Author Archives: Julie

“A pig is a jolly companion”

This week we have a delightful guest blog from our cherished author and award-winning artist, Celia Lewis, who discloses how life really is living with a pig or two.


“Mum, there’s a pig at the front door” is not necessarily what you want to hear when you’ve just changed and are about to go out to dinner. “A” pig rather than “a couple of pigs” is even more tiresome as it means one is missing. Never give your pigs names you are advised, if they are going into the freezer – this is fine advice until it comes to calling them when they are lost.

Pigs can be kept on very little land or a great deal of land. If you give them as large an area as you possibly can, with plenty of room to root, they will follow their natural instincts.

The pig at the front door is very happy to trot back down to its field with the help of a bucket of nuts, but then there is the problem of finding out where its strong snout has managed to lift up the fence in order to squeeze under. It is quite remarkable how small a gap a large pig can slip through.

Gloucestershire Old Spot sow. The Gloucestershire Old Spot is a pig well suited to the smallholder with a bit of land as they are hardy and excellent foragers.

Finding the lost pig is another matter. We are lucky enough to live on the edge of a huge area of heathland and one feels awfully foolish wandering about shouting “piggy piggy piggy”. Dog walkers are rather surprised, though not half as much as when they meet a large spotted pig trotting merrily along the footpath towards them. Our pigs never went far, however, and were always overjoyed to see you when found.

A healthy snout is cold and moist. The snout is used to dig into the soil to find food and is a very acute sense organ.

The field where our pigs live has a hill right in the middle, which necessitates a long walk all the way round if the pigs aren’t visible, so I taught them to come to a whistle which also saves a lot of calling. The only problem is that lop-eared pigs have trouble locating where a sound is coming from, not to mention being unable to see because their ears hang over their eyes – they hear the whistle and run, but frequently in the wrong direction. Stop, look about, I whistle again and they hurtle in a different direction. Eventually they see me and come running, ears flying – their funny stiff gait always making me laugh. Pigs have the reputation for being intelligent but mine never seemed to learn that when I whistled I was always by their ark where they were fed.

Gone are the days where you could feed your pigs with scraps or kitchen waste. But you may feed fruit and vegetables from your garden and your pigs will certainly appreciate it - windfall apples are a perfect example.

Pigs are characterful creatures that become extremely tame and I did rather regret the way they trotted happily and trustingly up the path and into the stable to start their journey to the abattoir. These two were lucky pigs though, that had five acres to root up – which indeed they did.

Celia Lewis and her Gloucestershire Old Spots.

Celia Lewis is the author and artist of the wonderful Illustrated Guide to series, which are delightfully illustrated and informative books ideal for anyone interested in keeping pigs or chickens who wants to choose the most suitable breed for their circumstances.

There are two published titles in the series so far: the best-selling The Illustrated Guide to Chickens and, brand new this month, The Illustrated Guide to Pigs.

Celia is currently hard at work writing and painting for her next title in this series The Illustrated Guide to Ducks and Geese, due to publish in summer 2012.


“Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.”

Our guest blogger this week is David Tipling a well-known professional wildlife photographer who for the last 20 years has travelled extensively, photographing some of the world’s most iconic wildlife. In this week’s blog, David reflects on the early days of wildlife photography and some of its pioneers.


I was recently asked to take part in a programme for Radio 4 on Emma Turner. If you live in the Norfolk Broads and have a keen interest in wildlife you may have heard of Turner, but largely she has been forgotten. Yet a hundred years ago she shot to fame within the wildlife photography and conservation world, for it was Emma who discovered the first Bitterns breeding back in Britain since their extinction in 1868 and she took images of the young that even a hundred years on are still striking. For these photos she was awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s Gold Medal, a once prestigious award. Blowing the dust off Turner’s best-known book Broadland Birds I got thinking about those early photographers.

Bittern stalking through the marsh in autumn.

Emma Turner was very much a pioneer; she started taking pictures with a plate camera in 1900 just five years after R.B. Lodge took the first ever image of a bird, of a Lapwing on a nest. The limitations of her equipment meant she needed to be within just a few feet of her subject. Turner would get one of her helpers to cover her in reeds or any other natural material to hand and would lie prone for hours in pursuit of often just one image, because once her plate was exposed she had to reload the camera with another. At the same time the Kearton brothers were also experimenting with concealment; they tried disguising themselves in a pantomime horse, made a false tree in which to hide and employed countless other ways of getting close to birds, but neither they nor Emma had yet to start using a simple canvas tent that later became known as a hide.

Early wildlife photographers had to improvise their hides from whatever materials were to hand.

In spite of these rudimentary beginnings remarkably by the start of the First World War nearly every species of British breeding bird had been photographed. Cherry and Richard Kearton blazed a trail and became very well known, indeed Cherry Kearton’s films were screened in cinemas around the world. And by the 1920s there was an ever-growing army of photographers, many still choosing to use the plate camera as it gave such excellent image quality. Plate cameras were still restrictive, however, both in reach (as you had to be so close to your subject) and because you could only expose one image before having to remove and reload the next plate – a far cry from the 10 frames a second photographers can capture now.

It was during the 1920s that camera manufacturers started producing single lens reflex cameras for smaller formats. This was a huge leap forward for wildlife photographers and a decade later another major breakthrough came with the invention of Kodak colour film.

Today's wildlife photographers can use lenses to create the illusion of proximity with their subjects. The long lens used to photograph this resting fox helped isolate the fox's head and provide focus on its one open eye.

Since then our equipment has evolved to allow us to be able to capture the most amazing images from the natural world. But there is still one requirement of wildlife photographers that was as relevant to taking a great picture in 1911 as it still is in 2011, and that is perseverance. Kearton, Turner and the many great photographers that followed them have, of course, all experienced moments of luck when something special happens at exactly the right moment, but the harder you try the luckier you get.

David is the author of several books and his wildlife photographs have been published widely throughout the world. The fully revised second edition of his RSPB Guide to Digital Wildlife Photography was published earlier this year and is available to buy on our website now. It’s the ultimate reference book for all aspiring and established natural history photographers.

A glimpse of a golden dragon?

This week, a guest blog from author and photographer Marianne Taylor, in search of elusive insect visitors …


What an Easter weekend it was. Every day was wall-to-wall sunshine, and the heat was more suggestive of August than April. We’d already had one full day out, watching Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Peregrines at Seaford Head in Sussex, and now it was Sunday night and I was surfing around the wildlife websites, looking for inspiration for something to do on Easter Monday. A thread on a message board caught my eye – ‘Vagrant Emperors at RSPB Dungeness’. I read on – three rare dragonflies that were supposed to be in Africa had been found hawking over a ditch down in east Kent.

Twitching, or rarity-chasing, isn’t just for the birders. When we arrived on Denge Marsh Road on Monday morning, there was already a long row of parked cars – everyone eager to see the exotic dragonflies. People were standing on a nearby stone bridge over the ditch that had seen all the action yesterday. No Vagrant Emperors to be seen – perhaps they had flown on north, but it hardly seemed to matter. We were surrounded by wildlife.

A male Marsh Harrier soars away (Marianne Taylor)

Overhead, the local Marsh Harriers cruised and wheeled. Through the morning they shared their airspace with a mini-procession of migrant raptors – a Red Kite, another, a Hobby, a third kite. Closer to hand, a Sedge Warbler sang with extraordinary verve and exuberance. I watched as it pirouetted around a reed stem, then launched itself skywards, singing furiously all the time. Over the creek flew little Hairy Hawker dragonflies, while right below us in the water lurked a hefty Pike, regarding the humans above with a cold and disenchanted eye.

A Sedge Warbler doing its thing (Marianne Taylor)

Then a shout came from down the creek – when all hope seemed lost, someone had spotted the Vagrant Emperor. The electrified crowd moved as one, racing down the path alongside the creek, trying to control swinging binoculars and cameras and dodging ruts and furrows underfoot. We caught a glimpse of the golden-winged dragon just as it disappeared around a bend.

Vagrant Emperor in flight, Dungeness (Robert Cardell)

We waited, and eventually it came powering back along the creek, a volley of camera clicks tracking its progress. We sat in the long grass and watched it go by again, once, twice, three times, and then it was gone. Everyone began to drift away, but we stayed a little longer, watching Swallows skimming the fields around us while fat, clumsy alderflies settled on our shoes and a freshly emerged Hairy Hawker climbed slowly up a reed stem, the sunshine glistening on its brand new wings.

Hairy Hawker (Marianne Taylor)


Marianne is the author of our brilliant new book RSPB Nature Watch – click the cover below to pick up a copy! You can read more about Marianne’s adventures on her blog, The Wild Side.


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