James is a naturalist and photographer who recently made a permanent move to Shetland after years of travelling there for its incredible wildlife (especially otters). He has a background working in zoological institutions and worked for many years as lecturer in animal and wildlife management, he also holds a degree in Animal Behaviour.
He is now a full time wildlife guide. Working between Shetland and the West Coast of Scotland, where since the age of five he has been developing his fieldcraft and love of costal wildlife. James has worked with and photographed wildlife in destinations across Asia, Africa and Europe, his photography has been recognised and awarded across both national and international competitions.
Why I'm here
I thought it might be a good idea to tell you a little about myself and why I’m here. Like many a naturalist my obsession started early, my first words were “quack quack” I had a zoo in my bedroom from infancy and would smuggle home dead things until my parents sniffed them out. I found eduction, shall we say challenging, but whilst failing at pretty much everything else I scored the highest marks in my year at both Biology and Art.
I can thank / blame my ADHD for my focus and lack of focus, it has occasionally gotten me into trouble over the years but I’d not change it if I could. I started working as a zoo keeper aged 14, first volunteering at weekends and throughout my holidays, all the while my own collection of animals, skulls, feathers and skins numbered in its hundreds.
I worked professionally as a keeper until my early 20s when I attempted another stab at formal education with an animal behaviour degree. It’s probably best I skip over this period, sitting through lectures that were less about the wildlife and more about training you to follow a very specific format almost derailed me completely. Having had much of my enthusiasm for natural history crushed, the logical thing to do was become a lecturer myself. Fast forward to 2013, my career had progressed but time was a scarce thing and I’d drifted too far from what initially stirred me. Then, out of the blue I picked up a rare autoimmune condition called Eosinophillc Fasciitis. Within 6 months I went from being able to do handstand push-ups to being unable to use a knife and fork or walk more than a few meters at a time. Despite a worsening state, doctors struggled to find a diagnosis, I feared I would never get my mobility back. I tried to keep working, but ultimately knew I’d have to stop.
I’d already put my house on the market fearing my independence was going to be lost. A diagnosis came, as did treatment, late but not too late. My house had an offer I couldn’t refuse and I left teaching behind to rekindle an interest in what really made me tick, wild things, where they are best experienced. Despite being barely back on my feet I traveled to the destinations I’d always dreamed of and along the way I was invited to work as a lodge naturalist in Kanha National Park, India. Working in this capacity brought together all the things I’d been doing pre illness perfectly, the direction felt right, so It’s where I began to carve a future.
Pre pandemic I was picked up by leading US based operators Joe Van Oz Photo Safaris, whom I had met whilst working in India. Unfortunately their scheduled tours had to be cancelled as international travel restrictions came Into force. This summer I am lucky enough to be working with the best otter people in the business, Shetland Nature, where I will be guiding clients to unforgettable otter encounters in the best place on earth to see them, the Shetland Islands. Who knows I may well see you there!