Hey, can you tell everybody where you are based and what you do?
I’ve lived in Innerleithen since 2019 and I currently work as the Curator of Zoology & Anatomy at the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow. As a curator, a large part of my job is identifying the animal specimens in the collections and answering enquiries from the public about wildlife they see, this spills over into my leisure time in the form of biological recording. This is sharing photos and data about species I’ve seen in the wild, I mainly use the platform iNaturalist.org to do this (it comes with a handy app for your phone), through this I’ve shared thousands of observations from my travels.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
Ever since I can remember. I spent my earliest years in Malawi, at weekends we were always going places such as safari parks, up in the mountains or to Lake Malawi and so from an early age watching wildlife was a big part of my life. My family moved back to Scotland and for the rest of my childhood we lived in the countryside near Lochmaben where I played in the lochs and woods, went camping, built dens, and so on.
I’ve always enjoyed hiking and later on mountain biking, but my favourite times are often those near water, either under it snorkelling and diving or on top in a canoe or kayak. The decision to live in Innerleithen was certainly heavily influenced by the wonderful surrounding countryside.
What’s been your favourite trip or adventure?
I’ve been very lucky to have had several amazing journeys and expeditions over the years and it is hard to pick out a favourite as they all allowed me to experience many new things: long road trips across the USA and Australia; island hopping in the Caribbean; my honeymoon was an overland trip from Rwanda to see mountain gorillas, then into Uganda, with some white water rafting on the River Nile then into Kenya to the Masai Mara. But my last big trip before Covid struck was a 6-week road trip across western Europe with my family and this is certainly up there with my favourites.
The aim for me was to visit natural history museums and biodiversity centres to see how they were used and also see Europe before the idiocy of Brexit made that harder to do. All through the trip I made wildlife observations, from a white wagtail in Vatican City to a marginated tortoise in the hills above Athens and from a brittle star in the Adriatic Sea to a chamois in Liechtenstein.
How do you find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
I must admit that has been hard to do of late, with spending half the week in Glasgow for work and then wanting to spend time with my family when I get home, I haven’t been out as much as I would like. When I am home regular dog walking does take me along the Tweed and up the hills around town every day and even that little amount keeps me going for now. Otherwise, it’s a case of grabbing opportunities when they arrive and heading out for a hike, bike or kayak when some free time appears is working for now. Better advance planning on my part would help but I’m a spur of the moment type of person.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
My parents and my grandfather were certainly big influences, my folks gave me a love of travel and took me many wonderful places all over the world whilst my Papa showed me what there was to appreciate in the Scottish countryside, he lived in Clarencefield, a tiny village near Dumfries where we would roam around the forests, fields and nearby shoreline.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Always! Anytime I walk the dog, get out on my bike, climb a hill, swim in the sea or drift along a river I feel that lovely disconnect from the responsibilities in life and a reconnect with the natural world around me.
What is it about wildlife specifically that you love?
Watching wildlife is the theme that runs through most of my life, there is always something new to discover, such as a behaviour you’ve never seen before or a species somewhere unexpected.
When did you discover FINDRA?
When I moved to Innerleithen it was nice to see a local outdoor clothing shop with such an ethical outlook. With the town’s textile history, it was great to see the production of high-quality garments going in a new direction. My red Findra socks are very comfortable and keep me blister free on my rambles.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
When I finished university, I went off backpacking in Europe and my mum gave me a little slip of paper to keep in my wallet, on it was written:
“Some guiding principles:
I kept it there for years until it became too worn out, so I laminated it and now keep it at home. It could do with a little updating maybe to reflect my family commitments, but the last line is still a great reminder to make the most of every opportunity.
On writing this blog, what do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more.
There are so many reasons to get outdoors, whether it is personal fitness, relaxation, achieving a goal or spending time with friends and family but whilst doing all of those things why not add in a few observations of the nature around you and contribute a little bit to the expanding knowledge of life on Earth. Check out iNaturalist.org to get started.
A fascinating book I read recently that was very depressing to begin with but ends with a positive vision for the future was Rebirding - Restoring Britain's Wildlife by Benedict Macdonald.
He shows how Britain has lost so much of its birdlife (and other wildlife) over the centuries due to agricultural and other land use practices but how we can reverse the decline and bring back many of these missing parts of our ecosystems.
One of my all-time favourite bands is Living Colour, I first saw them play in 1991 in Glasgow and have been a fan ever since. Cult of Personality is their most famous song and the lyrics still resonate today.