I met Allan Archer whilst volunteering in the Visitor Centre at NWT Ranworth Broad. His infectious enthusiasm for all things wildlife was apparent from the start, as was his prodigious knowledge of blues music. We spent several evenings during the summer of 2018 setting up a moth trap so that we could display live creatures to the general public the following day. During this time his passion for the natural world and his quirky sense of humour, akin to my own, cemented our friendship. Allan now works at Pensthorpe Natural Park here in Norfolk, where he is Wildlife Education Officer. He spends his time inspiring a new generation of budding naturalists and introducing children to the wonders of, amongst other things, galls. Over to you Allan….
I have been a wildlife enthusiast, some would say obsessive, since I had the good fortune to visit Kruger National Park when I was twelve. Fast forward to 2000 when I first launched talk:Wildlife . My aim was to raise awareness about conservation projects that I felt were not as well-known as they should be.
talk: Wildlife has been through a few formats and now, following a short hiatus, I have relaunched it (March 2020). I am still very passionate about wildlife and get a real kick out of talking to people about it. Whether it be talking to schools and visitors to Pensthorpe Natural Park, where I am the Wildlife Education Officer, family and friends or other like-minded people I meet. I am hoping the site will provide me a platform for doing more of it.
What event triggered your interest in the natural world?
A school trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa. I grew up in South Africa otherwise it would have been a very expensive trip!
Who influenced you most when you first got interested in nature?
The coach driver on my school trip to Kruger NP; he took me under his wing for some reason and taught me loads on that trip – never saw him again after that but I am very grateful to him.
What advice you would give to a budding naturalist?
Your whole world is about to get so much better. Don’t worry about having to put a name to everything you see, just enjoy seeing it. If you don’t know…ask… there are many people with experience that would be happy to help.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Don’t listen to the teachers and careers adviser that tells you that you can’t do Zoology – you can, just do it!
If you could be anywhere in the world at this moment where would it be and why?
Pensthorpe talking to a bunch of school kids about pollination. Followed by a trip to Titchwell; via Choseley Barns.
What are your three ‘go-to’ guides when identifying wildlife?
Collins Bird Guide
Bees of Norfolk – Nick Owens
Wild Flowers – Simon Harrap
What are your top five wildlife related books?
The Serengeti Rules – Sean, B. Carrol
Old Four Legs – J.L B. Smith
The Most Perfect Thing – Tim Birkhead
The Life of the Robin – David Lack
The Malay Archipelago – Alfred Russel Wallace
So many more…
Name your three favourite nature reserves in the UK
Name your three favourite nature reserves, or equivalent, outside the UK
Kruger National Park – South Africa
O Reilly’s – Australia
My old patch in Elspark – South Africa; sadly, now being built on!
Who is/are your wildlife hero/s?
Alfred Russel Wallace – so much more than Darwin’s shadow! Read ‘The Malay Archipelago’!
David Attenborough – I guess everyone will probably mention him.
Jane Goodall – an absolute legend.
David Lack – a pioneer; his books are ground-breaking.
Linnaeus – We say tomato; he says Solanum lycopersicum
What is your favourite or most admired animal and why?
There isn’t one I don’t admire, but my favourites at the moment are sea squirts. They fascinate me; as do Galls.
Which, now extinct animal/plant would you most like to have seen?
Argentavis magnificens – one of the largest ever flying birds.
What are your five wildlife sightings which gave you the biggest buzz?
My first Green Silver-lines moth in my garden
My first ever Red Kite, years ago at Tregaron
Any sighting of a Black-shouldered Kite
Wild Dogs in Kruger Park
A Giraffe in South Africa seen when I was on foot (i.e. not in a vehicle)
What are your favourite 3 photographs you have taken of wildlife?
I don’t pretend to be a great photographer; but I managed to get a nice one of a male Lion (see featured image). Also, a Vervet Monkey,
and I quite like the one I took of a bee ball – Yellow-legged Mining Bees fighting in a quarry in Pensthorp
Name 5 things on your nature ‘bucket list’
To see Wandering Albatross.
To visit the Asa Wright Centre in Trinidad.
To see a Kentish Glory Moth.
To swim with a Coelacanth – never going to happen!
To visit the Okavango
What do you consider the greatest challenges facing wildlife today?
People not getting the message, not understanding the message and not caring if they do get the message. We need to act to protect wildlife; it is that simple!
You have a lot of experience working with wildlife organisations. What would you say is the most rewarding element of this?
Delivering wildlife education activities to schools, and talking to families (especially those just starting to discover it) about wildlife.
Thanks Allan, infectious and informative as ever. Let’s hope you get to swim with that Coelacanth, as you say ‘you can, just do it!’