How is lockdown going?
We’re fortunate to live in a nice village (Barcombe) and have a reasonably-sized garden, so it's not been too onerous, especially in the warm weather. I’ve managed to go for early morning local walks when bird song is really lively, the light is great for photography and few people are about. I’ve missed the spring bird migration along the coast but hopefully there will be other years.
You’ve been keeping a diary…
It’s probably more an illustrated set of wildlife observations than a diary. I’ve always appreciated descriptions of local wildlife written in centuries past as it gives you a real flavour for what a given area was like at that time. It would be nice to think that, in 50-100 years, my contribution might also be of interest to someone living in the village.
By closely watching the garden every day, you really get a feel for what wildlife is visiting it. You almost start to know every individual bird by name after six weeks. Most importantly, it takes your mind away from the news for a while.
What has been really nice is the much reduced traffic and aeroplane noise, especially at night when we can hear Nightingale song – magical on calm, moonlit nights.
Has anything unexpected happened in your garden in that time?
Perhaps the most unexpected event was a male Sparrowhawk dispatching and eating a Collared Dove in our driveway. It was an amazing opportunity to see the hawk at close quarters but the demise of the dove was sad as it was probably one I’d been watching in the garden a day or two previously.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’ve lived in Barcombe for 21 years now, so a little way to go before being counted as a local. I was born and brought up on the Isle of Wight where, at the age of 12, I developed a life-long interest in bird-watching. After studying in Exeter and Aberystwyth, I worked for a Lincolnshire seed company before moving to Sussex in 1981 to work on long-term seed storage for conservation at Wakehurst Place (part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). I was part of the team that set up the Millennium Seed Bank there. I retired in 2014.
Tell us about your involvement with Sussex Wildlife Trust
I had been a member of the Trust for several years before retirement, at which point I was asked to consider applying to be a trustee. Being passionate about wildlife and the pressures I’d seen it was facing in the county, I didn’t need much persuading and joined the Board in 2015. I took on the role of Honorary Secretary in 2019 and also sit on the Conservation Committee. Sussex is home to exciting and important wildlife, some of which lives on Sussex Wildlife Trust’s reserves. Old Lodge and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and two of my favourites.
The Trust’s task is to protect, enhance and expand space for wildlife and encourage people to connect to it, and photography is a good way to do this. As in any organisation, the Board has its challenges (the effects of this Covid crisis being but one) but working in an excellent partnership with the CEO, staff and volunteers, we’re making good progress.
When did you become interested in photographing wildlife?
I’d tried digiscoping (photographing with a compact camera through a telescope) some years ago with mixed success but photography took off for me really in 2015 when I bought a bridge camera.
In line with many bird-watchers, I’ve found that walking around with a camera is a good way to document sightings and you can also relive enjoyable events months later no matter how poor the photos. Digital cameras have revolutionised the recording of natural history. You can snap then keep or discard at will – in fact, I’ve developed something like a 50 a day habit which I’m not sure is that healthy!
Once on the screen, there is the opportunity to study the image in detail which is particularly useful for insects. With the online resources and help available now, identification has never been easier. So it is documentation first, artistry, if possible (and I’m learning all the time), second.
What equipment do you use, in brief?
I use a Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera – now nearly five years old. You can’t achieve the image quality or consistency of a DSLR camera, but then it is both portable, versatile and a fraction of the price. Carrying binoculars, and also sometimes a telescope, camera portability is an important factor. It also has a good viewfinder which is essential when following birds in flight, and is reasonably splash- and dust-proof.
What do you find most challenging?
Photographing plants can be surprisingly difficult even though they don’t run or fly away. Getting the subject plant to stand out from the surrounding vegetation is a skill I’ve yet to master.
What do you most enjoy?
I particularly enjoy photographing dragonflies and have learnt a lot about them by doing so.
What’s your favourite photo and why?
Perhaps the adult Grey Heron photographed in September 2018, not far from where I live. I like its reflection in the water and the mix of colours.
Click here to see six weeks of garden observations that Simon posted on the Barcombe Parish Council website
Simon Linington by Dick Gilmore