A winning visit

Last year RSPB Scotland teamed up with Cairngorms Nature in a competition to find the Cairngorms Young Nature Presenter 2016. Fourteen year old James Miller won the public vote to be named the winner with his film on badgers. His prize was a five day Speyside Wildlife Holiday for him and his family, as well as spending a day while there with nature presenter Iolo Williams. Here's James's report of his trip.

James and his family with Iolo Williams, and Duncan MacDonald from Speyside Wildlife.

Hello, I’m James Miller, I’m fourteen and I was lucky enough to be the winner of last year’s Cairngorms Young Nature Presenter Competition. Almost exactly one year ago, I was in my room devouring the RSPB’s teenage magazine when I stumbled across this: ‘COMPETITION: MAKE A WILDLIFE DOCUMENTARY!’ This sounded right up my street, so I read further. The idea was to create a one and a half minute long documentary, in which you talked about a species of wildlife of your choice and said why you wanted to present Cairngorms Nature.

And then I saw what the prize was and that got me really excited. Not only did you get to spend five days in the Cairngorms in Scotland, having guided tours around the National Park courtesy of Speyside Wildlife, but you also got to meet Iolo Williams, the Springwatch presenter! So I spent the last bit of my summer holidays planning, filming and editing a documentary on badgers - I’m really lucky as they visit my garden regularly, so I can get pretty close to them. I had to re-film most scenes a few times to get them perfect, but at last it was ready, so I added it to the competition page on the RSPB website, and crossed my fingers. And one day I was checking my emails at school and up popped a message:‘Congratulations!  Your entry has made the final shortlist for the Cairngorms Nature Young Presenter Competition 2016.’ The ten shortlisted entries were being opened up to a public vote – nerve-wracking! But somehow, I won! The competition organisers phoned me in early December to let me know, and put me in touch with the wonderful people at Speyside Wildlife, who explained everything about the holiday, and got me really looking forward to the trip.

Iolo and James

And the trip itself, when the time came, was AMAZING! We were lucky with the weather – sunny days and snowfall turned the already scenic views into spectacular snowscapes. I met some great people, and this was probably my favourite aspect of the trip. First of all there was our guide, Duncan MacDonald, who was very nice as well as very knowledgeable - he made the whole trip really enjoyable for us. We spent one day with Iolo Williams, which was absolutely brilliant. He’s really enthusiastic and has a great sense of humour that made him a real pleasure to spend the day with. He gave me lots of advice on presenting in general, on what people are looking for in a presenter, how he got into the presenting career, and what the job is like. I also got advice on presenting from Miranda Krestovnikoff - the president of the RSPB, as well as a presenter on a number of TV programs such as Coast and The One Show. She was really interesting, and a great person to be around - pleasant, good humoured, and passionate about wildlife. We were also joined by RSPB Scotland's Stuart Benn and he was genuinely fantastic. They were all such great people and really made the experience special for me.

While we were there I saw some truly unforgettable wildlife! In total we identified nearly 100 species, and among these were some rare and very striking creatures. On one day, we saw FOUR golden eagles thanks to the collected knowledge and ‘eagle eyes’ of Duncan our guide, Iolo Williams, who accompanied us, and in particular Stuart Benn, who has particularly good knowledge and enthusiasm for  golden eagles. We were very lucky to see this many as they are pretty elusive. There was some aggressive interaction between the four we saw. One eagle repeatedly swooped at another until the second flew away. We were also treated to an eagle’s display flight – it plunged downwards at speed before spreading its wings at the last moment and slowly ascending again. It repeated this routine several times in front of us before disappearing behind the mountains.  At one point we had three in the same field of view through the scope! They were truly impressive birds.

Miranda and James

We also saw some crested tits by Loch Garten. It was the first time I had ever seen these creatures in the wild.  They kept on returning to two bird feeders, giving very close up views and allowing you to clearly see the iconic crests that give them their name. Finally, possibly the animal that is most famously associated with Scottish wildlife: the red squirrel. We had two fleeting glimpses of them, and even in these brief encounters I could tell why Scotland, and Britain as a whole, cherishes this stunning creature so much.  It has a very strong character, and very striking colours to match it.

Now, unfortunately, this trip of a lifetime has ended, and I’m already getting a little nostalgic for the Cairngorms – it’s such an amazing place, somewhere I definitely want to visit again. The experience, however, is still going. I have got more out of this than simply the memories, which is great. Speyside Wildlife has invited me to give a talk this summer at their stall in the Birdfair this year, which is really nice of them; I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also helping judge the Cairngorms Nature Presenter Competition this year, which is an honour, and I have to thank Charlotte Milburn of the Cairngorms National Park Authority for giving me this opportunity, as well as everything else she has done for me and the competition. And whilst I’m at thanking people, I would like to thank everyone involved in organising the competition and everyone I met in the Cairngorms for making it such an amazing time – I am very grateful.