Photographers Rosamund and John Macfarlane say they did not want to “just show pretty pictures” in their new exhibition at Wordsworth House and Garden, in Cockermouth.

In the same way their efforts to capture creatures in their habitats are sometimes arduous and uncomfortable, the images also reflect the difficulties faced by the wildlife world, especially when it crosses over with the human activity.

The exhibition – Wildlife Encounters: an Exhibition of British Wildlife Photographs and the Tales Behind Them – tells intimate stories about contacts with selected mammal and bird species, covering environments from mountain tops to lowland woods and meadows, coastline and sea to rivers, from the severely endangered red squirrel to the surprisingly prolific wren.

Rosamund and John MacfarlaneRosamund and John Macfarlane (Image: Rosamund and John Macfarlane)

Rosamund and John have spent a couple of decades watching and photographing wildlife in Britain. They moved to Loweswater in 2008 and since retiring have spent time accumulating photographic qualifications and creating an archive of images.

Previously Rosamund was involved in scientific publishing and medical research work and, for several years, was involved with Nottinghamshire CPRE (Campaign for the Protection of Rural England), becoming vice chairperson and, in that role, meeting the Queen in London in 2006.

John was a physician and professor of respiratory medicine at Nottingham University, as well as chairman of the British Thoracic Society and council member/trustee of the Royal College of Physicians.

The couple’s joint passions are photography, wildlife, mountain walking and travel. Trips to remote places around the world have formed the basis for nationwide illustrated lectures.

During the COVID-19 pandemic they derived much pleasure from exploring and photographing the wildlife and landscapes on their doorstep.

Black GrouseBlack Grouse (Image: Rosamund and John Macfarlane)

Both have received numerous awards and Rosamund was a finalist in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2015. Previous exhibitions include The Word Hoard (2017), Unpicturesque (2019), Landscape and Language: Lost and Found (2019) and Lake District Reflections (2021).

They regularly provide photographs to the Friends of the Lake District – of which they are patrons, – the National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the Wainwright Society, West Lakes Squirrel Initiative, John Muir Trust and various local community groups.

As any wildlife photographer knows, their images are the hard-earned outcome of countless cold pre-dawn starts and long mountain days, and hundreds of hours spent waiting in hides or concealed in undergrowth.

Red squirrel in the rainRed squirrel in the rain (Image: Rosamund and John Macfarlane)

The new exhibition lays bare the complexity of contemporary human-wildlife relations: conflict, competition and co-operation, despair and opportunity. It is pitched somewhere between hope and dismay; between the grievous losses recorded in the UK’s most recent State of Nature report, and the stories of remarkable recovery it also tells.

Rosamund and John say: "We didn't want to just show pretty pictures in this exhibition but to look at how animals and birds and flowers are struggling in our modern environment and a way of doing that is through photography.

“If people like something they will defend it more. There is constant contention at the interface between nature and man. We need to appreciate what a tough time wildlife is having and what adaptations we can make to accommodate it."

Each image in the exhibition is accompanied with explanatory information about how and where it was taken as well as ‘context and concerns’ about the photographed creature’s existence.

The pictures are complemented by original images, prints and books by author, illustrator and artist Jackie Morris and memorable words and poems by one of their sons, the author Robert Macfarlane.

Badger in the reflection pondBadger in the reflection pond (Image: Rosamund and John Macfarlane) Jackie uses materials such as sumi ink and watercolour, including antique paints from the early days of watercolour. She increasingly views her work to be a ritual, a meditation, prayer, for the world, for the wild.

Together, Jackie and Robert created the internationally bestselling books of nature poetry and art, The Lost Words (2017) and The Lost Spells (2020).

Robert’s books about landscape, nature and people, which include Underland (2019), Landmarks (2015), The Old Ways (2012) and Mountains of the Mind (2003), have been translated into many languages and been adapted for music, film, television, radio and theatre. He has also written operas, plays, albums (including, with Johnny Flynn, Lost In The Cedar Wood (2021) and The Moon Also Rises (2023) and films including River (2022) and Mountain (2017), both narrated by Willem Dafoe.

His current book project, coming in 2025, is entitled Is a River Alive? and is about the lives and deaths of rivers and the global Rights of Nature movement.

Robert is a lifelong walker and mountaingoer who visited the Lake District a lot as a child with his parents and brother and, aged 16, completed the Lakeland 3000 footers in 20 hours.

Barn OwlBarn Owl (Image: Rosamund and John Macfarlane)

Of the exhibition, Robert says: "The stories behind the taking of the images – sometimes comic, sometimes fascinating, sometimes surprising – are told. Hope rubs shoulders with despair, and challenge with opportunity.

“It seems right that this exhibition is hung in a house lived in not only by William Wordsworth but also his sister, Dorothy, whose journals are among the most observant and ecologically democratic examples of 19th century ‘nature writing’."

Zoe Gilbert, manager of Wordsworth House, adds: "It has been a joy to work with such passionate and creative people on Wildlife Encounters and the combination of photography, art and poetry is both a beautiful celebration of the wildlife on our doorstep and a call to action for us all to play our part in ensuring their longer-term presence and survival.

“We can all do our bit to support our local wildlife and create space for nature and biodiversity, and John and Rosamund are generously donating any profits from prints sold in the exhibition to the National Trust conservation work and Cumbria Wildlife Trust."

Wildlife Encounters: an Exhibition of British Wildlife Photographs and the Tales Behind Them continues at Wordsworth House and Garden until November 6. Free with entry.

Wordsworth House is open Saturday-Wednesday, from 10am-4pm.