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A Year of Connecting to Nature: Inspiration for my Virtual Exhibition of Wildlife Art
So far 2020 has been an extraordinary year of ups and downs, but throughout all the uncertainty the wildlife here at Fotherdale Farm has remained a constant source of cheer.
I’ve discovered that am not the only one that has enjoyed watching owls, kestrels, stoats and weasels as they go about their daily lives in my garden in Thixendale. It turns out that millions of other people have also found solace in the nature here on the Yorkshire Wolds. In fact, I’ve had such resounding appreciation for my photographs, films, and paintings of wildlife this year, it has made me realise what an important role a wildlife artist like me plays in connecting people to nature at a time like this.
Connecting to Nature: New Exhibition
And so, as we go through yet another period of uncertainty, I am hosting a virtual exhibition of my work. The event will run until Christmas Eve and includes live ‘virtual’ tours of my gallery so that people can access all the paintings, prints, photos, and wildlife films just as if they were actually here.
A Year of Connecting to Nature Online
My move into the online world began early in March, when I decided that the best way to survive a lockdown would be to share animal stories from my garden with my followers online.
Little did I know how popular this step would be. My viewer numbers quickly soared as I shared news of egg-laying and hatching from my owl and kestrel nest boxes and stories and films of the young animals I rehabilitate. It wasn’t only the wildlife characters living in my garden that people seemed to love. Even occasional sightings of fox, hare or deer passing through were greeted with delight.
Connecting with Nature Building an Online Community
The stories came thick and fast and, as I also shared them via live cameras on Facebook and YouTube, my world here at Fotherdale soon became known to people from all over the globe. My inbox filled with people from as far afield as Alaska and Myanmar expressing their joy at seeing my wildlife films, photographs, and paintings.
Connecting with Nature: Animal Fanbase
The animals I rehabilitate here at Fotherdale also developed their own fanbase and I found myself responding to people from around the world on behalf of these creatures as they asked after them by name. There was Whisper, a stoat kit who was so young when she arrived her squeak was barely audible and yet grew to become amusingly vocal after she received a playmate, a stoat kit her own age named Stuart.
Other players were Eric and Ernie, the two tawny owl chicks I successfully fostered with a family of wild tawny owls living in the valley below my garden. And of course, Needles and Pins, two baby hedgehogs so adored as they scurried about their enclosure on my porch their names were chosen for them by their social media fans.
Connecting to Nature: Wild Lives in Lockdown
Some of the stories I shared seemed to echo with our human lives in lockdown. Among them was Solo, an only barn owl chick whose solitary life resonated with the loneliness of the pandemic.
Her life, and that of her two owl siblings, Hans & Grete, drew a huge online following. Within weeks of sharing live footage from their nest box onto YouTube, my channel gained 100k subscribers and a prestigious ‘Silver Button’ award.
Connecting to Nature: Livestreaming Animal Nests
And last month this grew to 136k after I introduced a rescued barn owl named Howard to the nest and live-streamed the responses of Hans, Grete and the rest of the owl family as they got to know this vulnerable owlet. The livestream now has an average of 2.6m viewers a month from all over the world. A great deal of these people comment that watching the barn owls, as well as a family of stoats whose antics in my garden I also stream live, eases the anxiety and loneliness of these difficult times.
Connecting to Nature Through Lockdown
One tale that resonated particularly with families during the March lockdown was how my own daughters, adapting to home-schooling, learned to share their climbing frame with wildlife. My footage of badgers, stoats, and owls at play on their trampoline and swinging on the climbing ropes, caught the attention of producers for the BBC’s The One Show and was hugely popular when it was screened on the TV show this summer.
Connecting to Nature: Inspiring New Paintings
Its success led to more One Show lockdown stories from Fotherdale – including one about a female kestrel who bravely fought off brutal raids on her nest to raise her chicks here.
Mrs Kes, as I named her, was a stoical bird and I was so impressed by the way she determinedly fought off attacks from both a tawny owl and a jackdaw, I felt compelled to paint her portrait.
The painting has pride of place at my virtual Christmas exhibition since I feel that it, more than any other, is representative of the way my work has connected people with nature this year.
Connecting to Nature: New Original Artworks
Other new paintings on display are one of puffins watched here in East Yorkshire and one of tree sparrows in my garden. These are available to view alongside the photographs and video footage that informed them.
See my newest paintings HERE
Connecting to Nature: Lockdown Live Broadcast
As well as being able to access livestreams from the barn owl and stoat nests, virtual visitors to my exhibition can also join me for a new daily broadcast titled, ‘Lockdown Lives’. The broadcasts, accessible via YouTube or Facebook, will be about my life here at Fotherdale and also feature regular updates on the animals I rehabilitate.