Alicia Hyaden looking down at a camera which she is holding in her hands. In the background are wildlife art canvases.

Combining your passions | Conservation art and filmmaking with Alicia Hayden, Illustrator and Junior Researcher at the BBC Natural History Unit

Alicia Hayden is a UK-based wildlife artist, filmmaker, animator, writer, and photographer. She has a degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford and a master’s degree in Wildlife Filmmaking from the University of the West of England. Alicia currently works as an Illustrator and Junior Researcher for the BBC Natural History Unit in Kid’s Development.

Read on to discover Alicia’s motivations for combining art, illustration, and filmmaking within her diverse work and personal projects. Alicia reveals the proudest moments in her career so far, the challenges of her role within the BBC Natural History Unit, and her advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career in the creative conservation industry.

Why do you want to work in the field of conservation?

A love for the natural world goes hand in hand with wanting to preserve it, and that’s been the case for me since I can remember. I wrote a little story when I was younger which was about ants and habitat destruction, so I’ve always gravitated towards the arts as well as the sciences. Whenever I create things, whether it be written, spoken, or visual, it’s about the natural world.

It’s refreshing to hop between different creative projects as they all inspire each other, and it also means that I get to continue doing all the things that I love.

An artist (Alicia Hayden) using a paintbrush and palette. She is working on a painting.

Wildlife conservation artist and illustrator, Alicia Hayden. © Jacob Burley.

What are the top three conservation issues that you feature in your art?

I go through phases – ultimately, I’d like my art to incite changes in thought or behaviour, whether that be thinking differently about an animal, supporting its conservation, or inspiring positive actions in people’s everyday lives.

  1. Light pollution – This is an underrepresented issue in mainstream media, so many people don’t know what species are affected by light pollution, such as moths, birds, and sea turtles.
  2. Habitat fragmentation – Habitat fragmentation is a central theme in this year’s work so far, for example looking at how it affects species in different ways.
  3. Marine – I’ve done a lot of work in the past that highlights conservation issues affecting marine species.
Alicia Hayden standing outside and holding her large painting of cave hyenas. Alicia is looking down at the painting.

Alicia Hayden holding her artwork of cave hyenas. © Jack Rawlinson.

What are the main activities within your role at the BBC Natural History Unit?

My role is very varied which is fun. Being in television development means that I work within a team to come up with ideas for children’s natural history shows, which then get pitched by the producer. An important part of this process is researching all the science that informs what natural history is presented in the show.

I have also done a lot of illustration work for these children’s natural history shows, such as character designs, logos, and fonts.

What drew you to children’s natural history shows?

I’ve always thought it’s more fun because you have so much creative freedom. Art lends itself really nicely to children’s shows as you can include more animation so that it isn’t just pure footage. I really like doing this in my own personal projects, so I wanted to incorporate it within a job too. 

What’s the most exciting part of your job so far?

I absolutely love doing it all, it’s so much fun. I get to do a whole range of things, from spreadsheets and research, to writing and illustration, allowing me to use my imagination in many areas.

Bringing some of the characters to life through illustration has been awesome because it pushes me to find new styles and figure out what might appeal to different age groups. One illustration style might appeal to a younger age range, but it might not for older children.

Alicia Hayden leaning against a wall in an exhibition room and looking to the right. The walls feature her artwork and a sign that reads ‘Exploring Artivism, Alicia Hayden Wildlife Art Exhibition’.

Alicia Hayden at her wildlife art exhibition. © Ananya Ramesh.

What’s the most challenging part of your job so far?

With illustration briefs, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out exactly what someone wants. For example, they will have ideas about how a character should look, but the artist will also have ideas. So, it’s about getting exactly what’s in their head onto paper, which can be quite challenging, but in a fun way.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I enjoy looking back on how much my art has improved, and there are still pieces that I love years on. For example, ‘When the Whale Sang’ looks at how noise pollution impacts whales. In 2021, this piece won the Human Impact category in the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s Wildlife Artist of the Year competition, which I’m very proud of. This gave me more confidence with regards to science communication as well.

Artwork of a whale, in black and white. From left to right the whale becomes less detailed and merges into soundwaves.

When the Whale Sang. © Alicia Hayden.

I’m also proud of the film I made for my MA Wildlife Filmmaking degree because that’s the first long film I’ve created. It’s called The Watchman and it’s about a Zimbabwean wildlife artist called Tichaona Ncube who paints the wildlife of Victoria Falls, particularly elephants which he paints from life in a sanctuary. The film follows his journey in organising his first art exhibition and how he uses his art to educate others about wildlife conservation.

Alicia Hayden holding a camera on a tripod and looking down at the camera’s display.

Alicia Hayden filmmaking. © Jacob Burley.


Alicia Hayden and Tichaona Ncube sat in chairs facing each other and talking.

Alicia Hayden speaking with Tichaona Ncube in Zimbabwe. © Jacob Burley.

Do you have any career aspirations or goals for the future?

I want to keep working in multiple creative disciplines that are linked to the natural world, so that I can communicate science in different ways. I’m currently planning a film about curlews, and I hope to start work on a book with publishers soon, both of which I’m very excited about. It will be a nice challenge to get stuck into these big projects that are a bit more long-term, in contrast to my individual art commissions.

Through my work, be that written or visual, I hope to inspire connections with the natural world regardless of who I’m working for or how I’m doing it.

Alicia Hayden holding a microphone and standing in front of a large lecture hall screen.

Alicia Hayden speaking about her art and filmmaking at the premiere screening of The Watchman. © Alicia Hayden.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Be opportunistic, talk to people, and write down your ideas. I have a huge notes list on my phone which includes lots of random phrases and ideas for what I want to write about or create. Everyone can tell creative conservation stories, so it’s just about identifying your passions and how you want to express them.

There are so many great resources to help you learn new skills, such as YouTube or talking to the people that inspire you. When I started out, I used to contact people that I respected, either online or through email, and they always responded with great advice.

Ultimately, I think the best advice I’ve heard is to try and create for yourself. Many people try to please an algorithm, and I don’t think that’s the right way of doing it. If you create something that you want to see, read, or interact with, you’re going to love it, which will make your work more appealing to everyone else because that passion will naturally come across.

Alicia Hyaden looking down at a camera which she is holding in her hands. In the background are wildlife art canvases.

Alicia Hayden. © Jacob Burley.

Learn more about Alicia Hayden’s current and upcoming work by following her on Instagram, Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn. Alicia will release and share The Watchman later this year on social media and YouTube.


Author Profile | Holly Stevenson

Holly Stevenson has a degree in Wildlife Conservation and a master’s degree in Science Communication. Holly strives to inspire positive connections with the natural world through varied digital communications, including social media, video, blogs, and her podcast – Nature Positivitea. You can follow Holly on Instagram, Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.



Interviews, Communicator