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'Silent watcher' leaves his wildlife archive to website
By Michael McCarthy Environment Editor
14 February 2003
The stunning wildlife photographs and films of one of Britain's most
remarkable naturalists are to be made available to millions of people
through a new conservation website.
Eric Ashby, known as "the silent watcher", revolutionised the way in
which wildlife was shown on television by filming animals such as deer,
badgers and foxes in entirely natural settings near his home in the New
When his debut film The Unknown Forest was broadcast by the BBC in
January 1961 it set a new benchmark for natural history broadcasts, and
won lasting praise, as did a series of films that followed.
Mr Ashby died last week aged 85, but his legacy is to be celebrated
using technology undreamt of when he first started filming animals as a
teenager. Before his death he gave consent for all his photographs and
moving footage to be digitally copied and made globally accessible by
Arkive, a Bristol-based conservation website recording the images and
sounds of threatened wildlife, which will be launched by Sir David
Attenborough in May.
"Sir Peter Scott called Eric Ashby 'the silent watcher' and by all
accounts he was the most shy and self-effacing man," said Harriet
Nimmo, the Arkive project manager. "But he was always interested in
innovation. He began filming in the early 1930s when it was still quite
rare for ordinary people to have the equipment. He was the first to
capture British wildlife in natural settings, without lights, and he
broke yet more new ground by using colour to shoot a nature television
film. Clearly, he retained his interest in new technology – he was
determined to bequeath his extraordinary collection of photographs,
films, notes and equipment in a way it could be shared by the world."
Arkive researchers are only just starting to assess the full value of
the gift but it has already produced one special contribution to the
website, which has been described as an online Noah's Ark.
"On our very first dip into Mr Ashby's material, we found a perfect
picture of a red-backed shrike on its nest," said Richard Edwards, the
chief researcher. "It is a species which was once found in the New
Forest but sightings now are very rare, and as far as we know it has
been many years since any nested here. Certainly, we've encountered no
other shot like this one. It's a real treasure."
The photograph will be added to the 5,000 stills and 40-plus hours of
moving imagery which will make up the first generation of the Arkive
project, and there are high hopes that Mr Ashby's bequest will contain
further rarities as the research continues.
The Arkive website can be found at www.arkive.org.uk.
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