Meet our nature expert at Birdfair 2018
My passion for the wild world is deep set and has been with me for as long as I have been part of the planet. As a kid growing up on the edge of Bristol I carried the legacy of my birth place – which by chance and circumstance was Kenya – with great pride and a sense of close association with the earth. My interest was indulged, as was the case with so many kids of the 1960s, foraging through the undergrowth of my own back garden or further afield in the woods, in search of bugs and mini beasts. Many a newt and toad found it’s way back to a vivarium in my bedroom, to be gazed upon and marvelled over by my spellbound eyes and inquisitive mind.
By the time I was ten years old I had owned, and broken, several pairs of inexpensive binoculars which, though they served to fuel my enthusiasm and develop my knowledge of wildlife, sometimes were a source of frustration – delivering a hazy view of the world I wanted to see in sharp relief and vivid technicolour!
At the same time as being a wildlife geek, I also had the unusual privilege of being involved with television and other media from a very early age. It was then I met the man who was to become my friend and mentor.
Mike Kendall was a patient tutor and brilliant field naturalist who guided my enthusiastic but ignorant attention to the details all around me that could help separate the tufted ducks from the scaup (a bit like the wood from the trees for birding geeks!).
Mike and I made two series of Man and Boy for the BBC, in which we toured around the UK watching wildlife, from golden eagles and red deer in Scotland to red kites.
Throughout the series, I was armed with my second rate binoculars, but Mike, the consummate professional and seasoned naturalist had a pair of binoculars that were quite simply leagues apart from anything I had looked through before. I committed to memory the brand and model – none other than the ZEISS Dialyt 10×40 B T*.
My lust object became those binoculars. Even then, their price reflected their quality and I resolved that it was unlikely I would be able to afford my first ‘proper’ binoculars until I was earning a proper living.
It was on my 18th birthday that my dream of owning a pair of ZEISS binoculars came true. For there, presented to me by my mother and father, they were – a second hand (but very good condition) pair of ZEISS 10×40 B T*. Since that day in December 1980, the paths of the wild world, myself and ZEISS optics have been inextricably linked. My 10×40 Dialyts stood me in great stead for many years (I own them still and they are gently retired in a pride of place, though they are still brought back into service from time to time and continue to out-perform many modern binoculars).
Inevitably though, changes in technology, especially lens coatings, led to an increase in light transmission in sports optics and ZEISS led the way in making their precision instruments lighter, brighter, more robust and with wider fields of view and closer focussing capacity with every new model.
My work as a naturalist and wildlife filmmaker demands that I know what I am looking at and, increasingly over the years, my involvement with conservation and wildlife charities has no less a call on my being able to identify a broad range of creatures, from spotting a sleeping otter on a distant shoreline to focussing on the minute details that distinguish a vagrant hawker dragonfly from a southern hawker.
Knowing which creatures are living on a given patch of ground is fundamental to implementing strategies and practices that will ensure their continued survival.
The natural world is under levels of immense pressure from human development and encroachment never seen before. The shifting baseline is, sadly, something we need to be acutely aware of if we are not to become complacent in our care for our natural neighbours.
Many species that I was used to seeing regularly in the UK only 45 years ago are now astonishingly rare. If I didn’t know what I was looking for or hearing then, like so many people, I would miss it.
Turtle doves, lesser spotted woodpeckers, curlew, snipe, even cuckoos, all are in sharp decline along with many other birds, mammals reptiles and other creatures. Virtually all of the factors that are effecting these creatures come as a result of our actions. The more time I spend looking and trying to see clearly, the more I realise that the most precious elements of life are not what we own, nor what flavours we taste or the indulgences we are told we should cherish, but rather the way that we live and paying attention to the impact each and every one of us has with the choices we make.
Having worked closely with ZEISS, I know that they hold dear many of the same values and their optics in microscopy, chip technology, sports optics and even planetariums have underpinned many crucial advances in our understanding of and care for our own wellbeing and the health of the planet as a whole. I hope that time will reveal that we can learn to pay attention to the world about us, a world we can see clearer now than ever before, and that we modify the way we live to ensure a harmonious and sustainable future, for all living things.