Harold Hill deer: How wildlife photography led to solace in lockdown
PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:42 14 July 2020
A Harold Hill graphic designer and dad-of-two explains how he found lockdown solace in wildlife photography.
Venturing out in the Dagnam Park reserves with time on his hands after being furloughed, Marc Ayres not only got some stunning shots of the deer there, but discovered what a challenging time it was for the volunteer groups helping the animals. Now Marc is raising money for South Essex Wildlife Hospital by selling his unique monochrome prints.
Life in black and white
Marc’s lockdown series Wild Britain features deer, foxes and other British wildlife is shot in black and white because he is colour blind.
“I have always struggled with colour balance. Monochrome is something I have fairly recently realised is my comfort zone, I just seem to understand it better. As soon as I removed the colour from my work it was like I was back to pencil drawing, which was my passion as a teenager.
“So unless colour is an integral part of the image, like say a sunrise, then it is black and white for me.
“I enjoy many forms of photography including wildlife, portrait, street, documentary, and art to name a few. Although you won’t find me doing a wedding, I take my hat off to those photographers.”
Disturbing the balance
Deserted streets during lockdown have led to the deer in the Dagnam Park reserve settling in the urban areas and this has resulted births in car parks and on footpaths. As the lockdown eases, the parks have been receiving more visitors than usual with city dwellers seeking socially-distanced days out, in addition to the usual walkers with their dogs and this, according to the South Essex Wildlife Hospital, has caused problems for the deer and their new fawns.
As Marc, who has observed this while out taking his photographs, says: “It’s not until something goes wrong that you realise there is a small army of people out there actively protecting the wildlife we have, and those people really are amazing.”
A common problem is that if a fawn or its mother is disturbed by people, it can lead to the fawn being rejected and Marc and some others came across one such who was on its own.
He said: “It was probably very hungry and looking for a surrogate mother. It was coming up to us and nuzzling. We tried to get it away but it would not leave any of us alone. We called Harold Hill Deer Aid and also the South Essex Wildlife Hospital who said to bring it in straight away. The little fawn survived that night but unfortunately died the following evening. Raising a fawn by hand, I have found out, is incredibly difficult.
“Since then I have realised that the wildlife which I go out and photograph and absolutely love seeing, has a small but very dedicated team of mainly volunteers out 24/7 trying to protect them.
“They have a tough job. I have seen people on motocross and quad bikes chase the deer for fun, dogs chasing the deer, and deer on the local estate putting themselves and motorists in danger. As lockdown happened, more people, myself included. have been exploring further into where the wildlife lives, and the wildlife also been creeping on to the estates. It’s a very delicate balance that lockdown has thrown out a bit.”
Solace through a lens
“Like many thousands of others I am currently on furlough, and at the start of lockdown I struggled mentally,” he said.
Indeed, last June Marc said that he felt so low he even contemplated ending his life.
“I am a pretty normal guy - I have good job and a family - but I had buried the issues of my [mental health] past for over 30 years and it ended up with me on the edge, quite literally.
“I am now quite open about this because I think unless people start talking about it, it will never stop being stigmatised.
“Still, when lockdown happened I was quite worried, and that’s where my photography came in. We were allowed out for exercise so that’s what I did, just with my camera in tow. At first I wanted to document the empty streets, but once I discovered the wildlife, I was hooked.
“I have been interested in photography for about 10 years and I actually worked for a fantastic company who paid for me to attend Barking & Dagenham College one day a week for two years to complete a course in photography.
The tutor, Paul Williams, sparked my imagination and although it has taken me a few years since then to find my niche, I have never looked back. I currently work as a graphic designer for a large publishers, so photography isn’t actually part of my role and I now use it as a form of creative escapism.”
Marc is selling prints and postcards, with 50 per cent of the profit going to the South Essex Wildlife Hospital. Visit https://marc-ayres.com/store to purchase a print.