Paul just wild about the countryside

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THEY are pictures that tell the glorious story of Derbyshire’s abundant wildlife.

They also tell a more poignant tale of change and decline in some of our most popular birds.

Paul Hobson

Paul Hobson

Robins, dippers and blue tits abound but the common house sparrow, cuckoo and the one-time ever-present starling are in decline.

Climate change issues?

Maybe, but for every species in short supply it seems that others blossom, or so the story of Derbyshire’s wildlife as photographed by Paul Hobson appears to show.

“You can tell the change in climate and the way things fluctuate,” said Paul Hobson, former teacher and now full-time wildlife photographer and wildlife photography expedition leader.

“There haven’t been many red grouse in recent years and they and other birds seem to go in cycles.

“The biggest change is the cuckoo. I haven’t heard a cuckoo hardly at all this year, they seem to have virtually disappeared. They have been in decline for 20 years, I would say.

“Likewise with the starling and the house sparrow: 20 to 25 years ago they were virtually seen as vermin. People would put out food and nesting boxes and complain about them taking them over. Now they are fairly rare and people are trying to attract them back. Now there are lots of blue tits and robins and jays are making a comeback, just as the magpie did.

“There are almost as many jays as magpies now because they have slowly realised that they can live in cities and towns.”

Insects too tell a story of constant change.

“There were very few butterflies this year. The cold wet weather at the beginning of summer didn’t do them any good at all and dragonfly numbers have only come back a bit at the end of summer.”

The book is a culmination of three years work for Paul - in between leading photographic expeditions to some more exotic locations.

“I travel quite extensively, mainly in Northern Europe but prefer to work much closer to home in Sheffield and Derbyshire because I can spend so much more time on each project.

“This year I spent a month working with mountain hares learning about their habits to help me predict where I could successfully photograph them. I have also spent much more time with the unsung heroes of the natural world, we all love ladybirds but there are many other small animals that we often dismiss as boring, like woodlice but they can produce really good images.”

There were some unusual ways of accessing some of the images in Wild Derbyshire.

“I wanted to get split level shots of rivers where you can see above and below water in the same image,” adds Paul.

“It took ages to get a reasonable picture and cost £300 just for the waterproof bag for the camera, you get lots of funny looks lying on the bank of a river with your camera half in-out of the water!

“I also went on a microlite flight from near Ashbourne in Derbyshire and flew over Lathkill Dale, it was absolutely amazing. Trouble is I’m not the best flyer in the world. In big planes I’m fine but in one as small as that I got quite sick.

“That was made worse with having to focus through a camera viewfinder with all that bobbing and swaying. Although it was a great experience I did feel quite queasy by the end of it. We were up there for a couple of hours.

“It really does look different from up there, you get a real sense of the scale of the area.

“The views are spectacular and there is no window between you and the view so the pictures are really sharp. We were about 500 to 600 metres up in autumn, it gets a bit thin up there.“

Derbyshire is a stunning and beautiful county and it’s not just the Peak District that looks good.

“The county is visited by millions of people,”adds Paul.

“A lot of photographers have done the Peak District but I wanted to widen it. The Peak District itself isn’t all that big. Matlock is in the Dales and a lot of other picturesque places are.

“Places like Cromford and Wirksworth are in the Dales, a lot of people don’t realise. They tend to think of it all as the Peak District. It’s a really popular county with year-round visitors and it’s next to Sheffield of course.

“I have done the whole project myself, all the writing, photography and design and paid the printer, no publishers

So which picture is his favourite?

“The black grouse is one of my favourite shots. They became extinct in the 1990s on the moors locally but have been re-introduced in the Strines area.

“The dance thing the grouse is doing is called lekking, it’s a competitive mating display that’s really impressive when you see it. They are one of my favourite birds .

“Sometimes I like to take pictures that have clear, simple messages,” adds 53-year-old Paul of Rivelin Valley.

“You don’t need a caption to go with this one, it’s about toads and roads. It doesn’t need to be explained. It jumps out at you.”