Matt Williams writes about his day out assisting award-winning wildlife photographer David Tipling with the BTO, how A Focus On Nature has helped to shape his friendships and ambition and how it’s relationships like these that will in the end secure nature’s future.
As I clambered off an airbed in a friend’s spare room at 5am, I realized how much I missed being out early for the sake of wildlife. Seriously! I’m not even being sarcastic. Bleary-eyed, I walked to the train station and caught the first available train up to Norwich.
Early morning is my favourite time of the day. When I say ‘early’, I mean the hour when you can walk down the street and not see a soul and when, at this time of year, eager male blackbirds sing to proclaim their territories, or when the more frustrated ones who have yet to find a mate try to put on a show that can change their fortunes before the breeding season’s out.
The second best part of A Focus on Nature (the best part comes later) is that each young person is put in touch with a mentor – an expert in the field or skill that we’re each trying to develop. In my case, I was on my way to a second meeting with my mentor, international, award-winning wildlife photographer David Tipling.
David’s photography has led him all over the world, from southeast Asia to the Antarctic – not that I’m jealous or anything. He has just had a book of photos of penguins published, and will shortly be releasing Birds and People with Mark Cocker, a book about how people’s lives dovetail with those of our feathered friends.
I was picked up from Norwich train station and we drove to a small piece of land that David owns next to the River Yare. He manages it as a plot of mixed woodland and reedbed. For such a small area it’s rammed with birds, from a kingfisher which flew past piping loudly to nesting woodland species like wrens and great tits.
Our mission was to help the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) get some images of people undertaking typical volunteer tasks. Volunteers help the BTO in a number of ways from surveying nestboxes, to regularly walking assigned patches of the countryside as part of the Breeding Bird Survey.
Thanks to some friendly folks who came along we were able to get some great shots. These images will be used in BTO publications and I hope this will encourage more people to join the ranks of volunteers who contribute to one of the largest conservation data collecting efforts in the world. Information gathered on behalf of the BTO tells us invaluable and colossal amounts about the UK’s birds and helps to inform much conservation work.
I helped David mostly by holding reflectors to cast more light onto the subjects, or helping him manage a 16 metre tall pole with his camera on the end and a remote trigger precariously attached to the top using a short length of stretchy bungee rope. Having never done professional PR shots of people before it was great experience for me and I learned some valuable new skills and techniques.
Afterwards, David even treated me to the finest Norwich dining has to offer – lunch at the local Sainsbury’s. As usual we talked about photography, writing, publishing, even politics, and David gave me a few pointers. Between David’s help, a new camera and the support and guidance of the friends I’ve made through A Focus on Nature, my photography has improved more in the past few months than it has in the past five years.
So, what is the best part about A Focus on Nature? Without a doubt it’s the friendships I’ve begun to build through it, with mentors like David and also with other young people who care about nature.
By using our skills – filming, writing, photography, art – we can inspire others to care about nature and to act to protect it. And when we’re friends we can work even more effectively to make change happen. The combination of our relationships and our skills is perhaps the most important tool at our disposal in securing nature’s future.