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Why geeks are great (and why we must love them)

Chris Packham Chris Packham | 14:18 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Is there anything better than meeting someone who knows more than you do about the thing that interests you most? Perhaps someone who has spent a tremendous amount of very dedicated and driven time developing a fabulous understanding of that topic? A person whose curiosity has fuelled a brilliant inventiveness, a methodology which has led to the unravelling of unique secrets, maybe utilising a spark of pure genius, maybe as a result of hours, years of totally hard slog.

And, better still, their energy means they can hardly control themselves and just have to tell you everything they know in the first five minutes. They are Kerouac's 'fabulous exploding Roman candles' who 'burn, burn, burn', they are 'the lights that burn twice as brightly', they are those who see 'heaven in a wildflower', who can 'hold infinity in the palms of their hand'. They are wonderful. They are geeks. They are the best bits of my life. In this series they are Frank Greenaway, Raury McKenzie-Dodds and Dave Culley.

Frank is the Bat-man. I've met a few and in all fairness his commitment is not unique, nor perhaps is his contribution to 'Bat Awareness', but for me he encapsulates a distillation of all of their skills... plus he is some sort of 'techno-genius' on top. And as a result his photos are brilliant. And he has a shed. A real Great British Shed, in which he melds his field observations and questions with his inventiveness and determination to find a means of answering them.

He imagined, devised, built and used a 'twiddler' to lure specific bats into his custom-built, high-speed flash guns made using some sort of military silicon hardware. And because it's a British shed, it's called a 'Twiddler', not a 'Sono-rotatory-ultrasonic-chiropto-lure'. That would be California, not Surrey. His skill base is unbelievable and his enthusiasm quiet but electric. He is Hero Number One.

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Video: meeting Frank Greenaway for Springwatch

Hero Number Two is Dave Culley. On his side is that he totally out-loves me when it comes to my favourite bird, the sparrowhawk. But I soon realised that he has gone way beyond this. Dave doesn't sleep for about 11 months of the year. Well, he snatches a few winks but not if his precious hawks are active. He has bugged his nesting pair with a multitude of self financed cameras and webbed them to the world.

He has also most importantly been very, very critically watching and analysing their most intimate behaviour. He stayed awake for 60 hours to record an egg hatching. He has blown apart the idea that sparrowhawks 'start nesting' in March... because hangover-free Dave has seen his male starting to build a nest on New Year's Day. That's pretty hardcore. And also Dave loves knowing, not smugly; he was burning to tell me everything all day when we were filming, and he just wants to find out more. He has plans, his energy is inexhaustible, Dave is Mr Accipiter Nisus. Wow!

I met Raury McKenzie-Dodds in 1991. Or 1993, he will remember. It was a coldish, damp, very un-dragonfly afternoon when we were tinkering around with some now antiquated slo-mo camera. He had inaugurated the National Dragonfly Museum at Ashton Water and instantaneously I fell in love with his amazing passion for the Orthoptera.

He had a big-wig job in the city. A dragonfly landed on his shirt and he saw the light. Magic eh! It by his own admission 'changed his life' and that life has since had an unswerving desire to communicate his epiphany to the world. When Ashton faltered, his motivation didn't and the Dragonfly Project found safe and welcome refuge at the superb National Trust's Wicken Fen Reserve. Here they now have a new centre which is a focus point for the enthusiasm of all things dragons and damsels. Go, visit, enjoy.

But, to be honest, this is all desperately unfair. Frank and particularly Raury enjoy the support of an equally heroic set of fellow enthusiasts. It's just that I don't know them as well, and of course there is a small but priceless guild of other uber-geeks whose company I have yet to revel in. Days to dream about...

Editor's note: Celebrate the geek with Chris and watch his films from this year's Springwatch: Dragonfly geek; Bat geek; and Sparrowhawk geek.


  • Comment number 1.

    Ah yes Chris, PASSION! Getting involved Head-Over-Heels.....going way, way over the top....wonderful indeed. One of the best traits I inherited from my late father and for which I am most grateful. One of the reasons I love Springwatch and Autumnwatch, the marvellous presenters and especially yourself! I admit I fall way short of the wonderful characters named here as I would have serious trouble missing sleep, and sadly I have yet to meet an uber Geek in person --- but boy would I love to. Fancy a trip across to Germany?!! There are so many questions I long to ask an expert......

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Chris,

    Couldn't agree more. The enthusiasm is of these specialists is fantastic. Thanks for the Dave Culley reference. I Googled him and found the 'Sparrowhawk Island'...the live feed is stunning!

  • Comment number 3.

    I think you should feature the amazing ( but potentially damaging) webs of the Ermine moth caterpiller!

    I recently saw what looked like a huge cobweb in a hawthorn hedge near me in East Sussex and had to investigate. It looked as though it was a stage set for a halloween party it had been so perfectly laid out in the hedge. On closer inspection, the web was "killing "the hedge underneath. Ive done only a little research but the webs can cover entire trees ( and even cars)!! They are apparently making a growing appearannce in the British countryside and would be an interesting feature on the program as they are a true wonder of nature......

  • Comment number 4.

    Totally agree Chris, Geeks are great. Where would we be without them? Where would we go when we need an abundance of information on something? There is something fascinating and inspirational about them, it helps if they are a Geek in something you are interested in of course - like nature for instance. It's great to have someone you can ask lots of questions of, and they always want to give you an answer because they are so enthusiastic about the subject. The more Geeks you know, the more you know. Me, I love Geeks ... and it's totally untrue that Geeks don't have partners, they've just got to find the right one. There is one out there for every Geek. I think people should be proud to be Geeks, and everyone should have at least one Geek in their life.

  • Comment number 5.

    Geeks are great, I am a bit of one after all, even if I don't have a massive very in depth knowledge yet, hopefully one day I will be a fully fledged geek like your self Chris, but I am only 16, i have plenty of time to learn and learn :D

  • Comment number 6.

    yesterday i saw my cat trying to get the blue tits in my tree,one of the adults where makeing the most strangest noise the noise sounded like some one loseing its voice,is there somthing rong with the blue tit?...

  • Comment number 7.

    Billy it's good to hear you are following in Chris's footsteps, along with all the other nature loving Geeks. Who needs computer games and TV soaps when you have so much real drama going on all around you. There's so much to learn, soak it all up and enjoy it. Speaking as a youth worker, it's so good to hear about someone like yourself who is going out and getting involved with something which is so worthwhile. Be a Geek, your life will be richer for it, as will other people's when you get to share all that Geeky knowledge with them.

  • Comment number 8.

    Geeks are certainly the best, I've always been a geek & see heaven in a wildflower, paradise in a butterfly wing & intricate beauty in a tail feather of a kestrel - but then I am an artist by trade & colour & pattern has always excited me to the point where I just have to swoon - so I don't just swoon over you Chris! lol

  • Comment number 9.

    Chrs, you and the people you have mentioned are fab! Geeks are fab!

    I must say Frank the Bat-man is excellent, as I love Bats!

    I've always been a wildlife Geek and lover.

  • Comment number 10.


    P.S I wouldn't say I know as much as you do, but as I'm interested in knowing what you and others do, I guess it makes me a Geek, plus because I have always loved wildlife, some people see me as being a Geek, as there's never been a break in loving it and it has always been my passion and hobby.

    Wildlife Filmer Adam ;-)

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank you morgs64 for solving a mystery for me!! We have noticed those strange webs around Silver Birch in Swanholme Nature Reserve ( Lincoln ).Now I can update my website ( hartsholme.weebly.com )and hopefully add some photos of my own..

  • Comment number 12.

    Geeks are wonderful and very important! I'd love to be one but I think my brain in tiny. The science behind nature interests me greatly and those that can make scense and understand it are amazing! We are not worthy!!! xx

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree. Being a geek is great. And yes we do have partners its just finding the right one. I did so, I married her.

  • Comment number 14.

    My family love wildlife and watch Springwatch most evenings but were surprised and shocked at Chris Packhams remark that shooting was an important part of the rural economy. He surely knows that pheasants and partridges are reared, in sometimes horrendous factory farm conditions, for the sole purpose of being shot. Maybe he also thinks that fox hunting and hare coursing are an important part as well. Shame on him and any more remarks like that - please bring back Bill Oddie!

  • Comment number 15.

    Oh Bill, Bless the lovely Bill. I can't choose between Chris and Bill, I love them both! xx

  • Comment number 16.

    I understand what Patricia is saying regarding the way some pheasants and partidges are reared. However, I have not been under the impression that Chris agrees with the type of farming methods referred to here. Clearly I am not aware of his views on this, fox hunting or hare coursing. Perhaps Chris could clarify these points to put viewers' minds at rest. With no disrespect to Bill Oddie, he is clearly very knowledgeable, I don't think replacing Chris is the answer. My opinion is that Chris has brought a lot to the programme and I think the BBC made the right choice when they chose Chris when Bill left.

  • Comment number 17.

    you dont have to convince me , ive always thought geeks are great

  • Comment number 18.

    I am Ruary's nephew.
    I have recently been light-heartedly described as a geek (by my wife) for turning our bathroom into a giant moth trap. I blame that on Chris Packham and no-one else!
    I've got to admit, I don't think I've ever thought of all this as "geekiness".
    To me, geeks are doing what I'm doing right now - tapping away on a computer, when they should be in the great outdoors.
    Blummin eck - I really AM a geek then.
    Must run in the family I guess.
    Off outside quick...!
    Doug Mackenzie Dodds

  • Comment number 19.

    I am so geeky that I would like to oject to the misuse of the work 'geek' in this blog (and on the programme).

    Geek is (or has been) derogatory of an obsessive or encyclopoedia-like interest in utter trivia. (As opposed to scientifically useful information, say)

    Real geeks get cross whenever I describe the original 60s Star Trek as 'a classic comedy series'.

    The people Chris describes are just 'experts' but this is nowadays a loaded word which even those who deserve to be described that way are too modest to use.

    These are the people whose knowledge level reminds me that I should be posting questions, not answers, on message boards like SW/AW and I thank them for every nugget of information dropped.

    (a song title, not an instruction, by the way.)

  • Comment number 20.

    I thought you, and your readers/viewers, might be interested in this website http://www.highlandnaturalists.com/

    Its a celebration of naturalists who have made a contribution to our understanding of Highland wildlife over the last 300 years. Some are well known, others are less so - some are professional scientists, others were/are not. They do have one thing in common, they were/are passionate about wildlife and we hope they will serves as inspiration to others to get involved. Many people think we know all there is to know about our wildlife but, as Springwatch itself shows, nothing could be further from the truth. So don't just sit there - get involved - there's still lots to do.

  • Comment number 21.

    Chris you are a gem for making this cool. It's a stroke of genius to reclaim the derogatory term geek. All the great natural history pioneers would now be termed geeks. So more power to your elbow, you are doing great work, and a big thanks from me.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi Chris, I too am totally in love with the Sparrowhawk. I have footage from my camcorder of what i think is one in my garden, eating a pidgeon! absolutly amazing!

  • Comment number 23.

    Aaaah, the geek, unanimous with classroom teasing, that for some reason switches right around at university to 'legend' status. One thoroughly nice chap on my ecology course was such a wealth of knowledge on absolutely everything that it was impossible not to become massively engaged in conversation. It's hard not to be jealous of that sort of brain, but by the same token it's a needed to push to better ourselves. Well for me anyway.

    Also to Patricia; I certainly don't condone many of the 'sports' indulged by predominantly country folk, however it is important to realise that many of these game reserves are vital for other wildlife to thrive. These areas are heavily protected from predators likely to take game birds and subsequently allow a diverse range of other species to flourish, as well as providing a huge range of ecosystems as these sites often include a range of wooded and grass sites to aid biodiversity. I personally don't agree with the reasoning behind them, but it's far better than a monocultured farmland.

  • Comment number 24.

    I was delighted late last summer when I witnessed a pair of ravens flying together over the chalk cliffs at Seaford Head, here in East Sussex. Never before have I seen two birds fly in such close formation, the one perfectly shadowing the other. Amazing birds, I hope they're here to stay.

  • Comment number 25.

    You are right Chris - geeks are great - and I would like to crown you King Geek! Thank you to all of the Springwatch team for an absolutely brilliant series. I was lucky enough to go to Pensthorpe yesterday and saw you and Kate rehearsing. You even said hello to me and I nearly fell in the river!

  • Comment number 26.

    Geeks should be revered.

  • Comment number 27.

    What does "No Rodin" refer to?

  • Comment number 28.

    Oooops! I meant "No Roding". It's on Chris's tee shirt.


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