This is a taster of a potential new feature in BB. The idea is to bring you an insight into the lives of key figures in modern-day ornithology, by posing a standard set of questions – some serious, some less so. We decided it to trial it on our website by putting the questions to members of BB’s editorial board. Let us know what you think by posting a comment.
Nigel Redman Nigel lives in East Sussex and is a publisher for A&C Black, responsible for the Christopher Helm and Poyser imprints. Since 1982 he has guided over 100 tours for Birdquest, mainly to Asia and Africa. He has been an active birder since the mid 1960s, a subscriber to BB for more than 40 years and a member of the editorial board since 1998. He is a former chairman of OBC (Oriental Bird Club) and has served on the councils of the BOU, OSME and ABC (African Bird Club). Nigel is also co-author of Where to Watch Birds in Britain and senior author of Birds of the Horn of Africa.
What’s your earliest memory? Standing outside our house in Exmouth admiring my father’s brand-new black Ford Popular (upright model). I was aged three and a bit, I think.
What was your first job? Apart from the obligatory newspaper round and stacking shelves in Tesco, both of which were while I was still at school, my first job was as an articled clerk for a firm of chartered accountants.
How and when did you get into birds? I’ve been interested in birds for as long as I can remember. I can recall spotting birds on car journeys when I was around six or seven, but I really started birding seriously with a school friend when I was about nine. We would cycle everywhere around our local area, and one year we did our own breeding bird survey, plotting the distribution of all the nests we found with coloured pins on a map – we were amazingly successful, getting literally hundreds of breeding records in a single year. Sadly, we hadn’t discovered the BTO then, and the records were lost to science.
Who are your heroes and why? From the nineteenth century, there are several such as Hodgson and Hume, who were pioneers in the Indian subcontinent. In the twentieth century, I greatly admired Salim Ali and Boonsong Lekagul who both did a lot to promote an interest in birds and conservation in India and Thailand respectively, but there are many others, such as Harry Witherby, Reg Moreau, Phil Hollom and John Ash who were all pioneers in different ways. Of my contemporaries, though it would embarrass him, I have to single out Nigel Collar. In my opinion he has done more than anyone to help save the world’s birds.
What’s the biggest conservation challenge in your country today? People. There are far too many of us in the world, and Britain is just one of many countries that is severely overpopulated. There is far too much pressure to produce food, and the modernisation of farming is surely the main reason that there are now far fewer birds in Britain compared to the days of my childhood. Nowhere is safe from the developers while our populations continue to rise at such an alarming rate. It may be a bleak view, but humans are out of control.
What would get more kids interested in birds? That’s a hard one. Much more encouragement at school would help a lot, and especially from a young age. I also firmly believe that kids should be forced to spend more time outdoors. There is too much paranoia about letting children explore the countryside on their own, and teachers should take kids on school trips more. Do children ever get to visit a top bird reserve as a school trip? I doubt it. They all should, and several times.
What are your views on reintroductions? I have no problems with this, provided that the species used to occur and the habitat still exists. If there is competition for funds, obviously saving a threatened species should take priority.
When did you last use a notebook? I always write up my notes, but usually I do this in the evenings rather than in the field. Fortunately the little grey cells are still reasonably active!
What bird would you most like to see and why? There are many of course, though I have been lucky enough to have seen quite a few of my most wanted species already. Rusty-bellied Shortwing is a real skulker found in the eastern Himalayas, and it’s the only shortwing species I’ve not seen.
What was your best day’s birding? 28th September 1975 on Scilly. I was staying on St Agnes but we had to get to both Tresco and St Mary’s as that’s where the best birds were – by the end of the day we had seen Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Black-and-white Warbler and Scarlet Tanager, in a single day.
What do you listen to in the car? Usually Radio 4, but I love CD Review on Radio 3 on Saturday mornings. If I don’t fancy anything on either of these stations, I listen to opera, and occasionally old rock music.
Where and when would your ideal birdwatching day be? Anywhere where I could see a brilliant selection of birds, or even just a special species or two. Rye Harbour and Dungeness are my ‘local patches’, and my annual January bird race in this area is one of the year’s birding highlights.
If you could go back in time, where and when would you go? It may be a bit of a clichÃ©, but I would really like to see dinosaurs roaming around, but maybe not too close! The other thing I occasionally dream of is seeing a Haast’s Eagle hunting moas (in New Zealand), or rediscovering a Dodo or Great Auk?
What do you consider your greatest achievement? I suppose it must be writing Birds of the Horn of Africa, though I’m proud of Where to Watch Birds in Britain too. I am also honoured to have escorted hundreds of wonderful people on many Birdquest tours over the years.
How do you relax? A glass or two of wine and some fine food, preferably in the company of friends. I’m not a big TV fan, but I do like a good film from time to time, and old comedies. Music is quite important for me too and I go to concerts regularly.
What keeps you awake at night? Not much! Occasionally a Tawny Owl, but we live down a very quiet country lane. I normally get only 5-6 hours sleep so I can’t really afford to be kept awake by anything.
What is your favourite bird book? Review of the Genus Cisticola by Rear-Admiral Lynes. It’s a bit of a rarity really. It was published as a supplement to Ibis in 1930 and consists of 680 pages of text in one volume and 20 exquisite coloured plates of life-size cisticola skins drawn to scale. What makes it special is a label stuck on the endpaper addressed to J P Chapin thanking him for his help, and signed by Hubert Lynes. On the opposite page is Chapin’s own bookplate, and the signature of the book’s subsequent owner, Stuart Keith. This copy was owned by three of the greatest names in African ornithology.
What are you doing to save the planet? Not enough. I recycle as much as I can, and I try not to waste resources. And I have only one child!
Don’t forget – tell us your opinion of this feature – would you like to see it appear in BB? Are there particular people you’d like to see featured, are their particular questions you would like to see answered? Thanks for your feedback.
The BB editorial team