Wildlife Heroes

Who inspires you? Matthew Capper, our Head of Public Engagement & Communications, shares three of the people in conservation who have been an inspiration to him.

We’ve all done it. Sat in the pub or on a long a drive. That conversation about who you would invite to a fantasy dinner party. Maybe Stephen Fry for the general knowledge? Or Winston Churchill for the anecdotes and witty one-liners?

Well for me, it would be easy. Give me the chance and I’d assemble some of the founding fathers of modern nature conservation. Peter Scott, Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough. These three, more than any others, have brought me joy and inspiration and helped to shape the passion I have for nature and my desire to work towards saving it.

All of them came from a time and background where independent finances and a positive attitude meant you could do just about anything. And all three did.

Gerald Durrell got me hooked at an early age. The young Gerald led a rather idyllic and somewhat feral childhood on the island of Corfu and wrote about it in the phenomenally popular My Family and Other Animals.

It is a book I have read over and over again. Gerald Durrell was a natural communicator. His books are a joy. Full of vivid descriptions, humour and amazing wildlife.

What chimed with me was his approach to conservation. Durrell left the big sexy stuff like lions and elephants to others and instead, focussed his time on the small, the obscure and the overlooked. No-one else at the time would set up a project to save a species of frog like he did. He was the first to found a zoo on the principle of saving wildlife, not just parading it in front of the public.

His approach was to take a species, breed it in captivity whilst working to correct the problems on the ground that had caused it be in difficulty. And then, once the problems had been sufficiently tackled, he could reintroduce the species back into the wild safe in the knowledge that the chances of recovery were high.

Next up was Peter Scott. A man who really could do anything. An Olympic medallist at sailing, UK National Gliding champion, decorated war hero, world renowned painter and a giant of modern conservation.

He founded the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, helped establish WWF and was the man behind the red data books that list the world’s most threatened species and prioritises them for conservation action. His autobiography, The Eye of the Wind is long out of print but well worth seeking out.

I particularly liked reading about his time in Lincolnshire, living in the lighthouse at Sutton Bridge and his first fledgling collection of wildfowl. His odd job man and keeper of the collection was a notorious Lincolnshire poacher and wildfowler called Kenzie Thorpe. It was here that Scott underwent his conversion from wildfowler to conservationist and I enjoyed reading about the exploits of them both, bringing to life the wide-open landscapes of the Lincolnshire Fens and the saltmarshes of The Wash.

Sir David Attenborough

(c) Tom Marshall

Of the three, David Attenborough is the only one still with us. And easily the best known. However, I couldn’t really point out a time when he seemed to directly influence me. I never sought to learn more about him in the way I did with Durrell and Scott. It is more that his programmes and distinctive voice have been a constant backdrop of wildlife programmes for my whole life. It is hard to imagine a good programme without him narrating it.

Over the years David Attenborough has used his considerable respect and global reach to inspire people to take action and he is undoubtedly now our most influential conservationist.

But who will take over the mantle in future? Do our current crop of natural history celebs and influencers come from the same stock? Will we see the likes of Durrell, Scott and Attenborough again? Who would you invite to dinner? Who inspired you and who do you think will be our future leading lights? Do let us know.