Published: 20 June 2011

logo: Campaign for National Parks - keeping beautiful places safe

In Association with: The Campaign for National Parks


Talking wildlife, cows and ostriches with Simon King


Simon KingAre there any ďGolden RulesĒ for wildlife watching?

Every single species has its own set of rules. So approaching a certain creature requires a certain knowledge of it and its senses but in general just be aware and pay attention.

Be aware of wind direction, itís something you can be aware of the whole time.  I remember as a kid I would always throw grass seed into the air to watch which way they blew.  Before long you know where the wind is coming from the whole time and  it makes so much difference when watching wild mammals because so many if they smell a human they will take off, if they donít smell you then youíve got a chance of seeing them.


Wildlife Whisperer promotes responsible

wildlife watching and photography. 

Always put the welfare of your subjects

before a good view or photograph. 

If you show respect and care, your

experiences in the wild will be richer

and the wildlife will remain undisturbed

for all to enjoy.

Be aware of your surroundings and hone your listening and looking skills, be aware of peripheral vision and of the subtle sounds around you, in the bushes, in the leaves and react accordingly. 
A good way to hone your field craft skills is to try to move around a field of cows or hide on the edge of one without a cow stopping and looking at you because they are aware of everything.  We think of them as a domestic species but

theyíve lost none of their ability to spot something odd in the landscape.  I have more than once been in full camouflage, dressed in a carbon lined suit so scent doesnít go anywhere, the wind in the right direction, beautifully camouflaged with roe deer and foxes close by and a Friesian cow staring at me.  You think, "How on earth are you doing that?" So, if you can get under the radar of a cow youíre doing pretty well!


Do you think it is better to focus on a species or a habitat?

Every species requires a certain set of skills within reason. For example, rabbits generally donít react to the scent of humans but they do react to the sight of a human figure.  So you can be upwind of a rabbit and it can smell you and not be concerned.  But if youíre up against the sky it will see you and not come near.

The holistic view is best because bit by bit you will learn how to move through your landscape and moving through your landscape without causing massive disruption is the real key to having more contact with wild things.  That comes in a whole skills set which you can glean over time and from things like Wildlife Whisperer or books or trial and error.  The trouble with trial and error is that itís so easy to get it wrong and much harder to get it right and the disruption along the way can be disappointing and not necessarily constructive.


Is there a Ďbestí season to start?

There is no time when you shouldnít start, wherever and whenever you are is a great starting place. The most important thing is to get out and do it and to start connecting.


If you could ask our readers to do one thing to improve wildlife watching for the public what would it be?

To be there for them.  Just to be there to be able to interpret the thing that makes it so magical for them.  Itís one thing to be faced with a wall of twittering birds and not have the slightest idea of whatís going on.  Quite another to have somebody separate them out and then to tell a little story about each and every one.  I donít simply mean to say thatís a wood warbler, thatís a chiff chaff. Although thatís a start. But then to be able to say do you know that chiff chaff has just flown all the way from West Africa where itís been spending the winter, it only weighs so much and this is how it behaves.

Just to be there and to interpret.

Also to let people explore, whilst I absolutely recognise a reserve is somewhere for the natural world to be able to flourish, if humans arenít engaged in that then itís failed.  We need to make sure it has a value for everyone and if that value starts with children climbing trees and playing in the stream, creating memories for the future, then thatís brilliant because thatís what you need to start having a genuine touch and connection with the natural world. Access and communication are key.

logo: Simon King  

Simonís current project is the Wildlife Whisperer website.

He says the site will continue to grow with new cameras, information and films.

Everyday sees something fresh and new and not just from added content but from the behaviour of the things weíre watching.  The beauty of the live camera system is that once theyíre up and running and in place then the stars of the show are doing the business, the ones telling the story and growing on a daily basis. It gets compelling.


Favourite places:  Marvellous places like Slumburgh Head in

Shetland and I regularly visit Shapwick Heath which is joined

to Westhay Moor Nature Reserve in Somerset but there really

are too many to choose from.

First wild animal you learnt to reliably identify: Ostrich

(Simon was born and spent his first years in Kenya)

The one UK resident species rarely seen Ė Wild Cat, although

I have seen them on a number of occasions.

What is your most enjoyed species for watching  Ė mass

spectacles are always spell binding, a roosting flock of starling

coming into a reed bed is totally mesmerising and two or three

hundred red kite coming in to feed are awesome.

Subtle details too, I love spending time with otters, just being

close to a mother with cubs and watching the relationship

between them knowing that youíre sharing their space is

completely gorgeous.

At Wildlife Whisperer, our ethos is to give people the tools of good craft in the field and to make sure their impact on the very thing they want to see is minimised which is why thereís a fairly in depth look at how to find and watch otters, a film about how to watch fallow deer when theyíre rutting, with many more to follow.  The site has just added education membership which is engaging schools in the natural world using created modules and education packs for Key Stage one and two.


Simon finished by saying

We are so blessed on these isles to have so much rich wildlife on the doorstep and it can get better, thatís the beauty of it and I believe that there is a will for it to.  Weíre going from strength to strength, there are areas of complacency where we need to pick up our game but broadly it is a beautiful isle full of life and full of people who want to make sure it remains that way.


CJS thanks Simon for his time and would recommend having a look at the new website www.simonkingwildlife.com Ė but do leave yourself plenty of time, itís all too easy to get wrapped up in the web camera drama!

Updated information July 2016

Since this article was written Simon has launched the Simon King Wildlife Project, a registered charity dedicated to land restoration, education and engagement in the natural word.  A live camera network, set within a 10 acre plot known as Wild Meadows, was installed so that the secret lives of the wild creatures that moved in to the land could be seen and shared by anyone, anywhere, anytime.  The Simon King Wildlife Project was born of a desire to turn the tide against the loss of natural habitats and begin a movement to reclaim more land for the natural world.  Please visit our website for more information www.simonkingwildlife.com

Check: Jan17

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