Talking wildlife, cows and ostriches with Simon King
Are there any “Golden Rules” 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, it’s 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 don’t smell you then you’ve 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
they’ve 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 doesn’t 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 you’re 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 don’t 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 you’re 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 it’s 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 ‘best’ season to start?
There is no time when you shouldn’t 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. It’s one thing to be faced with a wall of twittering birds and not have the slightest idea of what’s going on. Quite another to have somebody separate them out and then to tell a little story about each and every one. I don’t simply mean to say that’s a wood warbler, that’s a chiff chaff. Although that’s 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 it’s 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 aren’t engaged in that then it’s 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 that’s brilliant because that’s what you need to start having a genuine touch and connection with the natural world. Access and communication are key.
Simon’s 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 we’re watching. The beauty of the live camera system is that once they’re 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 – Wild Cat, although I have seen them on a number of occasions.
What is your most enjoyed species for watching – 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 you’re 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 there’s a fairly in depth look at how to find and watch otters, a film about how to watch fallow deer when they’re 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, that’s the beauty of it and I believe that there is a will for it to. We’re 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 – but do leave yourself plenty of time, it’s 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
First published in CJS Focus on Outdoor Recreation in association with The Campaign for National Parks on 20 June 2011