Iolo Williams' lockdown weekends sound peaceful and uplifting

Emma-Louise Pritchard
·5-min read
Photo credit: BBC/Jo Charlesworth
Photo credit: BBC/Jo Charlesworth

From Country Living

Iolo Williams is back on our screens for Winterwatch 2021. Iolo will be separated from his co-presenters, Chris Packham, Megan McCubbin and Gillian Burke, to comply with pandemic restrictions and will be broadcasting live from his home turf in mid Wales.

Country Living caught up with Iolo over the phone, ahead of the new series, to talk about lockdown weekends, keeping spirits up and embracing nature in winter.

Where are you spending lockdown?

I’m in lockdown in mid Wales. I’m mid Walian born and bred – they’ll take me out of here in a box! When I do eventually go, stick me in a hole in the ground and plant an oak tree on me so I’m nutrients going into that oak tree. Honestly, I’d die a happy man then. I’m at home with my wife Ceri and my eldest boy Dewi. Our other son, Tomos, is at university in Liverpool.

Any pets?

From when I was a little boy, I’ve always had a dog but we lost our dogs a few years back and, because of work, we haven’t had dogs for eight years now. I really miss having one but it wouldn’t be fair because I’m away so much.

Photo credit: BBC|Jo Charlesworth
Photo credit: BBC|Jo Charlesworth

How do you fill lockdown weekends?

A lot of walking. I’m so lucky here. Within five miles of the village we’ve got quiet country lanes, a couple of woodlands, the Montgomery Canal, the River Severn – plenty of places to go out and walk. Since the beginning of December I’ve also been watching otters and kingfishers. There’s enough around me here just to keep going from week to week.

It’s very, very hard for everybody. We are all losing work. I do a lot of wildlife guiding and I haven’t been able to do any of that since the beginning of April. That’s 16 weeks of work gone. I must admit, if it wasn’t for wildlife, my spirits would be nowhere near as high as they are.

How can we use nature to keep our spirits up during a winter in lockdown?

Just because it’s winter, wildlife doesn’t just shut down. The wildlife around us has to come up with different strategies to survive the most difficult time of year – whether that’s hibernation or feeding frantically. We can help them and take advantage of that.

One of the simplest things is to put out food for wildlife. I’m lucky that I live at the edge of a village in mid Wales with a small garden, so I put out things like fat balls and peanuts for the birds. It gives me huge amounts of joy looking out of my window, with a cup of tea in my hand, watching great spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches, long-tailed tits and great tits.

What about people who don't have gardens?

I realise that I’m talking to some people who will say ‘well actually, I’m on the 14th floor of a block of flats in Birmingham’. But it doesn’t matter where you are – you will have a cemetery, small woodland, park, canal, pond or lake somewhere nearby. Just make sure you spend anything up to half an hour or more a day in those places. Leave the hustle and bustle of the rat race and your worries behind and immerse yourself in the wildlife you see there.

In urban areas, there can be fantastic wildlife. You’ve got a far better chance of seeing a fox in the middle of Birmingham or London than I have here in mid Wales. You'll surprise yourself with what you see – you really will.

Do you recommend window bird feeders for people who live in flats?

Yes I do. Obviously, if you’re on the 20th floor then you’re not going to get much activity there but, if you live fairly low down, then there’s no reason at all why blue tits, great tits, coal tits and maybe the odd chaffinch might pop along and take advantage of it.

I’ve got a good mate who lives in the middle of Birmingham in a flat four or five floors up and, about a month a ago, she saw a peregrine falcon go past her window! That’s the fastest bird in the world and an amazing thing to see. Keep your eyes and ears open no matter where you are.

What lessons can we take from the pandemic?

I’m hoping that everyone’s reconnection with nature will be the most positive thing to come out of this pandemic. We mustn’t forget why we are in the middle of it. It originated in the wet markets in China but it’s come about because of our lack of respect for the natural world and we must change that. I’m really hoping that the most positive effect will be the fact that people have been more active locally, listening to birdsong and watching butterflies, bees and flowers. The seed has been sown and, when this pandemic is over, we’ll remember that wildlife was there for us at our lowest point and we really need to fight for it.

And it's never been more important for younger generations to get into wildlife...

Absolutely. People like Megan McCubbin and Hannah Stitfall are a big boost for the Watches because they attract the younger viewers. It’s vitally important that we convert them to the importance of wildlife so we can hand over the baton.

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