Eric Ashby (naturalist)

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Eric Ashby

Born(1918-01-19)19 January 1918
Cumberland, England
Died6 February 2003(2003-02-06) (aged 85)
ResidenceBadger Cottage, Linwood, Hampshire, England
OccupationWildlife cameraman
AwardsCherry Kearton Medal and Award

Eric Ashby MBE (19 January 1918 – 6 February 2003) was an English naturalist and wildlife cameraman, often working for the BBC Natural History Unit.

Personal life[edit]

Ashby was born in Cumberland, England on 19 January 1918.[1] Not long afterwards, his family moved to Southsea, Hampshire, where he was raised.[1] At the age of 12, he visited and was influenced by a natural history film show presented by Cherry Kearton at the South Parade Pier there.[1] During World War II, he worked as a farmer in Devon, with his brother Rex.[1] He moved to Linwood, in the New Forest in 1953.[2] In later years, he and his wife Eileen nursed injured foxes at their home there, Badger Cottage.[1] He was also involved in campaigning to protect New Forest badger setts from harm by fox hunts.[3] He was involved in a number of court cases against the New Forest Buck Hounds, his local hunt, and its members, after they trespassed onto his land, variously killing a young buck deer, damaging a badger sett and forcing him to abandon a BBC commission to film badger cubs there.[4]


When he was 16, Ashby's first article, "Bird photography: an ideal hobby for boys", was published in Boy's Own Paper.[4][5]

His first full-length film, The Unknown Forest (45 minutes) was shown on the BBC in 1961.[1] Ashby had spent four years of his own time making it.[1] The writer Richard Mabey says that this film "permanently changed the standards for home-grown wildlife documentaries".[2] Among Ashby's other films was 1963's The Major, the BBC's first wildlife film made in colour.[1] Though originally broadcast in black and white, once screened in colour, in 1967, it became one of the Natural History Unit's most repeated shows.[6]

Unlike many of his early contemporaries, Ashby refused to film tame animals, preferring to painstakingly film natural activity,[1] This led to Sir Peter Scott coining the nickname "The Silent Watcher" for him.[5] Ashby used the name as the title for his second television film.[5] He also developed the habit of making cameo appearances in his documentaries, as a figure half-seen in shadows, watching wildlife.[2] He otherwise kept a low profile, shunning public appearances.[1]

He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Cherry Kearton Medal and Award in 1975,[7] and was made MBE in 1992, for his work with wildlife.[5] He died on 6 February 2003.[1] His wife survived him.[1] He bequeathed most of his film and photographic archive to the charitable conservation project ARKive.[4] A smaller archive was donated to the environmental charity No More Dodos in 2018, by the trustees of his wife Eileen's estate.


  • —— (1989). The Secret Life of the New Forest. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0701134046. – Introduction by Richard Mabey
  • —— (2000). My Life With Foxes. Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 978-0709065616. – Foreword by Chris Packham


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Paine, Barry (18 February 2003). "Eric Ashby – Wildlife film-maker authentically portraying New Forest animals". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Mabey, Richard, Introduction to Ashby, Eric (1989). The Secret Life of the New Forest. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0701134046.
  3. ^ "Group History 1965 To 1987". New Forest Badger Group. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "Eric Ashby". The Telegraph. 13 February 2003. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d "Eric Ashby". Wildfilm. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  6. ^ "The Major (1963)". WildFilmHistory. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  7. ^ "Medals and Awards" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013.

External links[edit]