James is a UK based naturalist and photographer. He has a background working in zoological institutions and holds a degree in Animal Behaviour. Now a lecturer in Wildlife Management and a wildlife photography guide working primarily on the West Coast of Scotland, where since the age of five he was developing his fieldcraft and a love of wildlife photography. James has worked with and photographed wildlife in destinations across Asia, Africa and Europe.
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!