Wildlife Whisperer is an online community designed for anyone with an interest in wildlife and the natural world. Included are films and wildlife webcams, advice and help with your wildlife queries from our team of experts, including wildlife cameraman and TV presenter Simon King. Here Simon explains his love of maps.
One of the many ways I am lucky enough to indulge my passion for the natural world is while leading tours of wildlife hotspots around the world. These include East Africa and India, but many people are surprised to learn that I also host wildlife holidays in the UK, in areas as far apart as Shetland in the far north to Dorset in the south.
Every naturalist and guide has a set of tools they would never be without, and mine include binoculars, a telescope, Swiss Army knife and, of course, a good map. Here in the UK we are blessed with access to the most detailed and comprehensive mapping available in the world, thanks to Ordnance Survey. Early on in the planning stages of a British wildlife tour, I ensure I have the full set of OS Explorer 1:25,000 maps of the region I am planning to visit and begin my journey and plot my itinerary with the immeasurable benefit of an eagle’s eye view. The first advantage of this virtual approach is to ensure a fuss-free approach to the logistics of the trip. At the most basic level I can ensure travel time is minimised between areas of interest, but such is the level of detail in Ordnance Survey maps that I am also able to consider car parking, public access, pubs, public loos and much more besides. Quite apart from the amenities I may need to use together with my guests, I am also able to develop knowledge of the topography of the proposed locations and so hone the trip to suit the abilities and wishes of my party. I may, for example, have a choice of four public footpaths that lead to a magnificent viewpoint on top of a chalk downland, and with careful examination of the contour lines on the map I can pick the most comfortable walk to reach the destination. If my guests happen to be keen on a bit of stiff exercise, I can easily adapt the tour to tackle a steep climb.
Ordnance Survey maps really come into their own when it comes to identifying habitat types. Just which creatures one is likely to see in any given area is, in large part, down to the vegetation, the aspect of the land, the altitude and the topography. For example, if I were looking for reptiles in the south of England I would scour the maps for areas of rough grassland, heath or forest edge, disused railway embankments or old quarries. I would not want to be at too great an altitude and I would concentrate my initial searches on level ground or south-facing slopes that catch the sun in the early part of the day. Of course, I have to follow up all my early map research with site visits, help from local experts and internet searches, but at every stage of the trip – including the holiday itself – I refer to my Ordnance Survey maps as the kingpin of the entire adventure.
Now, would Ordnance Survey please provide me with some maps of the Masai Mara?!
This article appeared in the Autumn 12 issue of Walk Magazine