Andrew Parkinson is a professional wildlife photographer who lives on the fringes of Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park. He has travelled widely, but it is the wildlife and wild places of Britain that is his greatest passion and he spends the majority of the year travelling to some of the UK’s most remote areas.
His clients include National Geographic, BBC Wildlife Magazine and he has won awards in some of the world’s most prestigious photographic competitions including Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the British Wildlife Photography Awards.
I grabbed him for a chat about his exploration of the UK’s chalk streams and the need to preserve them.
You recently photographed an English chalk stream and its wildlife for WWF – why do you think it’s important to protect the UK’s chalk streams and rivers?
Britain is known for its staggering diversity of habitats and environments, which support a wide variety of creatures. Chalk streams and their inhabitants are as essential to the UK landscape as our oak forests, heaths, moorlands and mountain ranges. We have a fundamental need to conserve and protect these habitats, not just for our benefit but for future generations.
As a former judge and winner in the British Wildlife Photography Awards, what do you love most about British wildlife?
I was born in England, to Welsh parents with Scottish ancestry, which gave me an appreciation for all aspects of British wildlife and the countryside. I’ve lived and worked in Derbyshire for the last 13 years, but I’ve barely scratched the surface with all its photographic possibilities. For example, lakes that I’ve visited hundreds of times can turn up new behaviour, light and experiences on every visit. Though I enjoy travelling abroad, all 6289 of the British Isles (OS number) provide everything I could ever want photographically.
You’ve travelled to some of the UK’s most remote areas to capture dramatic images of wildlife. What’s the most challenging photo you’ve taken and why?
It would probably be an image of a gannet in flight over storm-tossed seas in the Shetland Islands, taken on assignment for National Geographic magazine. The most challenging part was the logistics of getting myself into position on the cliffs. I had to move all my camping, climbing and photographic equipment over three miles of sodden moorland, along with all the food, water and supplies I’d need to live up there alone in a tent for three months.
I had to set up ropes so I could get down the 90m-cliffs safely in appalling conditions. Then I’d scramble along the base of the cliffs, over landslips, dodging falling rocks, and passing the carcasses of dead sheep that had fallen or dead gannets that had washed ashore. The tidal boulder field was the worst bit; knowing that one wrong foot placement or one boulder shift would make me a sitting duck for the incoming tide. After that, it was just a short scramble up an exposed promontory, from where I could photograph the gannets.
What’s your favourite freshwater fish, mammal or bird to photograph and why?
It’s often the case with photographers that our favourite subjects are the ones we’ve spent the most time with or know most about. Therefore, choosing just one species is tough. At present, the mammal I’m most keen to work with is the otter. This can be mystifyingly difficult because otters are such wonderfully enigmatic creatures; sometimes they’re so predictable in their behaviour but then, in the most unexpected ways, they simply vanish.
What was your most unexpected photographic experience in the UK?
I’d been camping in Hermaness National Nature Reserve, on the northern tip of the Shetland Islands, for an assignment. A prior commitment meant that I had to decamp for a short time – so I started taking my photographic equipment back to the van, followed by the food, water and climbing ropes.
On my third trip back to collect the tent, and with my camera locked in the campervan three miles away, something caught my eye in the ocean. A pod of 15 orcas – adult males, females and youngsters – were passing by, and paused right at the base of the cliffs. Though I was initially gutted about not having my camera, it was actually quite liberating to be able to just sit and watch this amazing scene.
What do you think about Kate’s blog? Leave us a comment.