Wild Film Fest Scotland

Last weekend was the first Wild Film Festival Scotland, which took place in beautiful Dumfries and Galloway. Myself and a few other Wildlife Media students were lucky enough to volunteer during the event, which involved some amazing talks and a rather fetching cobalt blue volunteer hoodie.

I headed up to Dumfries on the train and arrived mid afternoon. As I stepped onto the platform I realised what the niggling feeling I’d had was about: no pyjamas. To prevent severe embarrassment at the studio flat I was sharing with Zahrah later on, I made a quick dash up the high street then wandered down to the Theatre Royal to catch a talk from photographer Gordon Rae about his work. He told us about a trip to Churchill in the Canadian Arctic, where there were more polar bears than people, something I found incredible.

Later on was one of the festival headliners: Simon King. Excitedly, Zahrah and I joined the other volunteers and spent the next two hours hearing some extraordinary bird noises. Simon King is a real impressionist; I’d heard some of the animals he impersonated in the wild, and his versions were truly uncanny.

The next morning I headed down to the theatre for my induction, donning my hoodie and making my way to the Robert Burns Centre for my first shift. I welcomed visitors and clocked them in with the clicker, something I found more entertaining than perhaps I should. In between shifts I managed to catch a lot of films and talks, learning some amazing things about the natural world. Being at an event like Wild Film Fest with some professional naturalists made me realise just how much I still have to learn. It’s a blessing and a curse; of course I’d love to be a wildlife connoisseur overnight, but at the same time it’s exciting know how much there is still to find out.

The weather this weekend was stunning. During my lunch breaks I sat by the river and watched the goosanders dive and the mallards struggle against the current. I bumped into Cain, who told me there were otters on the river, but not while I was looking for them. The only wild otters I’ve seen were on the Isle of Carna – by the time I graduate I want to at least see them in Carlisle, where apparently the world and his mother have seen them.

Sunday night was Iolo Williams. The theatre was packed – after checking tickets and doing the headcount, I nipped up to the balcony and watched the talk with a bird’s eye view. Iolo is a great naturalist and a real entertainer. I asked him what he thought about the re-introduction of wolves in the UK, and he replied that the best place to release a pack would be the Houses of Parliament. Like all good naturalists, it was clear he had passion.

In seemingly no time the weekend and the festival were over. After a very nice bolognese at Hugo’s restaurant, we headed to the train station and made our way back to Carlisle, leaving behind a beautiful crimson sunset. It was a brief but really great weekend. Volunteering at the first ever Wild Film Fest Scotland is something I’m proud of, and hopefully next year’s will be an even bigger success.

Standing centre stage in front of one of the festival’s venues!


Here For Your Entertainment

On Friday we went on a field trip to The Lake District Wildlife Park. In Alex’s lectures we’ve been studying the behaviour of animals in captivity, so visited the park to see if we could see any of the same signs in the animals they kept there.


It hadn’t been too long since my last visit to a zoo, but maybe it was the presence of four other wildlife students that instilled different feelings in me this time. The small size of the enclosures seemed more obvious and I couldn’t help feeling uneasy as I watched the lynx pace up and down and the raptors attempt to fly off the metal perches they were tied down to. I could photograph the bald, golden and tawny eagles in vivid detail, but I knew deep down it was cheating and the photos I was taking were no different to those of hundreds of other visitors.


The reason I love photography is it captures a moment in time that cannot be exactly replicated ever again. It freezes a memory and provides a very intimate insight into the photographer’s mind. So as I stood in front of a tethered bird that couldn’t escape my camera or my gaze, I soon realised this was not how children should experience wildlife.

Ticking off birds from my wish list was part of the charm that got me interested in wildlife. It was going out, tracking a bird and watching it live its life that gave me a sense of pride. Not only had I had an adventure in the great outdoors, but I’d discovered a species I’d never seen and sometimes got photos to show for it. During my time on the Isle of Carna we attempted to track down golden eagles on a boat trip on Loch Sunart. We were extremely lucky to get a glimpse of the magnificent bird as it perched high up in the tree canopy.

Anyone with £8.95 in their pocket can go to the Lakes Wildlife Park and see a golden eagle, but where’s the fun in that? If the same children who see a captive golden eagle were to see one in the wild, I’m certain that experience would last a lot longer in their memory.


Of course, I’m just talking about British wildlife. None of us in the UK are going to see a wild red panda or lar gibbon no matter how impressive our tracking skills, so in that respect zoos offer children the chance to see what wonderful animals roam our planet. While this is all well and good – and with the rate of extinction as rapid as it is, this may soon be the only way that the next generation can see certain species in the flesh – it’s just not “wild” life. And isn’t that the point? What next, we round up indigenous tribes and keep them in pens for people to stare at? Although some zoos have done wonderful work for conservation and provide a safe place for endangered animals to live unharmed, should it be up to us to decide whether a long, captive life is better than a short, free one?


Hiding Under Toadstools

It had been way too long since Zahrah and I last went on an adventure, so on a grey, cloudy Friday morning we headed out to Kingmoor South and North nature reserves for a wander. The aim was to train our senses and become expert animal trackers. We had our hopes on finding owl pellets and maybe even the fabled “Beast of Cumbria” – I share George Monbiot’s rather pessimistic opinion on a black panther stalking sheep in the Lakes but that’s a whole other blog post.

Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)
Frothy Porecrust (Oxyporus latemarginatus)
Yellow Brain (Tremella mesenterica)

Sadly our adventure was pellet-less, but what we did find was a lot of fungi. I’ve been really interested in macro photography recently, and have subsequently been spending a lot more time crawling on the floor finding tiny things to photograph. I never realised quite how extraordinary fungi could be – so many shapes, sizes and colours. Like every naturalist I’d love to be a wild forager and have a nibble on the safe varieties, but after trying to name the ones I’d found I discovered it was dangerous territory. Take Morel (Morchella esculenta) for example, an egg-shaped cup fungus that apparently tastes wonderful. Then take its almost-twin, False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta), which can be fatal and even after careful preparation is believed to cause cancer. Nature is a cruel mistress indeed!

So we decided against finding a snack and stuck to taking photos of the fungi we found. Zahrah graciously held a branch up while I crawled underneath to photograph a group of Jelly Ears. I was mid shot when I heard “aw look at this little spider” over my head and regretted every decision I’d made getting to the Jelly Ears. The little critter was a harvestman (Opilione), and luckily he was only small so I was even brave enough to take a shot of him before he scuttled away.

Harvestman (Opilione)
Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)

We ate our lunch on a bench nestled amongst the vast oak trees, the forest floor covered in a crunchy bed of orange and brown. It was eerily quiet, even for a forest landscape. I can’t wait for the spring when the air will be alive with birdsong again. Winter has its own magic, but it can’t be denied that spring is when nature truly shines.

Brown Mottlegill (Panaeolina foenisecii)
Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)