I currently live in Highland Perthshire surrounded by an extensive menagerie. Here on a small farm I have planted 1000s of trees and hedge plants and witnessed the rewarding results in a short timeframe. A formative part of my childhood was spent in Ardnamurchan, the UK’s most westerly mainland peninsula, a place that fires my passion for the natural world. Sourcing specimens for the primary school nature table was something I relished. Guddling in rockpools and filling my wellie boots with frogspawn to take to the school’s fish tank filled me with glee – my love of amphibians continues, though now I use a bucket! My extensive nature photographic library contains a burgeoning collection of frog fornication images. Toads are fabulous too, providing they don’t turn into Princes.
I started taking photographs and writing diaries describing my wildlife encounters while at primary school. I had an overwhelming desire to become a vet, but this was an unreachable goal. At secondary school I loved hill walking, sailing and camping but it was clear that my forte academically was English, and art, and I was inept at sciences and maths – I failed the latter 5 times – if you are going to fail you might as well do it spectacularly. For community service I helped the local vet where I shaved numerous cats’ tummies prior to neutering operations, and went out to lambings and calvings when I should have been in lessons – my shrewd geography teacher wrote in my report, ‘We have been studying Africa this term, meanwhile Polly has been in other parts of the world.’ However, these skills have proved extremely useful. Despite being unable to go to vet school, my love of caring for sick animals and birds continues – I have always found parasites and their extraordinary life cycles intriguing. While working in a zoo, I was responsible for wildlife rehabilitation. Numerous casualties were brought in, and I hand-reared orphans, including puma cubs, piglets, hedgehogs, raptors, eagle owls, parrots, a giant hornbill, deer, foxes and badgers.
Professionally, I began writing soon after leaving school.
For over 30 years I have been contributing monthly to The Scots Magazine and The People’s Friend, and until recently was wildlife writer for The Scottish Field. I contribute to numerous other magazines including BBC Wildlife Magazine, Scottish Wildlife, Tractor & Farming Heritage, & Rehabilitation Today. For 13 years I was editor and wildlife advisor for Country Artists in-house magazine.
I have written numerous books and am currently working on a nature-writing memoir. A Scurry of Red Squirrels – Nurturing the Wild, will be published by Birlinn in early summer 2021. I am co-founder and chairman of A Write Highland Hoolie – Mallaig’s Book Festival, and love chairing events at my favourite, Wigtown Book Festival.
As a trustee at Aigas, the country’s foremost Field Centre near Beauly, I find that their excellent education and ranger training programmes, and dedicated conservation and habitat restoration work, fills me with hope. I contribute regularly to the work of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture – an exciting rewilding advocacy of media professionals – photographers, writers, filmmakers and speakers whose aim is to inform and inspire a new way of thinking. The natural world holds the key to our future success on this planet, and we must protect it now as never before.