Behind the Lens with Tom Lee

12 February 2019 | Posted in Emma Chaplin , wildlife photography
Behind the Lens with Tom Lee
Cuckoo Old Lodge (c) Tom Lee

It wasn't until I came to Sussex in 1989 that I really took up an interest in photography and local wildlife. 

As a boy, I took slides with a little Ilford Sportsman camera. My father was a keen photographer, so was my grandfather. He was wounded at the Somme, and took photos in London in the 1920s as he coped with the aftermath of the Great War. His photographs are now in the archives of the Museum of London. 

Silver studded blue 16 Jul 2016 138

After retiring six year ago I've had the time to explore Sussex wildlife in depth. We have badgers and foxes in our garden and each year they bring their young, which is magical to watch. We spend so much on bird (and squirrel!) food that we've dubbed our garden The Wildlife Cafe. A trail cam helps me keep up with the nocturnal activities and it is fascinating to see the interaction between the badgers, foxes and local cats. So long as I am still and quiet, the camera shutter and flash doesn't phase them. 

In 2018, during the 'Beast From The East', I caught a lot of fieldfares, mistle thrushes, redwings and other species competing for food, passing through on their spring migration home. At one stage we had four mistle thrushes (the bosses of the thrush world) competing for apples. Several moments were shown on BBC's Springwatch.

Old Lodge

When I first stepped through the gate of Old Lodge Reserve in Ashdown Forest, I was transported into another world. I could hear cuckoos calling, birds I'd always wanted to see. I became a regular visitor. I'd never seen so many dragonflies and damselflies. I was thrilled to see my first golden ringed dragonfly and stonechat. The redstarts were so exotic. Over the years I have seen so much wildllife there, including ring ouzels, redwings, flocks of fieldfare, woodpeckers, buzzard, swallow, tree pipit, woodlark. 

Emperor dragonfly Old Lodge 30 May 2015 057

One of my three grandchildren, Aidan, shares my interest in wildlife. Our first outing at Old Lodge was early evening, and we saw a great spotted woodpecker nest, complete with chicks and feeding parents. He often spots things that would have passed me by.

Aidan First nature walk Old Lodge 19 Jun 2013 142

I found I was visiting Old Lodge so often that I had to join the Sussex Wildlife Trust and will remain a member now for ever. Through the Trust, I've discovered other reserves and places, although Old Lodge is my spiritual home. We also love Rye Harbour Nature Reserve although it takes a little more planning to get there from Crowborough. There is always something different to see as the seasons change, especially at migration times.

Malling Down is another regular haunt in the summer as the butterflies are so prolific. Searching for the first Adonis blues of the year is special, even if the steep valleys take a toll on my aging knees.

Adonis Blues Malling Down 16 May 2017 310

I'm often asked which camera I use. Well, a wise man once said that "Cameras don't take pictures, people do" and I think it's hard to find a bad digital camera these days. I now own a Nikon D810 and use a Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens for wildlife. Much of my equipment is second hand. I attended one of David Plummer's photography weekend courses at Woods Mill and found that to be really helpful.

 Minotaur Beetle Old Lodge 13 Oct 2016

See more of Tom's photos when he takes over the Sussex Wildlife Trust Instagram account from 12 - 19 February 2019.


  • 10 Feb 2019 09:14:00

    I really enjoyed your interview, Tom. Good to see your words and photos on here.

  • 13 Feb 2019 15:52:00

    Thanks Alan. We’re lucky to live in such a wonderful part of the world.

Leave a comment