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Animal Magic

A must for any wildlife fan, TV presenter, cameraman and film- maker Gordon Buchanan will be bringing his new theatre tour to Surrey this month. Here we put him under the T&L spotlight to find out what’s in store...

So tell us a bit about your new theatre show…
It’s an opportunity to come along and find out more about all the various television series – from Animal Family and Me to Planet Earth and from Life in Polar Bear Land to Winterwatch – and get a glimpse behind the scenes. So I’ll be explaining more about how we got a certain shot, and showing a few film clips, outtakes and so on, and there’ll be plenty of opportunities to ask questions. For me, one of the most important things about doing this tour is having the opportunity to engage with the people who watch the shows – the people who ultimately keep me in a job. It’s also suitable for all the family.

Here in Surrey, we are lucky to have some beautiful countryside – but how can those of us in more urban areas connect with wildlife?
There’s a bit of a misconception that you have to go somewhere far-flung to see exciting wildlife, but in fact it’s everywhere – in our gardens, in our parks and in our local nature reserves. So, it’s a case of just spending time in the natural world wherever you can – and the more time you spend there, the more absorbed you become and the more you will see. Even just on the train, it’s amazing what you can spot out of the window. The other day I was on the train with my kids, and I was telling them that if they looked hard enough, they’d be able to see roe deer. And the family opposite were saying, ‘nonsense’ etc. But lo and behold, we soon spotted them, while the other family missed out. So, then they were asking me how I’d managed to pinpoint them, and I was like, well it’s kind of my job… But the point is, if you look hard enough, you can find wildlife everywhere.

What kind of thing can we see in our gardens at this time of year?
This is such a beautiful time of year and you don’t have to go on some big expedition to discover wonderful things – even if it’s just enjoying the trees and the changing colour of the leaves. Also, try getting a bird feeder for your garden and you’ll be amazed. These days, you can buy good- quality bird feed quite cheaply, and you’ll see so many wonderful birds at this time of year. It’s funny because people often think, mistakenly, that there’s a bit of a dearth of nature right now, with British birds migrating and other animals going into hibernation. But what people forget is that there are also birds arriving from colder climes to enjoy the comparatively milder British winter – from goldfinches and greenfinches to robins. Our little island has so much to offer in terms of wildlife – even in the most urban of gardens.

There have been several reports on how spending time amongst nature can be good not only for physical health but also mental wellbeing. What’s your view on that?
Oh, absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. You have to remember that we too were once part of nature before we removed ourselves. However, when we reconnect and have a relationship with nature, we become part of that bigger thing again. It’s such a shame because in our digital age, nature has been transcended by technology and consumerism and that can lead on to so many mental and emotional problems. In fact, this summer, I decided to have a digital detox – and I have to say I loved it. It also made me realise just how many hours you lose on the internet – whether that’s battling against an inbox that will only be full again the next day or just checking things on Google. Then, before you know it, you’ve watched a video about ships in rough water and another on the world’s top ten aeroplane near-misses. So, my advice is to spend less time with technology and more in the great outdoors – even just a nice brisk walk in the fresh air is good for your health – and who knows what you might see.

What advice would you have for budding wildlife photographers and film-makers here in Surrey?
My advice would simply be to get out there and do it. These days, you have all the equipment you need at your fingertips, because some of the best content on the web is taken on phones. Unlike in the past, when you would need lots of expensive equipment and a producer and a film editor etc, now you can just go out there and get on with it. And, what is more, you have a ready-made audience that you can just tap into online. It’s never been easier than now to make wildlife films in this very visual age.

Do you have a favourite part of the UK – and the world?
In the UK, the Highlands of Scotland around Aviemore has a special magic; it has some of the most grand and wild-looking pine forest in the country – in particular Abernethy forest and the area around Loch Garten. In the world? The Arctic. I love the place and the animals that live there.

For those of us who are concerned about the pressures on the environment, and wildlife near and far, what can we do to help?
I think the key thing is being informed, really. It’s the easiest thing in the world to stick your head in the sand and pretend that we don’t play a part. But everyone has a carbon footprint – from the hats that we wear to the shoes on our feet to the houses that we build – and that has an impact in the wider world. So, what we can actively do in leafy Surrey is to reduce our waste and encourage others to do the same; recycle everything possible; avoid using the car whenever you can; and don’t buy stuff that you don’t need. In this consumerist society, there is this overwhelming pressure to spend lots of money and buy lots of things that we simply don’t need, which we then discard. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Finally, what’s the most important thing you’ve learnt during your time as a cameraman and presenter?
Work hard, follow your nose, trust your instincts and good things will come in life and in the wild.

Gordon Buchanan brings his new wildlife show, Animal Families and Me, to The Harlequin Theatre in Redhill on Saturday 7 October. Tickets from £17.50-£19.50. For more information, see www.harlequintheatre.co.uk

images © Gordon Buchananimages © Gordon Buchananimages © Gordon Buchananimages © Gordon Buchanan