Going wild in Guildford

Whilst we were all in full lockdown the local wildlife flourished and seemed to gain a new level of confidence. As spring and summer approached and lockdown dragged on some people used the situation to their advantage. Ben Hancock-Smith was one of those making the most of it.

It seems that whilst us humans were finding the lockdown difficult and restrictive to our normal daily routines the local wildlife was flourishing in our absence and enjoying the quieter streets, parks and rivers undisturbed.

I’ve spoken to Ben Hancock-Smith who lives in Burpham and is a keen wildlife photographer. He’s currently a pupil at George Abbot School but soon hopes to study at local Merrist Wood College to gain qualifications and experience to pursue a career in wildlife photography.

Merrist Wood is a 400-acre, multi-award winning college in Worplesdon specialising in the land-based industries, with subject areas ranging from Animal Management and Aroboriculture & Forestry to Equine Management and Wildlife & Conservation. The College is a part of the Guildford College Group along with Farnham College and Guildford College. Having seen a range of his recent pieces of work I asked Ben how he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

“As a keen wildlife photographer I always carry a camera with me on my daily exercise walks allowed by the government during this lockdown. So, by taking advantage of the limited numbers of people out during April and early May, I scanned Guildford for opportunities to capture as much nature as possible.”

So what’s your favourite animal that you’ve managed to capture with your camera this spring?

“One of my favourite animals spotted is an annual spring visitor to the area, the red legged partridge. This year I have noticed them wandering around the empty pavements and crossing the barren roads. Occasionally when people approach, they now seem tamer and pay little attention, even when getting within a couple metres of them.”

A Red Legged Partridge strutting his stuff on Burnett Avenue.

A Common Tern preparing to dive at Britten’s Pond.

A cormorant photographed at the Nature Reserve.

So where have you managed to track down the local wild life?

“In late spring I went to Britten’s Pond on Whitmoor common to photograph goslings (baby geese) – one of my favourite spring subjects. This year the lake was inundated with them, unlike last year when an invasive mink had eaten all the eggs resulting in no hatchlings at all. Lying flat in the dirt to get eye level shots, I managed to photograph these cute little birds, most of the time they were quite relaxed and I could get close without spooking them – sometimes too close as I could not actually focus.

A migratory visitor to the lake was also present when I was there, the Common Tern. These speedy and agile birds were diving into the water hunting fish. I tried photographing them crashing into the water, but they were usually too far out to get a decent shot. The Common Terns migrate north for spring and summer, returning to the southern hemisphere for winter and autumn, this means they can cover up to 35,000km a year one of the longest distance migrations of any bird worldwide.”
Ben has also been out and about with his camera at the nature reserve and along by the river Wey.

“As a keen wildlife photographer I always carry a camera with me on my daily exercise walks allowed by the government during this lockdown.”

“As lockdown restricted outdoor activity, the canals and rivers were even more deserted than our roads with barely anyone sailing. At the riverside nature reserve in Burpham, this resulted in the sight of more Cormorants, normally a shy fish-hunting bird. These black snake-like necked birds are usually quite timid and often get scared off by boats when they try to fish, but with fewer people there were more of these remarkable predators about. However, unlike the partridges they are still very shy and getting near one is quite hard.”

The goslings exploring Whitmoor Common

With lockdown encompassing spring, there were chicks coming out to feed with their parents and enjoy the warmer weather. Another prevalent bird doing the same are the starlings. Their chicks have fledged and are now flying around in flocks looking for food. Despite the chicks (coloured brown and grey) being able to fly, they were still being fed by their parents (the black and colourful ones). Whilst the parents were gathering food, the chicks got to enjoy the beautiful spring weather.

Let’s hope, now that lockdown has relaxed further, that the local wildlife can continue to enjoy the autumn and we wish Ben the best of luck with his wildlife photography career. It looks like he’s off to a good start.