My Countryside interview: Mike Dilger

The One Show’s wildlife reporter on the importance of getting kids away from video games and why he never goes anywhere without his trusty binoculars

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Edward Marshall/REX/Shutterstock (4172603a)
Mike Dilger
Mike Dilger filming on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, Britain - 26 Sep 2014

I live in, and embrace, the countryside, and would like to think it embraces me. Filming wildlife for a living means that I usually spend most of my week in the middle of nowhere – what’s not to like about that?

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I like nothing better than wandering around with a pair of binoculars – my eyes trained for movement and my ears tuned into birdsong. Getting out with either my birding-pal Ed or my partner Christina and our three-year-old son Zachary is best.
 
It’s impossible to choose the most beautiful natural experience I’ve had. It would be a toss-up between a British bluebell woodland in spring, a thronging seabird colony in summer, a red deer rut in autumn or a skein of geese in winter.

My new book ‘Nightingales in November’ isn’t just about what nightingales get up to in November. It follows the lives of 12 well known British bird species through the year. Male cuckoos, for example, only spend six weeks of the year here, so where are they and what are they getting up to for the rest of the time?
 
I think that many children brought up in towns and cities nowadays regard the countryside as an alien place with little to offer them. With distractions such as video games and social media, our green and pleasant land faces stiff competition for the attention of our youngsters. As grown-ups, it’s our responsibility to take them out of the concrete jungle. To my mind, a Sunday stroll in some local woods is infinitely more enjoyable than spending half a weekend playing Minecraft.

In reverse order, my favourite places in Britain are: Cairngorms National Park (any place that features crested tits, pine martens, capercaillie and mountain hares is pretty special in my book); RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk (surely the most diverse bird reserve in Britain, with an incredible roster of rich habitats – I don’t know of any other reserve that can boast ancient woodland, reed bed and heathland); and, best of all, my own modest-sized but wonderfully rural back garden.

If I had a magic wand to change the countryside, I’d cast a spell to make sure we place as much emphasis on wildlife diversity and conservation as we do on the countryside’s productivity. Farmers feed the nation but we must also recognise that they’re custodians of the countryside, too.

One of my rural heroes is Nigel Brown, my old lecturer at University College North Wales, Bangor. Nigel’s enthusiasm for the natural world knows no bounds and he continues to be an inspiration to all who meet him. The other is Roy Dennis. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Roy a number of times and remain amazed at his unrelenting drive – he’s been banging the drum for Scottish wildlife for over 50 years.

My favourite experience in the outdoors is usually whatever I’ve filmed most recently, so it might be snails in a back garden in Bristol or whales off the coast of Mull. But if pushed, I’d say filming orcas drowning harbour porpoise is something that will stay burned onto my retina. It was brutal, but also, in a way, beautiful.
 
My current bugbears are litter and fly-tipping – why some people can’t dispose of their own mess in a responsible manner is beyond me. I also get intensely irritated by roadside verges being thoughtlessly trimmed, when they could be putting on a display that would leave the Chelsea Flower Show in the shade.

If I were a wild animal, I’d be a cuckoo. Then I could spend the spring in either reed beds or moorland and the rest of the year exercising a considerable degree of wanderlust.

My trusty binoculars, which hang on my neck for the entire summer, are my most treasured possession. They’re a portal to a whole new world of wonder.

As for the cream or jam first on a scone debate… You don’t eat scones with a body like mine. Only joking. Cream, I think!

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