League professional Investigator's seven top tips for wildlife watching
Wildlife watching and photography have always been a big part of my life. It began when I was a boy; I was lucky enough to have been born in a remote cottage on the Exmoor coast at Porlock. My playground was pristine deciduous woodland where I encountered many woodland animals. My mother worked for a kind lady who gave me a camera and sparked my passion for photography.
That passion continues to this day. I live near Exmoor and there’s always a lot going on down here, but one particularly special event is the birth of the fox cubs in spring. In a year of lockdowns and furloughs it gave me immense joy to visit some known areas and earths to try and find where mum might be hiding with her cubs.
I set up a camera in an active spot near one of the League’s sanctuaries and was thrilled to spot a vixen and four cubs. It brought me so much joy to see them playing together.
I wish they could know how much happiness they brought me. But they couldn’t see me, and that was the point. Not disturbing animals is a must when photographing them, and that’s something I know a lot about as a professional investigator.
That’s why I’m here to share my top seven tips for watching and photographing wildlife.
- Mask your smell
Your biggest challenge is scent and without care the wind direction will carry your human aroma and alert the animal of your presence. Wear an old and unwashed coat and when you’re out with your camera, plan your route so you’re approaching into the wind.
- Don’t bring your dog
Leave your beloved four-legged friend at home. Wildlife photography and dogs do not mix unless your subject is not truly wild; for example, a rescue animal that has had experience with dogs.
- Wear dark clothing or at least wear gloves.
Camouflage is ideal; my fellow professional investigators and I will never attend a stakeout without it. However, it is your movement, and specifically your face and hands, that will give you away. So even if you don’t have camouflage, be sure to wear gloves and a face covering. These simple items will greatly reduce the likelihood of being spotted by the wonderful wildlife you’re trying not to disturb.
- Move with stealth
Sudden movements are exactly what wild animals have evolved to spot and flee from. When you go out looking for them, keep your movements slow and steady and choose your footwear carefully. Remember the top wildlife photographers in the world go barefoot in the jungle! You should aim to be equally silent, if you can.
- Check your permissions
Make sure you have permission to be where you are. For example, human disturbance is controlled on League sanctuaries and wildlife benefits so much from this measure. So make sure you plan your route to avoid trespassing.
- Be respectful and conservation-minded at all times
Wildlife photography can go two ways; it can be hugely beneficial, or so damaging that it leads to stress, negatively affects breeding success and in extreme cases pushes a nervous animal from conservation land to just over a border, where hunters’ bullets are waiting. Make sure you put animals first in every interaction you have with them.
- If you are publishing your images, think about where they will be used
You never know who might use images you post online. Many years ago, a professional wildlife photographer came to Baronsdown (our flagship wildlife sanctuary) to photograph local stags. We assisted in every way we could and a few weeks later, I was horrified to see that the hunting magazine ‘The Field’ had decided to use his photo on the front cover. Don’t help the hunters with your images; help the animals.
I am indebted to the wildlife that gets me out in our wonderful countryside and I’m honoured to work for the League, protecting animals from the horrors of hunting and bringing perpetrators to justice.
If you would like to support me and the crucial work our professional investigations team does to protect animals, please consider donating: