Where did it all start?
So it’s nearly here. The fourth title in the British Wildlife Tales series – What’s that Coming Over the Hill?
It’s another book that has been inspired by my own life – specifically my time in the mountains. If you’re like me, you’ll have your eyes in the skies, on the horizon, on the ground in front of you and everywhere else besides. I blame my dad, and my primary school teacher, Mr. Parkin. You see, they forced it upon me. They planted it in my brain. They gave me an irreversible gift.
The gift of wildlife.
From a couple of years after I could walk, I think it was about then, maybe it was earlier. But from around then, I have been unable to ignore the animals, insects, birds and… well… everything else that makes its home in my surroundings. Whenever I go walking, regardless of who it is with, whether they’re wildlife nuts or not, I can not shut up about everything that moves that isn’t mechanical, or domestic (well occasionally the domestic stuff too!). “Look, there’s a song thrush”, “Listen… a chiffchaff!” – I’m insufferable to walk with. Surely?
Well, not always!
Sometimes people are quite interested, in fact, most of the time people want me to show them more. To teach them how to recognise the sounds, the shapes, the movement. To give them the gift that my dad and my teacher gave me when I was just a little lad. When they ask me to do this, it's like giving me a Christmas present! I love sharing what I know about identifying wildlife. I just love it. Don't get me wrong - I'm not an expert. I'm an enthusiast, an interested party, a wannabe. But often, as I explain how simple it is to know there's a green woodpecker nearby without seeing it, I watch people’s faces as things start to click. Their first yellowhammer, their first red kite – maybe a name for a wildflower they’ve seen a thousand times before but not actually taken notice of. Their eyes widen, and their mouth might falls open, if only just a little.
It's at that point that they feel like they've just had the door of the wardrobe opened and they've been let into Narnia. A new world which was right there, waiting for the handle to be turned, but the opportunity had yet to be taken.
There’s no going back though. You can’t unknow this stuff, not ordinarily. It’s there – forever. And when you walk out of doors after someone has shown you the light like this, the world is never ever the same. The gift is with you in the woods, the fields, the streets, and in the mountains.
That brings me round to what started me making the British Wildlife Tales books. I wanted to infect my own children with the bug. I wanted to teach THEM how to recognise the birds at the bottom of our garden. The birds down the lane, and the creatures in the wood pile. So I started to draw really simple pictures, basic drawings – not brilliant illustrations but very simple, diagram-like pictures that just feature the most identifiable colours and features of some of the things they might see when they were outside. And then I put some words to the pictures – words that describe how the birds behaved, how they flew about and the noises they made. I wanted to add something to help with the learning, without the little ones even realising that they were learning.
Then I thought – how can I get them to really want to go outside and take an interest in learning to find what they’ve read about?
I added a checklist.
A little list which would encourage my children to get out side and find all of the birds – every last one. And they’d want more, wouldn’t they! There are more than ten birds out there – way more. About twenty-odd times more birds than that. And then there are the ant lions, tiger moths, and woolly bears, oh my! Thousands and thousands of different species to learn about, to discover… to be amazed by!
Where would it end? Well, it doesn’t have to. I’ve covered just 40 species in the four books I’ve written so far – and there's still a lifetime and more left to explore without leaving the British Isles!
But it’s not about covering them all, it’s about planting a seed and getting it to grow… about getting them in the zone and tooling them up for a life of taking notice.