Sensing Landscapes: Journeys Through Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.

Rachel Mimiec, our National Scenic Areas Artist in Residence, provides a final post from Glencoe.

My residency culminated at Glencoe Village Hall at the end of June. I invited everybody who had engaged with me as part of the residency to a wee gathering, where I gifted them the map artworks I had created in response to my time in Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.

Wee gathering at Glencoe

Wee gathering at Glencoe

The text in the fold of the map reads as follows:

This map is part of a box set of twelve prints that was created in response to the National Scenic Area of Ben Nevis and Glencoe, while undertaking a visual art residency with Scottish Natural Heritage. The residency was supported by Creative Scotland and SNH as part of the Year of Natural Scotland 2013.”

Unfolding map

Unfolding map

The project relied on the generosity of people giving up their time to act as my guide and share their knowledge of the landscape in exchange for an artwork generated as a result of this walking and talking process.

The resulting artworks have taken the form of these maps.

Maps on table

Maps on table

I walked with many different people including a mountaineer, a dear stalker, ramblers, geologists, and conservationists who shared with me their different perspectives. Over pack lunches and flasks of tea conversations were had about the special qualities of these areas, the politics of landscape and people’s passion for the outdoors.

As an aide memoire I photographed the places I was taken to and the people who took me there.

Knowledge was exchanged.

A poem, ‘The Writers Life (after Jenny Diski)’, by Alec Finlay, describes the process I undertook perfectly.

walk & think


talk &walk


talk & think


The images used in the maps are abstract slices of personal responses, memories, pulled into focus as if under a microscope.

Maps on table

Maps on table

Rudolf Steiner identified 12 senses all have resonance with my experience of walking and making art about the landscape, combined internal and external responses that stimulate; imagination, inspiration and intuition.

Sense of Ego

Sense of Thought

Sense of Speech

Sense of Hearing

Sense of warmth

Sense of Sight

Sense of Taste

Sense of Smell

Sense of Touch

Sense of Balance

Sense of Movement

Sense of Life

‘Something moves between me and it. Place and a mind may interpenetrate until the nature of both is altered. I cannot tell what this movement is except by recounting it’

Nan Shepherd

These maps are my recounting.

Posted in Nature in art, Rachel Mimiec - NSA Artist in Residence, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

Family favourites

There are many successful father and daughter teams in modern society. Think of acting and you might cite Henry and Jane Fonda, or John Voight and his daughter Angelina Jolie, whilst in music there was Frank and Nancy Sinatra. Entomology (the study of insects) hasn’t been left out of the father-daughter stakes. Dr. Graham Rotheray is curator of insects at the National Museums of Scotland and ably supported by his talented daughter Ellen.


Graham and Ellen Rotheray

Graham and Ellen Rotheray

It is curious how an interest in a topic such as natural history can run in families, although it is probably not so much a product of nature as of nurture. It was Graham Rotheray’s mother who encouraged her three children with nature walks. He is now a distinguished entomologist (studies insects) with his own daughter currently carving out a similar career.

Early in his youth Graham Rotheray’s family moved from Yorkshire to an Essex farm, which provided him with a rich and varied landscape to explore. “I suppose I started looking at birds, and their nests, then took an interest in mammals, and things then just got smaller and smaller. I remember being impressed by hedgerows in the spring, just how wonderfully full of insects they were, of all types, sizes, shapes and colours. It was a fascination for that diversity that got me going. And then I discovered I could actually do things with insects, studying them in ways that I could not with other forms of wildlife.”

As a child he had been intrigued by flies buzzing around his parents’ vegetable garden, especially the hoverflies. I did not know what they were, but wasps –which looked so similar in appearance –were attacking them and ripping them apart. Most insect-eating birds do not hunt wasps and hoverflies protect themselves by mimicking the wasps’ appearance. “The wasps could tell the difference of course.”  Hoverflies have long been his particular speciality.

Hoverflies have come under the 'Rotheray' microscope

Hoverflies have come under the ‘Rotheray’ microscope

Graham went on to study for a PhD, devising both laboratory and field experiments to investigate parasitic insects that attacked the larval stages of hoverflies. In 1980 he then applied his expertise to a study of parasites of a major pest species in the eastern United States, the introduced gypsy moth, in an attempt to devise a biological means of controlling their spread. His son and daughter were born at this time and after two years the family returned to Britain where Graham was appointed Curator of Insects with what is now the National Museums of Scotland, based in Edinburgh, a post which he still holds.

Fly closeThe study of insects continues to grow in popularityup

The study of insects continues to grow in popularity

Ellen remembers growing up with tubes of insects in the family freezer, or the airing cupboard. “What impressed me was my father seemed to know everything – any insect, bird or plant – and I wanted to be like that too. But he let us find our own path. I never found creepy-crawlies scary and could exploit my elder brother’s fear of spiders. All I needed to do was pick up a fat, juicy spider and my big, strong brother would shoot off. So did my Dad actually! “

During a zoology course at Glasgow University, and for two years afterwards, Ellen went on various expeditions abroad –to the tropical forests of Costa Rica, to a gibbon rehabilitation centre in Thailand and to Australia. “It was only when I returned to do a Master’s Degree in wildlife conservation and management at Reading University that I rediscovered British wildlife. I had always avoided insect projects at university, not wanting to be accused of following in my father’s footsteps, but that feeling wore off.”

At the museum Graham was charged with developing the collections of Diptera, since so many of his predecessors had concentrated on groups such as moths, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, bees, wasps and ants. “It is essential that we recognise the importance of Scotland. There is so much to be discovered, especially up here in the Highlands, and it is so important that we enthuse young people to take up the challenge.” Graham’s work is not only adding to the Museum’s collections, but includes applied research to advise on conservation management, as well as handling general enquiries from the public, and facilitating study by specialists and students alike.

He developed a keen interest in ancient Scottish woodlands, especially in one of the ‘big three’ deadwood Scottish hoverflies that occur there, the rare Callicera rufa. It had been discovered in the pinewoods of Strathspey in 1905 but many decades later Graham and six colleagues were to discover it much further north, in the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in Wester Ross. Triumphant they decided that same evening to form themselves into a select team called the Malloch Society (after a famous Dipteran specialist), dedicated to the study of rare and significant fly species.

It was another rare hoverfly species, the aspen hoverfly, Hammerschmidtia ferruginea, that Ellen choose for her MSc project. “I asked my Dad about it and got quite enthused, but we worried that we would not be able to find enough to work on.”  Graham explained that the larvae require decaying aspen logs but these are a scarce resource and aspen is spread thinly in little clumps.

Hoverfly with spot of paint for monitoring

Hoverfly with spot of paint for monitoring

Ellen soon developed a keen eye for finding larvae in dead wood of the appropriate age and when she set emergence traps there she was able to catch adults for marking. Her deft fingers applied a little spot of enamel paint to the thorax of each before it was released again. Finding them again was a different matter and, teased by her friends, Ellen was getting somewhat discouraged. She had discovered however that the males would defend territories beside suitable fallen logs and wait for the females to come and deposit her eggs.

“The day I was sitting there and found my first marked individual I was so elated that I just had to get straight on the phone to my Dad.”  Eventually she was to recover a remarkable 10% of her marked flies. She discovered that they could travel up to 4 km from where they had emerged and could easily traverse wide and windy areas, even fields and roads. One female actually lived for 60 days, three times longer than expected based on the longevity of other hoverflies. This particular individual constantly returned to the same log, but might disappear for days, presumably visiting other suitable sites in the vicinity.

Ellen’s work has inspired a wider interest in aspen. Previously the tree was seen as a minor element of birchwoods, but it is now known to harbour a wide array of specialised insects, some of them very rare. Although aspen trees are normally encountered in clumps of five hectares or so, a few can extend to 20 or 30 ha. “In Scotland we have some of the best stands of aspen anywhere in Europe, so it is very important that we look after them”, Graham added.

“I have spent hours sitting beside these logs and I loved it!”  Ellen admits. “Getting to know one particular species intimately was so rewarding. Specialists might have decades more experience but here I was, new to this game, and an expert in my own right, if only in one particular species. I was amazed how people who came to see what I was doing soon got interested in this wee insect. It has inspired me to try and promote it even more.”

Ellen is now a notable scientist in her own right and got off to a wonderful start as a research assistant to Professor Dave Goulson author of the best-selling A Sting in the Tale book about Bumblebees.


A Sting In The Tale by Professor Dave Goulson

A Sting In The Tale by Professor Dave Goulson


This biography of Graham and Ellen Rotheray was originally produced for SNH’s HIghland Naturalists project – part of our contribution to 2007 The Year of Highland Culture.


Images courtesy of Ellen Rotheray


Posted in Insects | Tagged , , , ,

Noss birds to feature in short documentary!

This month the Noss NNR wardens have been joined by a visitor with a very specific mission. Stephen Parker is working on the completion of his Masters degree in Wildlife Documentary Production from the University of Salford.

Stephen filming on Noss

Stephen up close with the puffins. By Katherine Snell

For his dissertation Stephen chose to create a 10 minute documentary following the lives of three seabird species found on Noss. His subjects are guillemots, gannets and puffins.

Each have presented him with their own unique challenges, but it’s fair to say that he’s become rather fond of his puffins whilst gathering footage of them foraging, courting and going about their daily business. One individual has become so familiar that Stephen has said that he looks forward to his morning welcome from ‘Sinatra’- the star of his show! A rough cut sneak preview of some of the fantastic footage he’s captured so far can be seen below.


After his month filming on the island he’ll be editing his footage in preparation for release later this year. He has agreed to inform Scottish Natural Heritage when the final work is completed and available online, so watch this space for further news of this in the next few months.


You can find out more about Noss NNR @


Posted in Birds, National Nature Reserves, Projects | Tagged , , ,

Enjoy the outdoors in and around Golspie

Golspie is rightly well known for its stunning links golf course on the shores of the Moray Firth, but the area has plenty to offer those who aren’t naturals on the fairways. Our area manager, Lesley Cranna, provides an insight on some of the other outdoor opportunities in Golspie and the surrounding area.

Common Seal

Common Seal

Seal, otter and osprey watching can be a highlight of any trip to Golspie. Simply take your binoculars and drive south about three miles, to the south side of Loch Fleet. After crossing The Mound, take the coast road to Dornoch and stop in one of the laybys beside the sea. Common seals haul out on to the sandbanks near the road and have their pups with them in the summer. The best time to see them is mid tide – by high tide, the sand banks are submerged. You can occasionally see otters along this stretch of coast although you have to be patient – dawn and dusk are the best times for this notoriously shy creature.



Loch Fleet is a great place to see ospreys in the summer. Ospreys do breed in the area although by late summer they will be preparing to make the long journey back to their wintering grounds in western Africa, south of the Sahara. You might just be lucky enough to catch sight of them fishing over Loch Fleet. Try the car park at the Mound, and if you don’t see ospreys, there is plenty of other birdlife to keep you occupied.



If you feel a little more energetic then why not visit Golspie’s spectacular woodland gorge “The Big Burn”. A network of paths of varying lengths take you through woodland, overlooking a waterfall, across bridges, around a lochan and past sheer rock faces dripping with mosses and lichens. The full circular walk can take you a few hours or you can do shorter sections.

Theses walks are well supplied with tables and chairs for picnics or just enjoy the peace and quiet. Some of the routes have steep sections but generally it is easy to moderate walking – take stout shoes. You’ll find the blue signpost to the car park off the A9 at the north end of the village, just before the 30mph speed limit sign.

Loch Fleet, a great location for visitors

Loch Fleet, a great location for visitors

Mountain Biking is well catered for around Golspie. The Highland Wildcat bike trail starts from the car park in the Main Street next to the Coffee Bothy café. A variety of different trails cater for different abilities and provide spectacular views from the top of Ben Bhraggie. The trails are free, with a donation machine in the car park.

If you are more comfortable out of the saddle and donning your walking boots then Ben Bhraggie is perhaps the spot for you. Follow the signposts at the top of Fountain Road. This takes you past Rhives Farm where you will find the start of the footpath that takes you through woodland to the top of Ben Bhraggie. Make sure you stay on the footpath – walking on the mountain bike trails is not advisable. Enjoy the spectacular views from the summit and sing a verse or two of that well known tune — Grannie’s Hielan Hame.

Birdwatchers flock to the Golspie area. The Balblair Bird Hide is a 20 minute walk on the flat through woodland to Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve. The reserve is located on the road to Littleferry, past the golf course. There is a car park on the left at the entrance to Balblair Wood. Wear stout walking shoes (or wellies if it’s wet) and take your binoculars. The best time to see wading birds is on the rising tide, but there is usually plenty to see at any time of day. The hide is down a short track through the trees to the left of the main track – look out for the hide sign post.



It might conjure up images of Miami, but Palm Beach walk is indeed a Golspie highlight. Drive to Littleferry and park in the nature reserve car park which has information boards and leaflets that tell you about the local wildlife. Follow the informal paths across the open grassland till you reach the sandy beach. This takes about 20 minutes and is usually dry underfoot. The trees at the coast give rise to the name “Palm Beach” – previously there were more trees here but sea level rise and climate change has taken its toll. In some years, the low-lying grassland is flooded in winter when the sea breaks through the dunes. This is a great place for botanists and bird watchers.

Children are well-catered for around Golspie. If you need a walk that is suitable for little ones, park at the end of Duke Street and follow the path down the burn to the sea – just a few minutes. There are usually ducks where the burn meets the sea and they are partial to being fed! Keep your eyes peeled in this area as otters frequent the coastline here. You can either return to your car, or for a longer walk, you can follow the path round the coast towards the village. Walk along the beach or seafront walk, and return along the main road. Golspie’s cafes – Poppies and the Coffee Bothy in the car park beside the Co-op are handy watering holes if you need a rest and refreshments. Don’t miss Lindsay’s shop on the way back – a treasure trove of toys and many other things – guaranteed to entertain your children.


Aerial view of Loch Fleet NNR

Aerial view of Loch Fleet NNR

Scottish Natural Heritage’s Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve leaflet gives you more information and provides a handy map of the area. The leaflet can be downloaded and is also available at the entrance to Balblair Wood and at the Littleferry car park.

Image credits: Common Seal by Danny Green/2020Vision, Otter by Andy Rouse/2020Vision, Osprey by Peter Cairns/2020Vision, Loch Fleet signage by George Logan/SNH, Dunlin by Lorne Gill, Aerial view by P&A MacDonald/SNH





Posted in Birds, Flowers, National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , , ,

Laurie Campbell – part two

Today we continue our look at the work of one of Scotland’s leading natural history photographers – Laurie Campbell. Having made the leap from film into the digital world Laurie talks about some of his favourite projects, a close encounter with a young eagle, and being invited to Moscow to talk about the value of working in your own ‘back-yard’!

Lapwing chick

Lapwing chick

“Nowadays we have auto-focus lenses and cameras that allow us to work in desperately poor lighting and this has opened up opportunities to photograph subjects that were previously impossible with film. Recently for example, I have been photographing badgers at dusk in a gloomy deciduous wood without having to resort to using electronic flash. That said, I still rely upon old habits, such as using manual exposure and try to get as much of the technicalities right in camera so that I have as little as possible to do later when processing the image on my computers.

Photographed at a very long range (close to sixty metres away), using a simple compact camera attached to a big lens to obtain very high magnification. Adult eagle roosting and asleep on cliff ledge near its eyrie at mid-summer.

Photographed at a very long range (close to sixty metres away), using a simple compact camera attached to a big lens to obtain very high magnification. This adult eagle is asleep on a cliff ledge near its eyrie at mid-summer.

“The career should come with a bit of a ‘wealth-warning’. In the old days technology advanced so slowly that you would expect a camera and lenses to last for a decade or more. Nowadays there are new and better upgrades almost every year or so. The benefits of each are often marginal so it’s a trade-off between the advantages they may bring compared to the extra time spent trying to generate the extra income needed to keep investing in new equipment. I am by nature, a person who does not like change so it can be difficult keeping up with advances in imaging-related technology so I only tend to get enthusiastic about it when I see how it might allow me to photograph certain subjects in a particular way. What is infinitely more important is simply spending time in the field.

Lunar thorn moth

Lunar thorn moth

“I like to work to assignments, mostly self-imposed, so that I always have something to motivate me. For over twenty years I have been documenting the return of otters to the Tweed river system near to my home In the Scottish Borders and a book of this has just been published. Further afield, I have spent a great deal of time on Harris, working on a major photography project for the North Harris Trust to document the landscape, wildlife, and a bit of the culture of the 66,000 acre community run estate. I don’t consider myself a writer so have published few books but I do keep detailed diaries. Working on golden eagles in the past opened up a whole new world of exciting experiences and challenges and left me with some fantastic memories.

One of my best photographs from one of several 35-hour sessions stationed in a one-metre cubed hide sited on a cliff-ledge close to the eyrie.

One of my best photographs from one of several 35-hour sessions stationed in a one-metre cubed hide sited on a cliff-ledge close to the eyrie.

“On one occasion, I had introduced a tiny, one metre-cubed hide into a native pine forest at the foot of the Cairngorms and had got inside under cover of darkness and slept overnight to be woken by a young, newly-fledged golden eagle landing on the roof. Its talons pierced the plastic tarpaulin and when it began to tear away at the heather camouflage I soon realised that there would not be enough room inside for the both of us if the roof collapsed. So from inside I had to gently nudge it off. It landed nearby, walked all around the hide then waddled of to settle on a nearby stump for a couple of hours.

“Similarly I hiked up a mountain at night to a golden eagle eyrie in Rum, with around 120 pounds of equipment on my back. Because it was such an effort, I decided that it would make sense to take a few extra provisions so that I could spend three full days in the hide. Having finally arrived and crawling into my sleeping bag I had the simple pleasure of lying, listening to the wailing noises coming from of the Manx shearwaters colonies just above me.

“A slight blip in my career was when I was commissioned by National Geographic Television to accompany the wildlife cameraman Hugh Miles on a two-month trip to the Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chile to shoot photographs to help promote a film that he was making for them about Patagonian pumas in 1996. Ironically, the only reason I travel overseas nowadays is that I get asked to speak about photographing close to home. Three years ago, I was invited to give a presentation about the wildlife in my garden by a Russian nature photographers association – in Moscow! So it seems that I’m not known as a world traveller, but that’s fine by me. In world terms, Scotland may be a small country but then it has a hugely varied landscape that has always offered more than enough to hold my attention so I’m content’.

"I regard this as a 'landmark' image from early in my career because it shows a subject photographed through out-of-focus vegetation. Just as we see them in the field."

“I regard this as a ‘landmark’ image from early in my career because it shows a subject photographed through out-of-focus vegetation. Just as we see them in the field.”

“As for the future, well any long-standing professional nature photographer will tell you that the industry has changed out of all recognition since the advent of digital photography and that it has now become very difficult make a living from it. I feel for younger photographers who must sometimes despair when they see the sheer volume of photography, particularly on the web, that is now being produced. As I see it, there will always be openings for talented new photographers that have something different to offer and developed their own recognisable style. Beyond that it comes down to the skills of picture editors and that there are still publications and organisations that appreciate the value of using quality photography.”


Red grouse

Red grouse


Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) in snowy conditions,

Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) in snowy conditions,




Otter underwater

Otter underwater

Atlantic salmon

Atlantic salmon



Posted in Birds, photography | Tagged , , , , , ,

Wonderful Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve

Today we feature a guest blog from Tom Cunningham our Reserve Manager at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. Tom has worked at Tentsmuir for 17 years and few people know the reserve as well as our popular warden. Here he talks us through what makes the wonderful mix of sands and forests such a special place for wildlife and people alike, and invites you to come along and see for yourself.

Aerial view of Tentsmuir NNR

Aerial view of Tentsmuir NNR

“Things are seldom static at Tentsmuir and whilst I shouldn’t be surprised any more I am still taken aback, time to time, by the sheer power of natural forces. This year it has been the winter and spring storms sculpting the Tentsmuir Point dunes that has been breath-taking.

“I was stunned when massive areas of dunes, and well developed dunes at that, just disappeared earlier this year. Some of the highest dunes along the north east corner of Tentsmuir Point have been eroded and completely washed away.

“Much of the developing bay area, the saltmarsh with its vast green mat of glasswort, with the fringes of sea sandwort and saltwort, is gone. It leaves you speechless at how fragile and vulnerable the dunes are, and with the power of the sea and wind.

Sea eagle

Sea eagle

“At the moment the stunning white-tailed eagles and ospreys are regularly observed throughout the Reserve and forest. A few of the other species that catch the eye include the beautiful plovers … ringed plover, golden plover and grey plover. The return of the skylarks is always a joy to behold, swallows fill the sky, and we can also enjoy greenshank, redshank, sandwich terns and gannets. At Morton Lochs visitors have been catching a glimpse of the kingfisher, red squirrels and the otter.



“Engaging with people is a big part of my role at Tentsmuir. On July 3rd we have a family day out that we are badging as ‘Happy 60th Birthday Tentsmuir Point’. Starting at 1pm the event will be based around Homecoming Scotland 2014 & Scotland’s Big 5. However, we will have our own ‘Tentsmuir’ spin on the various species.


“The new-style shorter activity sessions will continue, so I’d suggest that if you come along you cram as many of the activities in as possible and learn all about the flora and fauna and what goes on in the Reserve. There may be a moment or two to wait after one activity ends and the next one begins, but come and enjoy, learn and try several different ones. Each activity will last 20 to 30 minutes; you finish one and then move onto the next one.

“So far the activities include;

  • Art wonders with David Mitchell
  • Treasure bug hunt with Elspeth & Sarah
  • Make Diamond Dreams dream catchers with Kathryn Green
  • Make Bug Hotels with Willie and Ali
  • Learn all about the white-tailed sea eagles with RSPB officer Sophie Eastwood
  • The Time Capsule with Alex & Iain
  • A mystery activity with Dave & Gavin


I would advise that you book early to avoid disappointment. With the exception of the £2 charge for the car park, it’s all free! (It’s now £2 at the barrier, please have change ready.) If you can’t make it along to the above don’t despair. We have other events in the pipeline too and work with our colleagues in Forestry Commission Scotland to deliver these. Here’s a sample of what’s on the horizon:

Thursday, 24 July 2014: Explorer Day.

Activities include: Geocaching Trail, Crafty Corner, Puppeteers & Colouring In.

Thursday, 31 July 2014: Habitat Day & the Big 5.

Activities include: Lisa’s Crafty Corner, Nature Dials and Build a Bug Hotel.

Thursday, 7 August 2014: Homecoming Scotland – The return of the eagle.

Activities include: Return of the Eagle with the RSPB Sophie Eastwood. Quiz trail and  Crafty Corner.

“If you are interested in coming along to any of the above just leave me your details on the following telephone answer machine. 01382-553704 or email me directly at:

“Do make time to come along to Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve … you won’t regret it and rather like watching my beloved Raith Rovers you can expect the unexpected from time to time.”


Find out more about Tentsmuir NNR

Enjoy our Tentsmuir video 

Events at Tentsmuir and our other NNRs here –

Morton Lochs was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1952, and was the second to be declared in the UK. Tentsmuir Point was designated an NNR in 1954 the third to be designated in the UK. In 2006 they were joined together to make the Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve.


Image credits: Aerial view – © Photo-Aerial Photography Solutions, sea eagle – © Peter Cairns/2020VISION, all others – © Lorne Gill/SNH

Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , , ,

Laurie Campbell

Today’s blog features one of Scotland’s leading natural history photographers – Laurie Campbell.  His award-winning photographs regularly appear in magazines, books, exhibitions and displays. With an impressive array of photography awards to his name it is interesting to note that he works almost exclusively in Scotland, and remains as keen on the commonplace as the spectacular species.


"A recent photograph. Taken primarily to illustrate and share my excitement of having nightly visits of badgers to my office door."

“A recent photograph. Taken primarily to illustrate and share my excitement of having nightly visits of badgers to my office door.”

From as far back into his childhood as he can remember, Laurie was captivated by wildlife. As he got older he was able to explore the wider countryside that surrounded his home town of Berwick-upon-Tweed in the Scottish Borders where he began to improvise all sorts of hides to get closer to the wildlife that fascinated him.

Somehow just telling friends and family about his encounters afterwards wasn’t enough so he looked towards photography as a means of sharing the things he saw. It was to be over a decade before he thought he might make a living from his camera; but from these humble beginnings he was to become Scotland’s first professional wildlife photographer and is still one of the best.

Laurie’s first serious camera was a 1950’s Practika SLR and he developed and printed his own black and white film. It was only when he had the opportunity of photographing a kingfisher that he realised the limitations and moved into colour.

Initially he took various jobs to subsidise his hobby and on leaving school he became a keeper at Edinburgh Zoo. He began photographing the captive animals and sold black and white prints in the Zoo shop. But he yearned to photograph wild subjects where he could be truly honest in what he portrayed.

"I obtain just as much satisfaction from photographing common, everyday subjects such as this grass as compared to rare and elusive ones."

“I obtain just as much satisfaction from photographing common, everyday subjects such as this grass as compared to rare and elusive ones.”

Although he enjoyed his job, Laurie decided to become a professional nature photographer after a couple of years.

“I felt I could do more for conservation by photographing wildlife,” explained Laurie, “and I’d noticed that the wildlife most people encounter is through the media, such as on television and photographs published in books and magazines etc. So I undertook a four-year degree course in photography at Napier College in Edinburgh. They had never had a ‘wannabe’ nature photographer before but I managed to twist many of the assignments to suit my interest in the natural world.

“The course did not just teach me the technical side but about the aesthetics too. This is just as important. When you are out in the countryside there is a danger of ending up simply shooting ‘record shots’ of different species that all look much the same. But I am just as interested in the shapes, forms and of course lighting is all important. I’ve learnt to cope with just about any weather conditions and try equally to photograph subjects in the landscape, or when it allows, in close up and sometimes as part of an abstract composition. In fact there are an infinite number of ways of photographing any one subject.

An otter eating an eel ... "this shot was taken on a river I've known all my life and where for decades there were no otters. We need more good news stories like this.

An otter eating an eel … “This shot was taken on a river I’ve known all my life and where for decades there were no otters. We need more good news stories like this.

“I am also very keen on photographing animal behaviour whenever possible. Gone are the days when the limitation of large format cameras restricted you to working from hides at nests when photographing birds for example. All the portraits have now been taken and these days there is expectation that nature photographers will come up with a fresh approach. And this need not involve photographing rare or unusual subjects, in fact I regard photographing common, everyday subjects as a challenge simply because I want to present them in a way that will make people sit-up and pay more attention to them.

Eiders. Deliberatly photographed with a slow shutter speed on the camera to record the movement of these birds as a 'motion blur'.

Eiders. Deliberately photographed with a slow shutter speed on the camera to record the movement of these birds as a ‘motion blur’.

“Another advantage of working with common subjects is that you can have repeated, reliable contact with them and it is this that allows you to explore ideas you may have for photographing them in depth. People can relate to common subjects more easily too, and think that they could just as easily do that.”

Being a lifelong, self-taught naturalist has given Laurie a deep appreciation of different habitats and he has strived to document all aspects of nature.

“I have more photographs of plants than every other subject put together”, he notes, “and even when I’m looking for a particular bird or mammal, I’ll still go into the field equipped to photograph just about anything else I discover. I’ve learned to be very selective and to ‘cherry-pick’ the best opportunities, regardless of whether or not it is the subject that I set off to photograph. I’m easily distracted but then being a generalist and receptive to all aspects of the natural world helps me appreciate how whole habitats work.

"Taken at daybreak near the village I live in. This is a site where I first stated seeing the return of otters to the Tweed river system over twenty years ago."

“Taken at daybreak near the village I live in. This is a site where I first started seeing the return of otters to the Tweed river system over twenty years ago.”

“I now have over 160,000 pictures in my archive but there are still many many gaps. I would love to do more work on cetaceans for instance. But it just comes down to time and nature photographers don’t get to spend as much of that in the field as many might imagine. An ongoing priority is to scan and digitise as many of the key photographs that I previously shot on slide film as I can. I regard many of these as ‘landmark’ images taken throughout my career and besides, some are of subjects and behaviour that I may never see or have the chance to photograph again.

“I resisted going digital for too long when it happened. At first the quality was really only adequate for press photography but glossy magazines still demanded a resolution that early digital cameras could not match. It was only when cameras of ten or more megapixels arrived that digital surpassed film.    …

 (We will complete the story of Laurie’s fascinating career with a second blog in a few days time)

Bank vole

Bank vole




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