RUSSELL Hedley first became interested in nature and ecology on lengthy Sunday walks with his dad over Regent Park Golf Course.

Today, Russell makes his living sharing his love of the natural world. At 29, he is a self-employed expert who keeps on learning and loving the nature, sharing that enthusiasm leading walks and holidays at home and abroad.

Russell, born and brought up around Lostock, admits that he “didn’t thrive in the academic world”. He went to Bolton School and his interest in living creatures took him to a degree course on animal conservation at the University of Cumbria.

He did not, however, find his career potential there, even when a placement took him to Germany and a vet’s surgery. “That wasn’t for me,” he recalled.

He also worked for some months at Blackpool Zoo, which he also ruled out as a long-term career, but here he was one of a couple of staff giving talks to the public around animals like the sea-lions.

It was, however, when he was volunteering at Wetheriggs animal centre in Penrith that his skills and interest in education crystallised. He was good at the talks. The centre was looking for a Head of Education and they asked Russell to take it on. “I think I just fell into education,” he laughed.

A combination of these experiences volunteering – including at the Wildlife Trust and Wildfowl Trust and at Pear Tree Poultry closer to home in Preston – prompted him to consider becoming self-employed. So Nature Talks & Walks came into being in 2013.

“I enjoyed talking to people and explaining the connections of wildlife and nature,” he said.

He worked closely with primary schools and led wildlife walks both in green spaces and in the playground itself, his engaging style soon winning him fans of all ages.

Russell also worked alongside various groups and charities like the Canal and River Trust, with whom he still works. He is always open to ideas – “in fact, I’ve not really had a structure but have found myself in situations which have led to other possibilities,” he added. “I suppose it’s a kind of luck.”

One of these possibilities came from HF Holidays which arranges walking and activities’ breaks. After seeing the energy, enthusiasm and sheer knowledge Russell has on one of his walks, they approached him to guide holidays around the UK.

The result of this is that Russell has guided general nature holidays from Cornwall to the Highlands of Scotland on everything from wild flowers to wildlife. “It takes about a year to prepare each trip,” he said, “looking at the area, where the nature reserves are in relation to the venue where they are stopping and also at lots of things including coffee stops and where the toilets are.”

His first guided holiday centred on wild flowers – but he was unlucky enough to have someone who had been a botanist for 40 years on that tour.

He said: “It didn’t put me off, though, even though she knew far more than I did. But she actually came back on another tour because, although she understood botany, she was interested in ecology generally and would ask things like ‘what’s the name of that spider?”

The next stage for Russell was to be asked to guide holidays abroad and he has already taken one in Tuscany and is doing another in Cyprus later this year.

Since he began his walks and talks, Russell has noticed a greater public interest in the environment and also in being pro-active about it. “I think the Blue Planet 2 series and others have driven this home,” he said. "People are genuinely more interested in doing something about plastic waste, for example, to preserve nature.”

In 2015, Russell also started working part-time for the Woodland Trust and is its media and communications officer. As a result, he was high-profile during the summer fires on Winter Hill and explained to the wider TV public about the future of the moors.

“The moors will come back,” he reassured. “The fire did go down as much as three feet into the peat and that changes the whole ecology system of the soil. But it will be re-colonised by adjacent moorland and heather, for example, is almost immortal.”

Russell is grateful that he has a job that he loves and gets to encourage everyone to appreciate the fascinating world around them. “There’s just so much there,” he said in his usual enthusiastic way. “So much to see – and it all works together in different ways.”