Monday 26 February 2024


There are so many horrors in the world right now that I badly need some mental medication and one way of recovering is to remember some of the inspiring natural beauty I've enjoyed around the world.

Having been privileged to visit some remarkable places during my sixty years making wildlife films, and even though concentrating behind a film camera, my basic happy-snapper clicks away when time allows.

Choosing the first place to visit in my 'Carlsberg Beauty' idea is easy because the Andes Mountains in Patagonia are so stunning, especially in the Torres del Paine National Park. I was lucky to camp here in the wilds with my assistant and good friend Donaldo Maciver on and off for more than two years. Donny was a gaucho from Argentina, well versed in the challenges of surviving in the wilds and a great companion, though n
ow most sadly departed. 


Our task was to try to make a first ever film on pumas for National Geographic television. Pumas are also called mountain lions or cougars in North America and the adventure with these big cats was as memorable as life gets, for even finding them was a relentless though rewarding challenge. 


Ruthlessly persecuted by the gauchos, these pumas were terrified of humans and during the first few weeks, they simply fled on even sensing our presence and despite being protected by law, the local gauchos infiltrated the National Park while we were filming and shot at least three pumas. So it took me four months to try to befriend and eventually win the trust of just one cat, this beautiful lady we called Penny.  After several more months of tense relationship building, she allowed me the privilege of following her around the mountains while she looked for prey.

I was writing a book about her adventures and as I’m not a good enough stills photographer, I asked my good friend and ace photographer, Laurie Campbell to join me in Chile and take some proper pictures of her. So these beautiful pics of Penny are Laurie’s work and though several of the pics of the park and scenery are mine, the good ones are Laurie's! We had a great few weeks out there together, trying to find the cats and do justice to this stunning place, so I should crack on and finish writing that book.

Mountain lions are notorious in the Americas for killing one or two people each year, so I hoped that when she looked at me like this, she wasn’t thinking ‘dinner’!

In fact, soon after I had finished my film in Torres del Paine National Park, a fisherman was killed down by the lake where I had been filming and if it had happened while I was there, I certainly wouldn’t have been following her around in the middle of the night!

On one occasion, I was filming her eating a kill when the moon became hidden behind thick clouds, and as there was no light for my special lens, I curled up in the heather to catch some sleep. But curiosity got the better of her and she crept up to sniff my head. She gave me a hell of a fright and I certainly didn’t risk that nightmare again, so sat on a stool instead!

The bond of trust we had between us was remarkable, for she was relaxed enough to allow me to follow her as she hunted and when resting in the sun,
 I was allowed to sit quietly by my camera just a few yards away. She would even curl up to sleep .

Even though pumas are the star attraction in the park, there are many more critters, some of which are on the big cats menu, the most notable being the guanaco, the direct ancestors of lamas and surprisingly perhaps, also related to the African camels before the continents separated.

They are formidable animals, tall and muscular and weigh twice that of pumas, so hanging onto them when and if they catch hold of one is a dangerous mission and can lead to injury. 

Success is hard earned and one in maybe eight attempts a winner but once achieved, they provide a meal for several days, or a lot less when Penny had two cubs to feed.

Worse still, she had competition from the numerous Andean Condors, so had to be careful to cover the carcass before dawn to hide it from preying eyes. I was lucky to film her scraping paw fulls of vegetation for twenty minutes or so while the cubs played rugby scrum wrestling until she had covered the carcass. They then took an interest in my huddled form and it was slightly alarming sitting there in the dark surrounded by three large cats looking intently at a slightly nervous me! They would leave as dawn approached and if she hadn't done a good enough job, the condors would devour several days of cat food in a few hours.

The ostrich like rhea is also on her menu, foxes too if they aren't quick enough when scavenging her kills, and foxes never missing an opportunity for a meal, they learnt to hang around camp for scraps. Taming them was easy, dog biscuits being very welcome, though little bits of cheese were so desirable that I had them eating off my knee.

They dug an earth close to our camp, their 'supermarket', so Laurie was able to set up a hide and photograph the charming little cubs.

All this was unfolding among this stunning scenery, come rain, snow or shine … or storms. These 'lenticular' clouds are whipped up by the cold from the largest glacier in South America, hidden just behind the 
mountains. They create wind ... and I mean WIND, so fierce that it has blown roofs off hotels, rolled Land Rovers and lifted water off lakes into the mountains. There is a famous saying ‘that if you want to see Patagonia, you just stand still and it will all blow past you’!

Missing Sue and our two children at home, I would always go home for important occasions, especially Christmas, so I was away from Penny for a few weeks. Then upon returning, and despite not seeing me for a while, she walked up and greeted me with a meow. It was unforgettable because that trust, even affection between human and wild animal is as good as life gets, especially if you’re a wildlife film-maker. 
      Even now, remembering that moment brings tears to my eyes.

And there’s a happy ending to this adventure, for our film was so admired by the local hotels and lodges in the National Park that on rainy days, they would show it to their guests. And when visiting six years later for a holiday with my soul mate Robin Pratt to celebrate my sixtieth birthday, I was recognised by the staff and my brief moment of fame resulted in gifts of food and wine. 

What kind folk the Chileans are, especially those in our  hosteria on this beautiful lakeside island, with views to die for.

I had known Robin since my teenage years at school, for he and his two sisters lived up in the remote hills of central Wales 
and their love of wildlife was an inspiration, so I spent memorable holidays with the family, walking the hills looking for red kites. 

They were very rare then, down to just a few pairs, so their recovery is a remarkable good news story.

Robin became RSPB warden on Ramsey Island and when not mending stone walls, we'd dive among the seals for lobsters and count choughs. Robin met and married Judy and they raised three daughters on Ramsey, farming red deer on the island until school dictated a move to the mainland, and in case you're wondering where this story is going, he started breeding guanacos in Wales and it became the largest such farm in Europe. His visit to Chile with me to study the Park's guanacos helped him to understand their complex behaviour and his herd grew to about two hundred and fifty, providing some of the finest wool scarves in the world. Guanaco fleece is wonderfully warm - and they need it!

And there's another happy ending to our filming because I'm told by our friends in Chile that, because of the film, it didn’t take long for the estancia owners to realise that tourists were worth more dollars than sheep, so stopped killing the pumas and provided 'home stays' on their estancias so their tourists could enjoy watching wildlife, with pumas the star attraction. Since then, all the wildlife has flourished, there’s many more pumas now and they’ve become so tame that large film crews can stand among the big cats and are ignored, even with drones flying over the cats heads.

The resulting films of these beautiful big cats and their hunting and family life are truly remarkable, not least the recent Attenborough series on the BBC called ‘Dynasties’. So it’s a win, win result, our pioneering film not only saving pumas but proving that wildlife on television can indeed have a positive effect on our natural world and its' wildlife. 

So some good news instead of bad. Excellent!

And if you still need some more beautiful photography for happiness medication and would like to admire more of Laurie Campbell's lovely images, you can visit his website. 

There's hundreds of stunners ... and he's illustrated and written many lovely books such as ' Otters - Return to the river', 'Highlands - Scotland's Wild Heart' and 'Golden Eagles', even contributing to one of mine, 'The Great Wood of Caledon'.

I have other friends who are 'Carlsberg' photographers, so I'll  add some more of my stories from the wilds and from some great cities too when time allows. So watch this space and enjoy the spring beauty out in the fresh air.

Monday 4 December 2023




'The wonder of  the world  

The beauty and the power  

The shapes of things

Their colours, lights and  shades 

These I saw

Look ye also while life lasts'


Those evocative words, carved on a gravestone and written by an unknown author, encourage us to observe the wild places and wildlife that surrounds us. They also imply the need to nurture as best we can. 

So when two of my close friends died, I was asked to provide a eulogy and these words, spoken with a tear in my eyes, perfectly described what they had achieved throughout their lives. They were both champions of the need to save our world.


Autumn can be a moment for reflection, remembering those who’ve left us for a more peaceful world and there’s no finer time to remember them than this season, when the countryside becomes a kaleidoscope of colour, a celebration of the past, the present and the future. 

Every year, Sue and I marvel at the glorious colours that our garden  provides and though we had to wait a while for the show to start this year, our patch is as beautiful as ever. 

We’re always blown away by the explosion of colour and as sharing is a vital part of our life, I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with yet another pictorial celebration of this magical season. 

All these happy snaps have been taken within the last three weeks and we're becoming increasingly aware that there are so many more seasonal overlaps in our plants now, so we're assuming this must be reflecting our changing climate. I won’t use those ‘climate crisis’ words as it sounds like bad news and with all the madness going on in the world right now, we’d rather not be reminded. 

We treat our two acre garden as a sanctuary, for both us and our wildlife, the birds, butterflies and bees, the fish in our ponds and the dazzling dragonflies and damsels, the grass snakes and foxes. It's a refuge for us too, an escape from the ever more crowded life outside. So enjoying our garden in all it's seasons provides a welcome relief. 

It was my boyhood hero Sir Peter Scott who said “The most effective way to save the natural world is to cause people to fall in love with it again."  And by loving our gardens and caring for its huge variety of animals and plants, each one of us is doing our bit to save the planet.

Of course, we have to thank the Plant Hunters of old for the huge variety of colour that we enjoy today and surprisingly, even in 2,000 BC, the Pharaohs were collecting plants.

The artisans who painted the Pharaohs tombs had their own small tombs and would paint the walls with pictures of useful plants to take with them to the after life. I filmed some of them for the BBC in the '60's but this picture isn't a good example of their simple beauty.

Alexander the Great’s expeditions established the ‘Silk Roads’ to the Far East and we probably have him to thank for some of our glorious maples.

Aristotle’s collecting even led to the establishment of botanical gardens, so places like Kew and the RHS have long roots.

The famous expedition of Lewis and Clark in 1804 to’06, travelled from St.Louis across America through native American lands to the Pacific Coast, and back. They collected plants and artifacts while ostensibly looking for the legendary North West Passage and all this was an eye opener to the world.
They were exploring a new frontier and were helped by local Indians while collecting yet more colourful and interesting plants.

And maybe it was them who brought Calacarpa, the American ‘beauty berry’ to our shores. The purple berries are loved by birds, thus distributing the seeds, and we wish they’d do this more often as it looks so exotic in our sunny Dorset garden.







The genus name of mahonias derives from one of the plant collections from the Lewis and Clark expedition and it’s one of the earliest flowers to appear in the growing season. But ours are coming out earlier each year and we wonder if our invertebrates can adapt quickly enough. This was photographed in early November and surely indicates a changing climate? The berries look tasty and the bees appreciate them in the early spring but I can’t remember ever seeing a blackbird tucking in, maybe because if we eat them, it makes us throw up! 

Witch-hazel [or hamamelis if you want me to be smart,] also originates in America but one species is from Japan and one from china [h.mollis]. We have Wikipedia to thank for assuring us that the name doesn’t mean it’s a practitioner of magic but means ‘pliant’ and ‘bendable’. It can though be made into a cream to treat nappy rash!

I do enjoy learning where our garden plants originate as it reminds me of filming expeditions to far off lands and though rhododendrons aren’t in flower this month, many of the cultivated varieties we have in our garden come from the Himalayas, this one photographed on a high pass as I climbed my way up towards Everest.

I love our beautiful fuchsias because my Gran grew lots when I was a child and I vividly remember their exotic colours. They are natives of Central and South America, even as far south as Tierra del Fuego, thriving in the cool temperate climate. Their colours attract hummingbirds that pollinate them. 


The little birds whizzed about the Torres del Paine National Park in the high Andes while I filmed mountain lions but I never had time to snap them as they flew by too rapidly.

Another of our garden treasures are hydrangias, a genus of more than seventy species, native to the Americas and particularly to China, Korea and Japan. They flowered well into autumn this year and we love their range of colours.

They are pink when growing in alkaline soil and blue in acidic earth and luckily we have pockets of both, so they thrive in our damp and birch shaded garden. 

So too our autumn joy, the Japanese maples, developed over centuries of breeding, their fine tracery of spreading branches, some weeping or cascading, others with finely divided and lacey foliage are always a delight.

Adding to our collection is dangerously addictive but luckily we’ve virtually run out of space, so our piggy bank doesn’t suffer like it used to. 

We have our local nursery to thank for our enjoyment each year, Barthelemy & Co., close to Wimborne. They supplied our beautiful collection and they grow taller and more colourful every year,  reaching for the sky between the birch trees.

They were late providing our firework display this year but in the end they delivered in spades. Do you like our kitchen window display?

Sue and I do hope you have a wild Christmas and that the new year is kind to you all. We’re praying that all our wildlife survives and hoping that the delegates at Cop28 do the right thing and make meaningful attempts to start saving our planet, before it’s too late. 


There are so many alarming indications of climate change, even in our garden, with salvias still in full flower in late November. The bees are pleased, but shouldn't they be hidden away now?


And while thinking about our changing climate, how about our summer flowering pond side iris, frosted but still in flower on Dec.1st, the first official day of winter. The colours are a joy but I’m off to find my thermals. It's snowing now too.