Sunday 12 May 2013

David Attenborough Opens Thurrock Thameside Nature Park

Yesterday I went down to Essex Wildlife Trust's new reserve and visitor centre, called Thurrock Thameside Nature Park (TTNP), to photograph its official opening by Sir David Attenborough.  Judging by the reception he received, by everyone I saw there, he was a hugely popular choice, and I think one of the few naturalists who are universally liked.  Due to my close ties to the Trust, I was fortunate enough to be EWT's official photographer.

Anyway, the visit started for me when I first got onto the reserve and saw the Highland cows for the first time, and couldn't resist hopping out of the car to get some photos.  The calves are just so cute, and worthy of a slight delay in getting to the main attraction.

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4 lens @ 26mm, f/6.7, 1/1500s, ISO200, handheld.

Having got there at around 11am, it seemed like an interminable wait for Attenborough to arrive, but it was a couple of hours well spent making sure I knew as much about what was going on as possible, and re-arranging the stage area slightly to allow for the best shots possible.

After a quick trip around the reserve, Sir David then visited a bird hide and chatted to the 'Mucking Club' children who were drawing the view, then had a quick interview with Newsround's Nel Hedayat, I think that'll be broadcast on Tuesday.

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4 lens @ 29mm, f/8, 1/180s, ISO200, +0.5EV, handheld.

A brisk walk (for me, David was in the buggy again) up to the Visitor Centre and another interview with the BBC (watch it here), then a bit of quiet time for him to prepare for his speech.  15 minutes later, we were onto the main event...

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA*300mm f/4 lens @ f/4, 1/350s, ISO800, handheld.

Two thousand people were expected to attend, and I have no idea if that was the final figure or not, but the huge marquee was packed, and we heard speeches from Jules Pretty, Vice-President of Essex Wildlife Trust, Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts and John Hall, CEO of Essex Wildlife Trust, as well as, of course, Sir David Attenborough.

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA*300mm f/4 lens @ f/4, 1/350s, ISO800, handheld.

Attenborough is great to watch, very animated and enthusiastic, and that enthusiasm is so infectious.  Looking back through the many photos I took whilst he was on stage, I'm reminded of a conductor, punctuating his performance with flourishes and exaggerated gestures to help guide the listener.

Pentax K-5, Sigma EX 105mm f/2.8 macro lens @ f/4, 1/500s, ISO800, handheld.

John Hall received an award for the outstanding work he has carried out as head of EWT over the last 25 years or so, presented to him by Sir David, and coming as a big surprise to John.  As ever, John was humble in his acceptance, thanking the staff and especially volunteers that enable the valuable work of the Trust to be carried out.  John's award was a set of plankton prints by artist Debby Mason, unusual but beautiful.  Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the lady in the photo with John and David, but she is the daughter of the farmer that used to own the land in the area.  Her expression epitomises the effect David has on people!

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4 lens @ 21mm, f/8, 1/60s, ISO800, handheld.

Just to prove there were other speakers, here's a shot of Stephanie Hilborne...

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA*300mm f/4 lens @ f/6.7, 1/90s, ISO800, handheld.

...and here's Jules Pretty.

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA*300mm f/4 lens @ f/4, 1/250s, ISO800, handheld.

I'm going to end with a photo that's not technically my best from the day, but it's certainly one of my favourites.  John asked for three cheers for David at the closing of the speeches, and these cheers were the loudest I'd heard for a long time, followed by prolonged applause, that brought David back to his feet, and, very tongue-in-cheek, arms aloft he acknowledged the love that poured from the audience.

Pentax K-5, Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4 lens @ 38mm, f/4.5, 1/350s, ISO800, handheld.

It was a fantastic day, and a real privilege to have such close access for photos, I just hope I made the most of the opportunity, as these don't come along every day.

If you've not been down to TTNP, I urge you to go and see what all the fuss is about, not least to enjoy the song of a hundred Skylarks.

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