We all have value systems: the internal rules that govern our daily lives and ethical beliefs. My values have been shaped over five decades and are influenced by myriad factors including my upbringing, my friends and colleagues, my exposure to different belief systems around the world and in recent years, by a better understanding of our relationship with Nature. Continue reading “Trees for Life”
I suspect like me, many of you reading this subscribe to a wide range of conservation bodies. My susceptibility over the years to join pretty much anything and everything is witnessed by the extensive list of direct debits on my bank statements. Continue reading “Wild Land: A worthwhile investment”
It was John Muir who once said that conservation is a battle between right and wrong. There are some things in this world that are just plain wrong and when it comes to our relationship with Nature, the list is extensive. Continue reading “Malta Massacre on Migration”
Mention the ‘R’ word in some circles and hackles rise. Visions of out-of-control wolves on a killing spree spring to mind and primeval fears mixed with deep-seated cultural resentment of change, bubble to the surface. Politics too, is inextricably linked to the potential, or otherwise, for rewilding. Continue reading “Rewilding: Is it time?”
I read with considerable interest, if not bewilderment, a letter in the latest edition of Scottish Wildlife, the magazine of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. A well-established photographer had written to all 47 Wildlife Trusts offering them free and unlimited use of his entire British wildlife archive – hundreds, if not thousands, of free images. The premise was that he couldn’t afford a financial contribution so this was his way of supporting the Trusts.
Let me first of all say that it’s a free country and individual photographers are at liberty to do as they wish with their own images. Let me also say that I’m not criticising the photographer personally, simply exploring the motivations for giving away such a valuable resource. To be fair, the conservationist in me applauds his gesture but I can’t help thinking this sets a very dangerous precedent, apart from undermining the livelihood of both hard-working freelancers and profit-stricken picture libraries.
I would like to think I do as much as most to support the conservation community and as a business, we donate significant sums to a variety of initiatives. Giving our hard-earned product away however, invalidates not only my own imagery but that of the community as a whole. Payment for imagery might not be necessary or even desirable for some, but gifting it for free devalues the product and debilitates the hard work of many professionals over the years to convince the conservation community that compelling imagery is something worth paying for.
I don’t know the photographer in question very well and there may be mitigating circumstances that I’m not aware of but in my view, giving away a whole library of images is not just another nail in the coffin, it’s the coffin being lowered into the ground. And just for the record, this isn’t about the money for me, it’s about dismantling the value of imagery, something that this community has fought hard to preserve.
We are undoubtedly at a crossroads in this industry and as much as anyone, I’m groping in the dark a wee bit. We live in tough times when tough decisions are necessary and everyone has different coping mechanisms. I’m not sure however, this is a step in the right direction but I’m happy to be proved wrong.
It started with a 1000-mile round trip to deliver a presentation in Derby, the place I grew up in. The talk was attended by an old school teacher of mine and a smattering of friends and family huddled on the back row (there were others there too you understand!) Weird.
Tuesday brought about a meeting to secure the 2020VISION roadshow in The National Forest – this from discussions that have stretched over the best part of 2 years. Relief.
Wednesday was a relatively normal day in the office although we did buy 5 Highland Cows as conservation grazers. Daunting. I also met with a mate of mine who revealed insider knowledge about a rather exciting reintroduction project about to be unleashed. Intriguing. This was also the day I heard the news about the Manchester police women being shot. Shocking.
Thursday took me to a photographer friend’s for an update on various matters and contrary to the usual frivolous nature of our discussions, today was more sombre as a member of his family is very unwell. On returning home I was greeted with the news that our old Highland pony (he’s not ours actually but he lives with us) was lame and would need to be put to sleep. Sad and Sobering.
An early call yesterday created a meeting with a local landowner about a potential commission documenting a massively ambitious restoration scheme in the Highlands. Inspiring.
As I sit here writing, Amanda is busying around getting stuff together for our holiday to Yellowstone. Bizarre.
So what’s all this got to do with a photographic blog? Well if truth be told, I’m feeling a bit emotional; high emotion has been the common denominator throughout this last week. The more I think about the state of the natural world and what can be done to right some of the wrongs, the more I become convinced that we don’t use our unique capacity for emotion creatively enough. I read a while ago that generally speaking, people’s relationship with nature isn’t rational or scientific; it’s emotional. And it’s true. You can peddle all the ecological science, all the socio-economic data, all the conservation buzzwords you like, but for most people, nature is something they ‘feel’. Great photography is something that makes people ‘feel’.
As a nation we’ve done a pretty good job this summer ‘feeling’ the Olympics and Paralympics and what high emotion reigned for those few weeks. But spectacular as they undoubtedly were, these are transient events, moments in time. If only we, as a society, could harness that Olympic energy, that high-octane emotion and mobilise it for nature. That would be something worth getting up on Monday morning for. And Tuesday. And Wednesday.
Just a quick post to let you know that Fearna, one of the female osprey chicks from our local nest (many readers will know of or have seen this nest) has been fitted with a satellite tracker and her movements can be followed here. As I write this, she’s found her way safely as far as Devon!
Thanks to Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife for providing the tracker and the platform to watch Fearna’s maiden migration to Africa.
Good luck girl!
I’m not a red squirrel biologist but as I understand it, this is pretty much the situation as it stands with the species’ conservation: Red squirrels in the UK occupy only fragments of their former range with their remaining stronghold being the pine forests of northern Scotland. The primary reason for their decline is believed to be the introduction of the non-native grey squirrel which has spread and out-competes the red as well as passing on a potentially fatal disease. Where embattled and cornered red squirrels are threatened by the ongoing invasion of greys, conservation action is being taken primarily in the form of grey squirrel ‘management’ (aka culling). Is that it in a nutshell? No doubt someone will tell me if not.
Assuming my simple analysis is correct, here’s my question: Is it feasible, or desirable even, to defend red squirrel strongholds in the long term by fending off greys? How long can we keep this up for – 5 years, 50 years? 500 years? My understanding is that we’ll need to keep this up forever if we’re to retain red squirrels as a viable UK species.
Here’s my next question then: Is this a good use of time, effort and funding? Nobody wants to see red squirrels disappear (nobody I know at any rate) but surely we face a stark choice if we accept that the present regime is untenable:
1. We succumb to the relentless march of the grey and accept the extinction of UK reds.
2. We invest our energies in completely eliminating grey squirrels from the UK.
Option 2 has many barriers. It’s expensive, time consuming and some would argue impossible to completely eradicate grey squirrels such is their stranglehold (I would personally suggest it’s difficult but not impossible). Then there’s the question of societal sensitivities – for many people, grey squirrels provide their only contact with nature and never having seen a red squirrel, form part of their cultural backdrop. Finally there is a moral argument that challenges the need to kill any healthy animal regardless of origin.
So with all doors presently closed, we have no choice but to carry on as we are. But didn’t we already establish that wasn’t feasible?
I don’t know the answer to this dilemma by the way, but I do know that trying to marry political and cultural sensitivities with ecological integrity is at best, damned tricky and as a consequence we tend to tread the ground that upsets fewest (human) agendas – the sticking plaster approach. In my humble opinion with the consequences of indecision now well documented, the sticking plaster is no longer good enough: we’re talking major surgical procedure here.
What would you do if you held the keys to the piggy bank (or to the gun cupboard)?
For photographers and birders alike there are few species higher on the ‘must-do’ list than capercaillie, the world’s largest grouse and denizen of Scotland’s fragmented pine forests. Sure they are big charismatic birds, but they are also rare and under normal circumstances are unlikely to be seen without a not inconsiderable amount of effort and local knowledge. All of this conspires to make the caper a sought-after subject.
It’s no secret anymore that there is a so-called ‘rogue’ capercaillie in a pine forest near Kingussie – he’s even been on Autumnwatch. Anyone who had a mind to keep his presence a secret (me included) might have got away with it even five years ago, but the speed of information exchange today, ensures that this bird will attract increasing attention for the rest of his life. The big question is whether that attention is detrimental to this particular individual or whether being up close to such an icon of the pinewood, nurtures a greater empathy with the plight of the species as a whole. I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that however regrettable it might be to those who want this bird to themselves, it ain’t going to happen. So should we be thinking about this differently?
There is no doubt that a group of people – photographers, birders or otherwise – surrounding this bird, conjures up the perception of harassment; it looks ugly. But is it detrimental to the caper? I’m no scientist but I’m not sure it is and moreover, does it really matter?
Conservation is a luxury of an affluent society and despite the doom-mongering, we still live in a very affluent society. Shouldn’t we then be exploiting that affluence? How about charging to see the caper? Or at least asking for a donation to a forest conservation charity? Now of course this is a legal, political and cultural minefield but my point is that rather than pretend we can keep such a wildlife spectacle under the hat, perhaps we should be shouting it from the rooftops, inviting in the TV crews and exploiting the opportunity for community engagement, even profit? We’ve all seen RSPB do it successfully with urban peregrines, why not rogue capercaillie?
Ok my cheek is bulging a little from my tongue but it’s the conservatism within conservation that sticks in my craw. The conservation movement cannot on the one hand whip us all into a frenzy about the visual spectacle that is the natural world, and then on the other, deprive us of access to the very best bits – or at least frown upon those who are seen to buck the system. Nobody owns the birds, least of all any single conservation body.
Before my mailbox fills with a deluge of accusations, I’m not advocating recklessness or law-breaking here, I’m not even talking specifically about capercaillie, I’m just suggesting a shift in our mindset to be less precious, less sensitive, less worthy and dare I say, less arrogant about showing people the really sexy stuff that Scotland (or anywhere else) has to offer. If we want their money to put nature back in order, it’s the very least they can expect in return.
I like to stay the right side of the line between insightful observation and a rant. Make no mistake however, this is a rant.
I remember years ago when Mark Hamblin and I embarked on the Tooth & Claw project being accused of condoning raptor persecution simply because we chose to take an impartial standpoint in our commentary on the issue. So if we didn’t condone the killing of raptors we must surely condemn it? Well no, we are simply presenting the issue impartially. Ah, you’re sitting on the fence then? By the time this scenario had been replayed a dozen or so times, you realise you can’t win.
And so more recently to Frozen Planet. It is to my mind the greatest natural history film ever made and undoubtedly attracted an audience that wouldn’t otherwise engage. OK so they filmed a few seconds of a six-part series in captivity and arguably, cocked up the explanation but is that really the series’ legacy? Last night I sat and watched the spell-binding Earthflight. As has been suggested elsewhere there are factual errors and some dodgy bits of continuity, but have you ever seen such visual splendour?
In a world where the demands placed upon those of us who do their best to create inspiring visual imagery are being cranked up as each day passes, should we really be so cynical, so pedantic even, and crush the very innovation we so need and indeed, crave?
Perhaps as I approach the half-century mark I’m just getting weary but honestly, you do your best to do your bit, you dare to take a risk, put your head above the parapet and what happens? It gets blown off – often by those who sit alongside you in the trenches. So I’m going to make a plea to those who sit in judgement over others – you know who you are – to consider the blood, sweat and tears that goes into some of these media projects and to recognise the sacrifice that is an inevitable part of their creation.
I spent 4 years working on Wild Wonders of Europe. Now don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything but most of that 4 years was sat in meetings, writing strategies and managing petty politics – a far cry from the perceived ‘glamourous’ lifestyle of the nature photographer. Moreover, most of us involved with managing Wild Wonders went without remuneration for that whole period. The same is true of my involvement with 2020VISION.
So back to the plea. Innovation is something to be encouraged, nurtured, celebrated. The pool in which the nature photographer drinks is shrinking but surely that is no justification to criticise those who try to dig a new pool? None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes but the choice is clear to me. We embrace new projects and ideas with all their inherent fragility and foibles or we wallow in the increasingly polluted shrinking pool.
So there we are, my rant for January. But hold on, this is not me feeling sorry for myself – I hope I’m old enough to look after myself. No, this is me rattled and I’ll tell you why. A young man called me the other day with an idea for a photographic project in his local community. “Would it work?” He asked. “What happened if it didn’t?” And then the words that set me on fire: “I don’t want to be seen as a failure.” If our young talent is being stifled because of the fear of critical peer reviews, we’ve got something very, very wrong. I told him to go for it but as I put the phone down I have to say I felt like I’d thrown him into the lion’s den.