Image courtesy of David Lindo

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year: nature on your doorstep

Urban birding enthusiast David Lindo has always been an advocate for appreciating nature close to home. As a judge in the fifty-sixth Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, he hopes to see professional and amateur photographers follow suit.

With the world's urban population growing, more and more people are experiencing nature against the backdrop of a human environment. Despite this rise, an enduring perception that urban spaces are devoid of wildlife continues to plague the conversation.

For David, this lack of appreciation for urban wildlife is restricting our ability to preserve and protect these fragile ecosystems. He explains, 'There's so many people in urban areas, living in a bubble thinking that nature is something to be found in the middle of nowhere, away from prying eyes and on David Attenborough programmes.'

While nature shows remain incredibly important in highlighting the plight of the natural world, David Lindo suggests that these programmes could be doing more for urban wildlife. 'I think the media should actually focus on urban wildlife much more because most of us live in urban areas,' he says. 'It's all well and good talking about the Serengeti, but we need to show the link from the doorstep to the Serengeti.'


A photograph of a small bird perched on a pile of orange bricks

Image courtesy of David Lindo

Significantly, this year's global pandemic and nation-wide lockdowns have encouraged us to embrace the wildlife that surrounds our homes and appreciate the variety of nature on our doorstep.

For David, whose working ethos is to 'engage people in urban areas with nature and the environment through the medium of birds', this growing appreciation could not come soon enough.

Wildlife in the city

In the same way that TV programmes focused on the natural world have been instrumental in encouraging engagement with conservation, so too can urban wildlife photography create advocates for the nature that exists in our cites. Unfortunately, David explains, many wildlife photographers choose not to show this side of the natural world in their work. 

He says, 'When I was working on my last book, How to Be an Urban Birder, my dream was for all the images in it to be really beautiful images of birds in an urban setting. But it was so difficult to find photographers who actually did that.

'A lot of people I spoke to who made beautiful photographs said to me, "If I see a human thing in the background, if the bird is standing on a fence, or if there's any hint of urbanity, I bin it straight away" and I'm thinking, "What a waste because that's such a great communication tool."

'I think that's now beginning to dissipate and people are beginning to realise that actually it's about context. I think it's really important to show the environment - not only the natural environment, but also the human environment.'

A photograph of a kingfisher perched above a drain surrounded by graffiti

City Fisher was highly commended in the 2018 Urban Wildlife category © Felix Heintzenberg

For David, it is these human elements which make the images so powerful. 'I'm actually happy to look and see a man-made structure with a bird in front of it, for me that's beautiful because it shows beauty against the man-made background.

'And also it encourages people to look, because when they see there's a kingfisher sitting on a wall or pole in the middle of a town with the city behind, it makes people realise that there's actually things around them. And I think that's one of the best ways of really showing people that there is wildlife on their doorsteps.'

Accessing nature

For those of us who live in cities, it is easy to feel as though we are far away from nature, and that wildlife is somehow less accessible. This perception can be amplified for children and young people who have grown up in urban areas and only see images of nature that have been taken in faraway forests and fields.

Stephanie Holt, UK Biodiversity Training Manager at the Museum, says, 'Many people might think that our biodiversity is confined to the wilder places of the British Isles, but actually so many species can be found right in the heart of our urban centres. 

'It is so often unnoticed, but from the beauty of tiny wildflowers tucked between paving slabs and minibeasts under logs, to peregrines making our brick and concrete towers their homes and otters starting to re-explore our rivers, wildlife is everywhere we look - even when we don't think it possibly could be. One of the best places to start observing and recording wildlife is right at home.'

A group of people looking through binoculars

Image courtesy of David Lindo © Sam Hobson

David also believes that more work needs to be done to make people feel included in urban wildlife: 'I think there's lots of ethnically diverse groups who feel as though it's not for them, and there's not enough role models in the media and on TV, so people are looking out and seeing no one that looks like them.

'And I believe that is down to the way urban wildlife is sold in the media, as I said before. The biggest thing to do is just to do more, to show that it's for everyone.

'It's about getting people to understand that nature is something around them, and even if you haven't got access to green areas, you can still see and have access to nature. Even in the centre of a concrete jungle you can still get that access.'

As a judge in next year's competition, David is hoping that the urban wildlife images will serve as a reminder that wildlife is there for everyone.

A sustainable future

David believes that there is a lot of work to be done to boost the profile of urban nature both at a local and governmental level. 'We need to keep fighting to keep places natural and available for people to enjoy wildlife,' he says.

'Councils should try and discourage people from making their front gardens into car parks, from paving over the whole of their garden, ripping out hedges and planting flora which is not attracting insects at all. We need to provide places where animals can nest, feed and rest. It's all of those sorts of things that we need to be pushing.'

Steph adds, 'You don't need to have a huge space of your own - a tiny window box or flowerpot filled with native wildflowers will start to bring wildlife right to you.'

A photograph of a fox with a large rat in its mouth facing another fox

The Rat Game was highly commended in the 2020 category Behaviour: Mammals © Matthew Maran

By making these decisions to put nature first, we can encourage wildlife into our cities and nurture the life that already coexists with us. In addition to these small-scale changes, David believes we must start putting nature at the forefront of our urban development. He says, 'I think sustainable development is key. Whenever we're building, if it's new housing estates or offices, we should think about building it with nature in mind.'

'We need to think about having areas of green and blue within the vicinity of new estates, meaning that kids will grow up and associate green and blue with normal life, and feel that it's natural and normal.

'It would be much better for our mental health as well and that goes for any other developments too, we need to build buildings that are surrounded by areas of green and blue that can attract wildlife, which would be great not only for us, but for the wildlife as well.

'What I'm trying to do is get people to understand that this conservation starts from your doorstep. Not five or 6,000 miles away in the Amazon - it's on your doorstep. That's what I'm trying to do with my work.'