recording and studying, before the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi existed,” said Ms Willing.

“Without the group, quite a lot of the baseline data would not be there.”

Today, the group plays more of a supporting role and is a public resource for people interested in nature. The range of events taking place this weekend is a reflection of that. There will be beachcombing, a tour of the Abu Dhabi bee research and development project, a Lulu Island visit and an Al Wathba wetlands trip to examine its flora and fauna.

“Our aim is to spread awareness about the diversity of life and heritage that the UAE has,” said Ms Willing, who is also the marine biologist at the Park Hyatt, Abu Dhabi.

“It’s quite poorly understood by the general public. We’re keen to get the word out and get more people engaging in nature and understanding what’s here and why it is so exciting,” she said.

For Ms Willing, a combination of factors are to blame for the fact that the UAE's natural history is not as appreciated as it should be.

“A lot of people are not from here so they don’t really know what they are looking at a lot of the time. And because of the [harsh] environment, a lot of things are hidden. They come out at night and you have to look a bit harder than you would if you were in a rainforest, for example.”

The weather is also a factor in a country where people spend significant amounts of time indoors. But a bright spot is the growing interest in the natural environment from schoolchildren. “There is a lot of interest from schools now,” said Ms Willing.

Anyone can apply to join the group and it costs just Dh100 a year. For more information about the events next weekend or how to join, you can visit www.enhg.org.

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Read more:

Charting the rise and accomplishments of the Emirates Natural History Group

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