Most of us know Simon from the shows he’s fronted such as Springwatch, Autumnwatch and The Big Cat Diary. And as an accomplished filmmaker, he’s also been behind some of the most spellbinding shots of animals in action for the likes of Life of Mammals, Planet Earth and The Blue Planet.
But, Simon is just as happy pointing a camera at a blue whale as he is peering through his binoculars at goldfinches in his Somerset hide, which is exactly what he's doing when we call.
“My favourite thing about my job is getting to know an animal so intimately that you can say ‘I think you’re going to be at this place at roughly this time, doing this’ and suddenly it starts to work. And that could be on the coast of Patagonia filming a whale catch a sea lion pup, like I did for Blue Planet, or in my backyard watching a barn owl land on a perch. There’s an adrenaline rush working with a big predator, but I get the same thrill watching an otter in Scotland or looking at gannets diving for fish off the coast. There are many beautiful things to see.”
It’s this lifelong devotion to all creatures great and small – as a child he proudly announced to his parents that he wanted to be an elephant when he grew up – that gave Simon the drive behind his latest two projects.
First there's his book, Simon King’s Nature Watch, which gives people the tools to look for and identify British wildlife for themselves. Then there’s The Simon King Wildlife Project, a conservation scheme run in his 10-acre plot in Somerset, designed to enrich the environment, protect species and make people potty about nature.
“Originally, the ten-acre plot was three impoverished agricultural pasture fields, with very little natural life. Then we took over and made it a wildlife haven with ponds, meadows and hundreds of trees. Since then, we’ve seen a fantastic change in the amount of species visiting this area.
“Just a couple of months ago I looked out over the meadow in the morning and saw a barn owl hunting, a kingfisher perched by the lake, dragonflies coursing across the water and butterflies dancing on flower heads – all happening in one moment – but it struck me that five years ago, none of this was here at all.
“It’s a beautiful illustration of how rapidly and dramatically you can make a profound, positive difference to the natural world just by changing the way land is used.”
As well as attracting schoolchildren and nature enthusiasts, Simon’s world can also be enjoyed from the comfort of a sofa, thanks to the hundreds of live cameras set up around the site and streamed to his website, following every birth, death, feast and snooze of his newfound neighbours. You can check in on the kingfisher family or make sure the harvest mice are still fast asleep from your living room at any time (visit www.simonkingwildlife.com/page/live-cams).
“It’s important to engage people in the natural world that’s free to enjoy, especially given 56 per cent of our species have declined over the last 50 years. It’s sad that my nine-year-old daughter doesn’t know that cuckoos come out in spring because they’re so rare. I just want to try to make a difference.”
To find out more about Simon’s Wildlife Project, and how to donate, call 0788 406 0722 or visit www.simonkingwildlife.com
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