Wildlife photographers should always be prepared, advises Chris Kelly.
“While I was waiting for the bus at Brightside, I thought I’d get my camera out and have a look at the goit from the River Don behind the bushes, and there was a baby kingfisher,” she said.
Her pictures of a badger eating plums and nuts in her back garden were also a result of ‘luck’, she said modestly.
Derek Whiteley employs more hands-on, knees-down tactics. “You often have to use old fashioned fieldcraft, and take a quiet careful approach from downwind,” he said. “When I was looking at mountain hares recently, I was down on my belly crawling like a commando through the heather.”
Roger Butterfield takes the same perspective when photographing fungi. “I was lying on the ground framing my picture when a woman came running over, saying ‘Are you alright?’ I think she thought I’d had a heart attack. I’m thinking of having a sign made saying ‘No, I haven’t just fainted’ to wear on my back.”
Named after Victorian naturalist Henry Clifton Sorby, the Sorby Natural History Society was 97 years old in 2015, and over this year members have been painstakingly photographing birds, beasts, fungi and plantlife in the Sorby region (what members refer to as ‘Sorbyshire’ is a fictional naturalist’s county originally defined as lying 20 miles from Sheffield town hall, now expanded slightly to include South Yorkshire, the Peak District and parts of Nottinghamshire). A few of this year’s 1,000+ Sorbyshire photos digitally shared by Derek, Roger, Chris and 60 other members are published here, including insects by Ken Gartside taken in his garden, and artful depictions of moorland wildlife by Colin Dixon.
Such photos are useful natural history records in their own right, said Derek, and discussion on photo sharing sites can also help the curious public, where ‘this red and black bug I photographed’ can be identified by Sorby’s seasoned naturalists.
Last year Sorby ran training courses for the public to help identify harvest mice, lichens, and mammal bones, among others, and next year will see the society extend its ‘citizen science’ programme with a further dozen training courses and a new public initiative to help anglers, walkers and others to monitor the return of otters to Sheffield.
“There’s been a big comeback of otters over the last 15 years, and now it’s worth looking out for them on any part of the River Don,” said Derek, who remembers the days when a Sheffield otter watcher might have to travel hundreds of miles to catch sight of one.
The return of fish to the cleaner waters of the Don has led to the return of otters, even to former urban industrial sites. “Places like that are often quiet and undisturbed by people and dogs,” said Derek. “There are plenty of trees and tall vegetation, and plenty of fish, so they’re ideal for otters.”
Sorby will be collaborating with the ‘Moors for the Future’ partnership on further mountain hare surveys next year, and 2016 will also see the publication of a 25-year survey of butterflies in the area, and the revised ‘Sheffield Red Data Book’ which shows plant or animal species that are considered rare to the area. The revised book will help inform planning decisions at sites where rare species are found.
The 2016 Sorby Butterfly Atlas will paint a very different picture to the last atlas, said Derek. “There are now 30 odd species of butterflies found in the Sorby area, including some that were rare or nonexistent in 1991.”
Although some animal and plant species, including some farmland birds, have declined over recent years, Derek said that the biodiversity of Sorbyshire is actually increasing, since our position on the borders of lowland and upland England puts us on the ‘coal face’ of the climate-related move to the north by many species.
Insect species from the south downs are now making a new home in South Yorkshire’s mining towns, for example, so the next time you see someone laid out on a ‘re-wilded’ spoil heap, they might just be photographing the Essex skipper or the marbled white butterfly.
Visit www.sorby.org.uk/events for details.