Weekly update from Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn.

Reality TV?

Between Winterwatch and The One Show it’s been a mad couple of weeks.  But, whilst appearing on live telly and meeting famous people is great, it’s not what the rest of my life is like and it’s not what most other folks’ lives are like either.

I’ve been thinking about that gap between what appears on screen and our own reality recently and particularly in relation to wildlife programmes.  Nature filming is absolutely fantastic nowadays and I do enjoy it but, increasingly, it’s becoming what has been dubbed ‘Charles Bronson tv’ – every animal is either having sex or killing something and all in ultra close-up, super slo-mo HD.  But unless you are prepared to sit in a hide for weeks and have access to tens of thousands of pounds worth of the latest technical wizardry, your own experiences with nature won’t look like what you see on the telly.  But that doesn’t make them any less rewarding – in fact, just the opposite.

During last week I spent a lot of time talking about eagles but that’s not the same as seeing one so, come the weekend, it was off into the hills to see what was going on at the territories I monitor.  Many people think that eagle surveying involves tramping for miles over the hills but that’s often the worst thing to do – most of us look down when we walk with just the odd glance up and the chances of an eagle flying by and us seeing it in that time are slim.  Much better to get a good vantage point and sit and wait and watch – and at this time of year that means wrapping up well, several hours sat at the one spot tests even the warmest of clothing.

And sitting and watching is exactly what happens most of the time.  Over the course of 3 hours or so, an eagle might be in view for less than a minute but you have to be alert to it showing so you enter an odd state of calm and watchfulness.  And you also become hyper-aware of what else is going on – deer crossing a distant ridge, the shifting patterns of sun and clouds, a raven’s croak.  It is incredibly restful but stimulating and the precise opposite of slouching in front of the tv.

I did see several eagles over the two days – some close but mostly far off and I also got the best views I think I’ve ever had of a buzzard taking exception to an eagle and trying to see it off its patch. Here is my little video of part of the exchange – check that size difference!!  OK, it’s not going to win any awards and the quality is rubbish but it was my experience and that’s what counts for most. 

Maybe immersion in the natural world is a family trait – my wee brother (who is a landscape photographer) blogged about his own experiences recently and they can be found here.  We may have different goals when we set out but, to me, what we get out of it is very similar.

Photo by Alister Benn

Sure, spending hours looking for eagles in the Scottish Highlands is at one end of the spectrum but I get just as much pleasure from seeing what’s in the local woods.  Getting hands-on with nature is available to anyone at any time right outside your front door and it’s a lot more real than what’s on the tv!