Community Spotlight:

Going wild in Burpham

By Paul Nicholls

In our last issue our ‘Community Spotlight’ focussed on different members of the community and how they were coping with the new restrictions of lockdown. Although in some areas this lockdown has started to be relaxed it does still remain in place, but some people have started to use this to their advantage. Ben Hancock-Smith is one of those making the most of it.

It seems that whilst us humans are finding the lockdown difficult and restrictive to our normal daily routines the local wildlife has been flourishing in our absence and enjoying the quieter streets, parks and rivers undisturbed.

I’ve spoken to Ben Hancock-Smith who lives in Burpham and is a keen wildlife photographer. He’s currently a pupil at George Abbot School but soon hopes to study at local Merrist Wood College to gain qualifications and experience to pursue a career in wildlife photography.

Merrist Wood is a 400-acre, multi-award winning college in Worplesdon specialising in the land-based industries, with subject areas ranging from Animal Management and Aroboriculture & Forestry to Equine Management and Wildlife & Conservation. The College is a part of the Guildford College Group along with Farnham College and Guildford College.

Having seen a range of his recent pieces of work I asked Ben how he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

“As a keen wildlife photographer I always carry a camera with me on my daily exercise walks allowed by the government during this lockdown. So, by taking advantage of the limited numbers of people out during April and early May, I scanned Burpham for opportunities to capture as much nature as possible.”

A Red Legged Partridge strutting his stuff on Burnett Avenue. (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

So what’s your favourite animal that you’ve managed to capture with your camera this spring?
“One of my favourite animals spotted is the annual spring visitor to Burpham, the red legged partridge. This year I have noticed them wandering around the empty pavements and crossing the barren roads. Occasionally when people approach, they now seem tamer and pay little attention, even when getting within a couple metres of them.”

A brown rat grazing in Sutherland Memorial Park. (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

I can see a cute little rodent image there Ben, is that what I think it is?
“Probably a less popular animal seen more often since lockdown, are the brown rats in Sutherland memorial park. Despite how they are stereotypically regarded, if you can see one you may view them in a different perspective. This particular rat was not rummaging around rubbish or searching the gutters, it was simply grazing on the fresh grass and sniffing fresh flowers. Neither was it very shy as I could get quite close without frightening it. This did not seem like the ugly and disgusting rodent normally portrayed as spreading disease, but more like a cute small animal just going about its own business. It is not the only animal that can spread a disease I mean we were in a lockdown for a reason.”

Ben has also been out and about with his camera at the nature reserve (which is actually quite a good place to spot a large proportion of Burpham residents taking their daily exercise) and along by the river Wey managed by Richard Cant who we spoke with in our last issue.

“As a keen wildlife photographer I always carry a camera with me on my daily exercise walks allowed by the government during this lockdown.”

A cormorant photographed at the Nature Reserve. (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

“As lockdown has restricted outdoor activity, the canals and rivers are even more deserted than our roads with barely anyone sailing. At the riverside nature reserve in Burpham, this has resulted in the sight of more Cormorants, normally a shy fish-hunting bird. These black snake-like necked birds are usually quite timid and often get scared off by boats when they try to fish, but with fewer people there are more of these remarkable predators about. However, unlike the rats and partridges they are still very shy and getting near one is quite hard.”

Starling chicks (below) still being fed by their parents (above). (© Ben Hancock-Smith)

With lockdown encompassing spring, there have been chicks coming out to feed with their parents and enjoy the warmer weather. Another prevalent bird doing the same are the starlings. Their chicks have fledged and are now flying around in flocks looking for food. Despite the chicks (coloured brown and grey) being able to fly, they are still being fed by their parents (the black and colourful ones). Whilst the parents are gathering food, the chicks get to enjoy the beautiful spring weather.

(© Ben Hancock-Smith)

Let’s hope, as lockdown starts to relax further, that the local wildlife can continue to enjoy the summer and we wish Ben the best of luck with his wildlife photography career. It looks like he’s off to a good start.


There is one comment

  1. fammorris

    Paul, we loved your article in the latest edition of the magazine. This has a particular resonance to us as last summer we had a pair of red-legged partridges in our garden and for a brief while their brood of chicks. Unfortunately the day came when a local cat brought a bloody end to one of the parents and many of the chicks. Since then we have only had brief sightings here in Marlyns Drive.
    Please congratulate Ben on some great photos.


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