I am a writer and a BBC radio producer. I have been a birdwatcher since I was a child and spent most of my early years either watching birds or dreaming of watching them. I was born in Liverpool in 1961, saw my first swallows in my first back garden, and lived there and in Cheshire until I was five. My family moved to Surrey and then to Bristol when I was thirteen. For a few years I twitched and chased after rarities and walked miles around reservoirs and sewage farms looking for oddities and learning some sort of field-craft.
I was always interested in writing about birds, in words about birds as well as in birds themselves, and my childhood bookshelf had Ted Hughes’ poetry on it alongside field guides. At school I joined the Field Club where the teacher in charge was a good bird-man but also an English teacher who loved Shakespeare.
I went on to study English at university. After that, and in keeping with my evolving wordy-birdy life, I worked for the International Council for Bird Preservation (now known as Birdlife International) where I helped compile Red Data books on threatened species and wrote a useful but dull book on Madagascar's endemic birds, some of the least dull birds in the world. Alternating once again, I gave up conservation and went back to university to study modern Hungarian poetry in Budapest, in the then still communist Hungary. There, I spent much of my time birdwatching in the bustard-rich puszta in the east of the country. On my return to Britain I worked briefly for Save the Children and then in 1988 joined BBC Radio as a Production Trainee.
I have worked full time as a producer for BBC Radio 3 and 4 ever since and make roughly forty programmes a year. I started out working in London on arts programmes like Kaleidoscope (on Radio 4) and Third Ear and Nightwaves (on Radio 3). I moved with my then partner and our two sons to Bristol in 1994 and have worked on a variety of arts programmes (often specialising in poetry – The Echo Chamber and A Map of British Poetry), history documentaries, and radio drama. Birds, and the natural world creep into my work, but I rarely make straight natural history radio.
It took me a while to shake off an English degree (a training in the critical arts at the expense of the creative) and a career in radio production (bringing out the best in other people from beyond a pane of sound-sealing glass). My first book, The Running Sky, was published in 2009. It describes my first five birdwatching decades. At the same time I was writing this memoir I was, with the poet Simon Armitage, assembling the anthology, The Poetry of Birds. My new book Four Fields develops some of the themes The Running Sky sketched, describing more deeply my versions of pastoral as it can be read in four fields spread around the world and which I have known on and off for more than twenty years.
In 2007, I met Claire Spottiswoode, real bird-girl, scientific ornithologist and behavioural ecologist, and we married in 2010. Since then I have lived for some of each year in the fens with her and for the remainder in Bristol where my BBC life continues and where, until recently, my two sons Dominic and Lucian were at school. Claire’s fieldwork is in southern Africa and I hope to spend more time there in the future among unfamiliar but enticing birds and under much better weather.