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Into The Wild Meets: Cain Scrimgeour - Wildlife Photographer/Filmmaker

Cain Scrimgeour has the job a lot of us dream about: He is a wildlife photographer and filmmaker. But how do you get into such a job? And is it as wonderful and exciting as we imagine it to be? Cain tells us more.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

My name is Cain Scrimgeour, I’m 24 year old naturalist, wildlife photographer and filmmaker from the North East of England.  I work as a freelance camera operator, time-lapse photographer, film producer, occasional conservationist and ecologist. I also operate an eco-tourism company based on the Isle of Mull with my business partner Ewan Miles (www.inspirewild.co.uk) , and a clothing company with my little sister Honor (dissipateuk.co.uk) .

What made you want to get into wildlife photography and filmmaking?

My career, and passion for photography and filmmaking began with my interest in wildlife. Ever since I was young, the natural world held me captivated; I believe this developed through the influence of my parents and grandparents, as well the influence of nature herself.

It wasn’t until I was 13 that I had that spark, that moment in life when everything changes, a point in time that you don’t come back from.

I would explore the areas of waste ground by my home near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne as well as Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Holywell Pond Nature Reserve, only 3 miles from my home. The reserve boasted a large pond with two hides, a meadow and a small area of woodland. One day a kind birdwatcher kindly let me look through his telescope. Two Great Crested Grebes sat on a nest only a stones throw from the hide, this was a species I had read about in books, but never dreamt of seeing, especially not so close to my home. How could something so beautiful, so different be so close to my home and I didn’t’ know about it? What else was out there? It was this moment that my interest for the natural world turned into a passion, and my life.

Cain ScrimgeourThroughout High School and 6th Form I didn’t know what I wanted to do, all I knew was that I wanted a job in wildlife, anything to do with wildlife. Academia was never my strong suite, but I still didn’t know which direction to follow, so I ended up studying a BA (Hons) Wildlife and Media at the University of Cumbria, a more practical based degree.

University opened my eyes to the idea of creativity. Creativity wasn’t a word I’d been familiar with as a kid. It also showed me the accessibility of video equipment and the basic processes involved in progressing. It was the direction I’d been looking for.

What’s your earliest memory of nature and wildlife?

I often think about my earliest memory in nature, trying to establish what I can actually remember, or what my grandparent and parents had told me.  I can remember feeding the ducks with my grandma (and possibly an early memory of Great Crested Grebes), I can remember fishing with my dad, but what I always return to is my granddad showing me how a Skylark will land away from its nest, and walk to it on the ground to confuse any potential predators.

What’s your favourite species?

My favourite species is the Sparrowhawk. A species which I’ve grown up with in the shelter belts and woodland fragments that housing development had left. A woodland predator that has perfectly adapted to life in the urban environments, substituting trees for fences and brick walls, finding opportunities amongst the estates gardens, but always returning to the woodland to breed, always staying wild.

I’ve been lucky enough to follow the story of my local pair for almost the past 11 years, finding there nest every May, watching, observing and sometimes filming their behaviours during the breeding season and the development of new life, new wild urban predators.

I see a Sparrowhawk almost everyday, I feel I have a connection with them.

Tell us about the most exciting thing that has happened to you whilst you have been filming.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel across South Africa, South America, Europe and the UK with my work, but the most exciting moment of career so far happened only a stones throw from my home, in my suburban wilderness, with the Sparrowhawks.

Cain ScrimgeourI’d recently been commissioned by the BBC to produce a film close to my heart, a film that followed the life struggles and hardships of my waste ground, my wilderness. As part of the film I was to follow the Sparrowhawk family, I’d found the nest, and it was in a suitable position to film, so I set up a hide close by. The female was the most accommodating I had encountered; she happily let me approach the nest with no distress, unusual amongst the species.

For the first few days I could see that she hadn’t yet finished laying, it made it possible to calculate a rough hatching date, allowing a few days either side. The week of hatching began and I spent as much time in the hide possible, two days after the date, the females behaviour began to change and I knew the first chick was hatching, the female began sitting up and attending the eggs below, gazing down, after a few minutes she reached down and picked up an egg shell. She left the nest and dropped the shell on the woodland right in front of my hide!

I’ve kept the shell; it sits proudly on the shelf in my room.  

BBC Inside Out - Suburban Wastelands from Cain Scrimgeour on Vimeo.

Have you had any disastrous moments?

I’m yet to have any truly disastrous moments so far in my career, but a few that were interesting. For my first paid work, I was commissioned to produce a short promotional film for Northumberland National Park, capturing the beauty of its night skies, to help gain the area Dark Sky Status.

I spent 4 months time-lapsing in all corners Northumberland, capturing well known scenes in a completely new light. It had been a cold beautiful snowy winter, and I’d slept in my bivvy bag in some amazing places. I’d climbed Cheviot four times in February (I still don’t have the sequence I wanted), my car had been stuck in the snow 5 times, but it wasn’t until the last location that I truly experienced the beauty of a Northumbrian Winter.

Cain ScrimgeourDavidson’s Linn is a small waterfall at the foot of Cheviot, deep in the National Park. I’d been helping with Scouts Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions nearby, and the forecast was perfect, so I headed up into the snow filled valleys. Pristine. Not a sole of human footprint in sight, only the tracks of Sheep, Roe Deer and Foxes. The depth of the snow turned a 2 hour walk into a 4 hour walk, the narrow burn and gorge to the falls had been completely covered, I couldn’t see where solid ground ended and water began.

The waterfall sat alone amongst the snow, icicles hanging from its rocky edges, and ice floating on the burn below. The stars shone brightly. A truly magical scene.

I dug a bed out of the snow amongst some nearby conifers, lay my roll matt and bivvy, through my boots inside and climbed inside my sleeping bag. It was a cold but comfortable night, it wasn’t until the morning that I realised my laces had frozen to my boots, making it impossible to put them on!

I later found out that it had been -12 that night.

Northumberland National Park by Night from Cain Scrimgeour on Vimeo.

How important do you think it is for children and the younger generation to learn about our natural environment?

Inspiring the next generations to venture into the natural world is the most important thing for the future of our planet, but also for the health, souls and spirits of the children today. No matter how you look at the natural world, from a scientific approach, from an economic approach or a spiritual approach, nature provides everything we need in life, it’s a fundamental part of our existence and I think that this is forgotten a lot of the time.

The phrase ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ was coined in the past few years, to highlight our detachment from the natural world and the effects it’s having on the children (and adults) of today. So-called ‘Progression’ is by majority to blame, but a progression to what? The end it seems. If it continues who will be left to connect with the natural world, who will protect? And even more importantly who will love it?
Cain ScrimgeourWith my work I aspire to inspire, it’s a fundamental part of my life, sharing my experiences and stories through media and words. Hoping to inspire the next generation to pursue a life in the natural world, learn of its wonders; respect it and fight to conserve it. I’ve been privileged to have endless encouragement from my family, friends, and strangers amongst the wildlife community, but during school I never told anyone of my passion. It was deemed un-cool, so I kept it quiet, it wasn’t until I reached university that I felt comfortable to express my passion for the natural world.

This is a common theme amongst young naturalists, sometimes extending into later life, and a sad sign to the state of today’s society. Every child is born with that inquisitive and curious love of the natural world, its part of us.

I feel times are beginning to change and wildlife is becoming cool again.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone thinking about getting into the industry?

Follow your heart, and always remember shy bairns get nout. Remember those two things and everything else will fall in place.

What equipment would you recommend for a beginner?

The beauty of today is that technology is continuously developing and becoming more and more affordable, you can film HD on pretty much every device now. The importance of equipment is becoming less apparent, the most important thing is to get out their, immerse yourself, share things that inspire you and don’t let anyone put you off.

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?

I hope to continue to dedicate my life to the natural world, following its stories, hopefully inspiring more people to get out there, and continuing to let it inspire myself.

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