Filmmaker Ben Macdonald ‘indebted’ to Castle School teachers

A WILDLIFE filmmaker and author has said he is ‘indebted’ to his old teachers at the Castle School in Thornbury.

Ben Macdonald, has travelled all over the world making documentaries, and says the school played a big role in fostering his ambitions.

The 32-year-old has worked on the likes of Springwatch, and the Sir David Attenborough-narrated shows The Hunt and Our Planet.

His interest in nature began when collecting butterflies as a pupil at St Michael’s Primary School in Winterbourne, and regular trips to Slimbridge Wetland Centre soon followed.

“My parents were always very encouraging,” said Ben.

“Anything that can fly has always been fascinating to me.

“I knew by 14 or 15 I wanted to be a documentary maker.”

Referring to his time at Castle School, and later the sixth form, he added: “I was very lucky. I has a fantastic biology teacher in Dave Cooke.”

Ben also namechecked English teachers Cressida Inglis and Shelagh Fagan and geography teachers Catherine Brain and Garry Atterton as positive influences during his time at school.

He later studied natural history at Oxford University.

“It takes a huge amount of failure and perseverance,” said Ben, who started off making his own wildlife films in the Forest of Dean.

“When you get your foot in the door it gets easier.”

Ben has since spent time researching new animal behaviours in places such as Mongolia and Papa New Guinea.

A trip to the Indonesian island of Sumatra stands out as a highlight.

“We were trying to be the first people to capture orangutans using sticks as tools.

“We wanted to show how human these animals area and raise awareness of the deforestation they are faced with,” he said.

Ben’s experiences abroad and love of winged creatures led him to write Rebirding, where he puts forward his argument for restoring Britain’s wildlife. The book won The Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation.

“You tend to realise quite what we are missing,” said Ben.

“The average village in Eastern Poland will be full of nightingales.

“You come back to Britain and we are doing an amazing job of wiping out the wild places we have left.

“Pelicans are actually native to Britain, they were just hunted out.

Ben, who now lives in Bristol, said the reaction to the book proved there are ‘hundreds of thousands of people who are hopeful about nature’.

“It’s done better than I could have hoped,” he added.

His second book Orchard, written with Nicholas Gates, saw his study an orchard across the course of a year.

“We were blown away by how much lived in this one orchard. Owls, woodpeckers, pole cats and weasels.

“The Severn Vale was once one continuous orchard. They are useful places to have.

“If we can plant more, even in the Thornbury area, we could see a big increase in the wildlife we have,” said Ben.

His third book, Cornerstones, will reveal the crucial roles that certain animals play in the British countryside and is due to be published later this year.

Despite spending time all over the world these days, Covid restrictions permitting, Ben has never forgotten his time as a student in Thornbury.

“I am indebted to the Castle School, especially the sixth form, he said.

“It played a big role in encouraging me to work hard and be ambitious. We all owe a lot to our teachers.”

For more information about Ben go to ben-macdonald.co.uk

Gazette Series Gloucestershire