Liz Dack will be well known to many readers of this post. She is an exuberant evangelist for the cause of wildlife, a great supporter of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, excellent photographer, knowledgeable naturalist and jolly good company.
I first encountered Liz whilst working for NWT and helping to manage their Wildlife Information Service. Liz was a regular contributor of images to our wildlife gallery and she moved on to become an education volunteer. Over the past decade I’ve got to know her well and we have enjoyed many excursions into the wilds of Norfolk seeking out the wealth of wild creatures that abound. Liz has accomplished much and has a lot to tell, I’ll let her get on with it…..…..Oh and all the wildlife images accompanying this profile were taken by Liz except the bittern in black & white taken by Emma Turner.
What event triggered your interest in the natural world?
Spending holidays with my grandmother as a child. She would point out and name various garden birds and butterflies. She loved robins and thrushes. I always think of her when I hear a cuckoo. She would say ‘summer is on it’s way – the cuckoo has returned’! I love hearing the cuckoo for this reason.
Give a sketch of a typical day in your life
I love to get up at the crack of dawn. It’s a lovely time of the day to hear the birds sing and watch the sky colours change as the sun rises. Firstly I feed the birds and voles in my garden and check the night camera to see if any hedgehogs have visited our garden and eaten the food put out for them.
Mondays and Wednesdays I go out with my camera regardless of the weather! Rain or shine, there is always something to see and photograph. Maybe an otter will swim through, I may hear a bitten boom or take photos of dewdrops on rose hips.
You’ve worked in the education sector and volunteered for wildlife charities. What would you consider the most rewarding aspects of this work?
I find it rewarding to know my photographs and the work I do are used and appreciated. I like to inspire , encourage and to make a difference where I can. I want to encourage others to enjoy what I enjoy and to try new things. I feel most rewarded by the comments, remarks and confidence that Norfolk Wildlife Trust have given me. They constantly compliment me on my engagement with visitors at the events I work at and my photography, which they have published several times, for other magazines and newspapers as well as their own. As well as being Education Events Volunteer for them, they have also asked me to be a volunteer photographer on many occasions. I feel privileged to be asked to do this; as an amateur I never think of myself as a photographer, just as someone who loves nature and enjoys taking photos as a hobby. It’s great to be able to give something back.
What do you consider the greatest challenges facing wildlife today?
I think we humans are the greatest challenges to wildlife. We have taken their land to build houses. We have driven some of them from their natural habitats by doing away with hedges and putting up fences.
What do you consider to be your greatest success?
My greatest success has been bringing up my family, which also included being a foster mum for many years alongside my own children. I’ve worked with children with Special Educational Needs in school, and during this time I was also attending night school to study A Levels Art and a degree in Early Childhood Studies and Education. I graduated during the millennium.
Share with us some of your proudest moments.
Being invited to attend the Queen’s Garden Party in recognition of my work for various charities, fostering hedgehogs and having children in our garden showing them how to look after hedgehogs weighing cleaning and feeding them etc.
Another Red Letter Day for me was when NWT phoned me and said BBC’s Country File wanted me to feature in a Spring Special they were televising about Emma Turner. I thought it was a wind up! I phoned the film director and was asked if I would be free to be filmed. They wanted a female, amateur photographer who had had photos published to compare with Emma a century on. Really strange I was now being compared to her! James Parry, who was writing a book about her (see below) John Blackburn, reserve manager at Hickling and myself all went out on the boat with the BBC to what is called Emma Turner Island.
This was all filmed. When we got back on shore, I was taken with the crew to be interviewed by John Craven. What a privilege! This episode went live on Country File on Sunday May 20th 2018. I wondered what Emma Turner would have thought? I was in camouflaged clothing, had a hide to look out of and a big lens on my digital camera which takes full colour images. Unlike Emma, I could look at what I’d photographed straight away and delete and try again. She had to make do with old equipment and laying in the cold, damp, smelly reeds.
I was so pleased that they used my photographs and video clips in the programme. The photo of a Bitten was in the same pose as Emma Turner’s, but mine was in colour her’s was black and white. The videos used were of a Reed Bunting swaying on a reed and a Bittern walking though the reedbed. Mine wasn’t booming though; the BBC obviously added sound effects.
What would you consider to be your deepest regret?
Not having the know how or the opportunity to do what I do now at a younger age.
What advice you would give to a budding naturalist?
Get out and about and explore. Join clubs and ask questions. When you find something that interests you, take photos or draw pictures then Google it and find out as much as you can about your subject and build up your own reference library. Show and tell at school and encourage others to take an interest in your hobby. Maybe encourage your school or teacher to have a Forest School, Pond or Nature table.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Have the confidence to believe in myself and do what makes me happy. Not thinking that others know more than me and therefore they are right not me.
If you could be anywhere in the world at this moment where would it be and why?
Where would I be if I could be anywhere in the world is a tough question. I would love to go back to India. The people the food and the wildlife are all wonderful. The children seemed so happy although they didn’t appear to have much and they work hard. But as far as I am concerned there’s nowhere like home. I am Norfolk born and bred. I love living in our county and am proud of it and am passionate about sharing what we have here to anyone who shows an interest or is prepared to listen. We have beautiful beaches, an abundance of wildlife, the Norfolk Broads, lots of history and many wonderful historical buildings. I would always choose to be in Norfolk,
What is your favourite or most admired animal and why?
My favourite animal if I could only choose one would have to be a Barn Owl. I could stand and watch them all day long and never get bored. Their big brown, soft eyes are unusual compared with other birds of prey. They vary so much in colour with the different shades of browns and creamy whites in the plumage which helps them look very individual.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of wildlife?
I have several hobbies which makes me a bit of a hoarder. One day everything I’ve saved will come in handy. I like any type of craft work and anything artistic. I make cards using various techniques, i.e. Pergamano, Iris Folding, Glass Painting, Tea Bag folding, Découpage and using my photos.
What is your favourite musical artist/work?
My favourite musical is Mary Poppins. Sad I know, but it makes me laugh and you can watch it over and over again with the grandchildren and I still enjoy it.
As for artists. Well, after visiting the Sistine Chapel and seeing the ceiling paintings by Michelangelo it was mind-blowingly beautiful. However, I appreciate varied art styles and techniques, Cubism, Pop Art, Impressionism, Surrealism and Art Nouveau. Art and painting, I believe, is very much in the eye of the beholder. It is a very powerful visual aid that can be good or bad. I once went to a Bridget Riley exhibition and had to leave, it made me feel as though the room was moving. I couldn’t stand still. Very clever, although not for me. Another time whilst abroad I wondered into a Salvador Dali art display, I’m not so keen on Surrealism but loved his sculptural work, which later I taught to my art students. We had a lot of fun cutting out watch face pictures and going to a car boot sale to buy old watches to break up to make our own sculpture in Dali style. You can always be open minded and learn new skills and reproduce something you would never have thought of doing. My favourite is Vincent Van Gogh. I studied him for my A level art. Genius or Madness? I often wonder how he would be described today, now we know far more about mental health. Finally, I love the old Norwich School painters. John Sell Cotman, John Crome and Stannard, possibly because their subjects were often local and rural scenes of Norwich and Norfolk,
Top 5 movies of all time and briefly why?
Movies for me are probably the classics. Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Bridget Jones and The Full Monty. Sad I know, but they make me laugh and chill out.
Top 5 books and why?
Anything by Sir David Attenborough as he is my hero! Also a lady called Emma Turner who is becoming more well known these days. Several photos related to her have been discovered and a new book about her has just been printed for the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalist Society. A great book written by my friend James Parry and Jeremy Greenwood. Her most celebrated book, Broadland Birds, was published in 1924. She was a female photographer who took the first photo of a Bittern, in 1911 at Hickling. This proved they were here in the UK after being thought to be extinct. Most of my books are either on art, birds or wildlife. I have read loads of books in the past especially when studying, but I like factual books these days that I can dip in and out of to find out more about a particular species.
Who or what are your heroes/heroines/greatest Inspirations?
As I have said Sir David Attenborough is my hero, and even as a child I loved watching his programs, which back then if I remember were in black and white!
I was so excited when I was invited by Norfolk Wildlife Trust to attend their 90th Birthday celebration where Sir David was the guest of honour to celebrate the newly acquired land at Cley. It was a truly wonderful day. To sit just behind him watching his silver hair blowing in the gentle breeze on a sunny afternoon was amazing. A red letter day for me I shall never forget. I felt so privileged. I don’t think NWT really realised just how much it meant to me.
My other hero is the author I mentioned earlier, Emma Louisa Turner (1867 -1940 ) She was a pioneering bird photographer in what was, back then, very much a man’s world. She was self taught and spent a lot of time here in Norfolk, at Hickling, photographing birds in the reedbed. Her books are so interesting and inspirational, I have learnt so much from her.
I try to model myself doing what she did. For example, listening and watching the behaviour of the birds, anticipating by their behaviour what they would do next or how to spot which bird is moving around by the way the reeds move! However, unlike Emma I have not laid down in the reedbed and been covered by reeds and rotten vegetation to be hidden and camouflaged! Although I have lain and crawled along in the reedbed to take photos of cranes in the past.
What makes you happy?
Being with my family makes me happy. I love having time with the grandchildren and doing things with them. We paint and draw. We go walking with the dogs. We pick Elderflowers and make cordial, which we drink all year round. We bake and just enjoy being together. My grandson used to go out a lot with me seeing wildlife when he was younger, he is just coming to the end of his degree so he has been busy studying. He often phones me to say he has seen a red kite or a fox when he has been out and about. The seed has been sown and am sure he will get back into it again sometime.
What makes you sad?
When I am out and hear bad language in the streets. Sitting on the bus and every one is on their mobile phones. When you give someone something and they don’t say Thank You. I just think manners today are not so good. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old woman!
Name 3 things on your ‘bucket list’
I haven’t got a bucket list.
What would you most like to accomplish and/or be remember
I have encouraged lots of people of all ages to get out with nature and see all the wildlife around us here in Norfolk. It’s my passion and I love being out with nature. I could stand and watch a barn owl for hours.
However I couldn’t stand for a long time watching a football match. We all have to respect each other and do what makes us happy.
Thank you Liz, that was brilliant, you really do fit the category of people who have made a difference. I look forward to seeing more of your wonderful photographs and seeing lots of great wildlife with you in the years to come. For more profiles click here.