Recently I spoke to Adam Canning who is a naturalist and film maker from the West Midlands. Unlike your stereotypical conservationist Adam is a suburban Brummie from a working-class background. He is also openly gay. He has previously co-presented The Wild Side on Cambridge TV, with Jamie Wyver, and made two series of mini films at the BBC’s Gardeners’ World Live Show at the NEC in Birmingham. You can find some of his work on his youtube channel & follow him on twitter @AdamLCanning.
Adam, it’s great to speak to you. Can you tell me about what it was like growing up in the West Midlands in the 1990s?
Thank you, you too! The short answer to this question would be, it was unpretentious, realistic and down-to-earth. Don’t get me wrong though, I was raised with etiquette and I do hold some propriety. 😉
And the long answer? Well, I must be honest, it was somewhat tough, haha! The West Midlands is not as bad as some people make out though. The conurbation is vast and has a lot of rural areas, amazing green spaces, country parks, great towns and cities. Birmingham, which happens to be in the West Midlands conurbation, is a great metropolitan area; it has given a lot to Britain and the world – it is a green, LGBT+ friendly, multicultural, multi-faith and mixed class-system city – that is a mouthful! Being the true second-city of England, Brum is still one of the UK’s best cities for great music, theatre, art, food and most of all, people. Therefore, some of its suburbs are brilliant – am I being too biased? Haha!
Deep down, I am a rural lad at heart and it is the country-life I seek. You could say, I am Thinking Country. Growing up I was aware of being surrounded by six amazing counties; Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire (not to be confused with Hertfordshire). Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire are the true Three Counties of England, if not of Great Britain.
Did you know, Birmingham used to be part of Warwickshire?
What was your relationship with the natural world during that period?
I was intrigued and fascinated by the natural world and I still am.
My Primary and Middle School had nature reserves and were pretty much in the Worcestershire countryside – some teachers encouraged us to explore and observe what inhabited these wildlife areas, but you had to be given permission first. I recall watching pied-wagtails in the playground at my primary school, we didn’t get those in my back-garden, so I was amazed by them and their characteristics and at my middle school it was frogs in the wee pond and even finding a dead mole at one point (not in the pond might I add!).
When did your interest in film making and cameras begin?
I didn’t get a video camera until I was sixteen. In the 90s I was very much interested in photography, naturally I took stills of the wildlife that was encouraged to ventured into the back-garden, I used standard 110 and 35mm film cameras. It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I started getting a passion for filmmaking and therefore broadcast cameras.
Who, if anyone, has had the biggest influence on the way you see the world?
Ah, that’s a tough one… Various celebrities’ names just came to mind, then as I was trying to pick which one, a name popped into my head and shone above the rest… ‘Emma.’ My sister Emma is the biggest influence on the way I see the world. If I had to choose a celebrity, it would be Simon King, his talks at the Birdfair are so awakening.
Why did you want to become a film maker?
I decided to become a film-maker as I like to entertain and inform people about wildlife, whilst advocating nature conservation – Television is a good platform for that. Springwatch was a big influence, I’ve watched it from the very beginning – it was being presented by Bill Oddie, Kate Humble and Simon King back when I was fifteen, this live TV programme and its enchanting pre-recorded features and narrated wildlife dramas inspired me. It made me want to get out and film my local wildlife and make short informative documentaries about nature, from a younger perspective, from a Brummie’s point of view. It would be nice, if people were more accepting of a West Midlands conurbation accent.
How did you get involved with Cambridge TV and what was it like working with your co-host Jamie Wyver?
Jamie and I made a video, encouraging people to listen to the dawn chorus, on Internal Dawn Chorus day. I contacted a local TV station in the West Midlands about our video and Jamie contacted Cambridge TV. Carl Homer a director at the station enjoyed it and we were invited to the lovely city of Cambridge for a chat, we walked away with the offer to co-produce and present a short series, entitled The Wild Side.
Jamie and I have known each other for years, since I contacted the WWT London Wetland Centre approx seven or eight years ago, regarding a bit of filming. He is great to work with, being patient, knowledgeable and passionate about nature, plus he is fun and humorous too – making it that more enjoyable.
Are there any species that you particularly like filming?
I’m unsure how to answer this one, birds are somewhat easier to film, mammals are a bit more challenging and I seem to enjoy the challenge, as you can observe other wildlife whilst you wait for them, aha!
What species have you found particularly difficult to film?
Mammals give you the run around, so to speak, sometimes for real too – when I was on a filming trip in Scotland, a stoat in ermine proved very difficult to film. Though, I filmed and observed my first ever otter in the East Midlands.
From your point of view what are the biggest challenges of getting into wildlife film-making?
Well, this answer isn’t going to benefit anybody, unfortunately… The reason I am doing what I can to create my own work for me, is because I feel marginalised for being from Birmingham and not being deemed middle-class.
What are your aspirations for the future?
Soon, I hope The Wild Side gets re-commissioned and becomes nationally successful. Then from that, I gain an agent and I get to present other TV programmes. I would love to appear on Springwatch and Countryfile – Countryfile have come to Birmingham before, but not the suburb I am from and I believe they haven’t featured the country parks which are close by.
For the past couple of years you have interviewed gardeners and producers at the BBC’s Gardeners World Live Show in Birmingham. Do you have a particular interest in gardening?
It is one of my passions, but only the wildlife friendly naturalistic kind of horticulture.
Would you like to ultimately specialise in gardens?
Presenting a series about wildlife gardening isn’t something I would turn down. I think I would like to present about wildlife in areas where people think there is none, like Birmingham for example.
What are your concerns for the future of the natural world?
I am concerned that right-wing governments do not care enough about the natural world and the countryside. It worries me, the great demand society has on farmers, hence why sadly some farmers feel like they cannot have unkempt wildlife areas or kill and deter wildlife, or feel the need to use intensive methods. Unfortunately, but also, understandably, some farmers put their livestock’s needs before the natural world, when the natural world and wildlife should always come first. Thankfully science is on the side of wildlife in the UK. It saddens me, that some communities seem to be okay about culling wild animals on farmland.
There’s a lot of concern in conservation circles today about young people being disengaged with the natural world. Is that your experience?
Thankfully, social media is proving that there are some young people who are engaged with the natural world, I hope the younger ones do not shy away from trying to inspire and encourage their peers in taking notice and interest – they all seem to have iPads – they can show their friends my videos, haha! Shameless self-promotion.
What is your favourite film or series made by (or commissioned by) the BBC’s Natural History Unit?
This is another question that is tough to answer. It is usually the most recent one that Sir David Attenborough is presenting. Going Wild with Bill Oddie was brilliant.
The BBC’s most recent bluechip series, Blue Planet 2, has arguably included far more of a conservation leaning than they have had in previous films or series. Do you think wildlife film makers have a responsibility to include conservation messages in their films?
Yes, I feel we certainly do have a responsibility to include conservation messages. I always try to with my online videos and Jamie and I have done in our series The Wild Side.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan is to collaborate with other presenters. I love collaborations and I thoroughly enjoy co-presenting as much as presenting alone.
Thanks so much for speaking to me Adam. I wish you all the best for the future.
Ah, thank you. You too.
You can find Adam’s work on his youtube channel, visit his blog or follow him on twitter @AdamLCanning. If you enjoyed this interview please like it below and follow the blog if you haven’t already. You can find other thinkingcountry interviews on the Meet the Farmers podcast by clicking here.