Updated: May 21
It was the end of March and I had been filming wildlife in the Kalahari Desert for the past five weeks. No shops, no crowds, and no pandemic here. But even so, the crew were being pulled back to the UK as borders started to close. Although a very sensible decision by the production company, if it wasn’t for family commitments, staying in the desert seemed much more appealing!
Back in London I was greeted by empty food shelves, a full-on year 1 and year 5 school curriculum to help facilitate, and quite rightly, two children demanding 100% of my attention, until, at least, I became too boring.
The reality of Lockdown in a 2 bedroom maisonette in South London after the infinite view across the Kalahari was hugely challenging, but the biggest trial came from my son, who, at 5 years, protested every day about leaving the house for any outdoor activity, of any kind. He was NOT going outside.
It was during one of these moments, when, if only for my own sanity, I decided to bring the outdoors in, in an effort to engage the 5-year old in the lost world of mud and mini–beasts.
There was also a bit of macro photography I wanted to do, so why not get the kids involved? I started to make a set on the front room table.
With Painted Lady caterpillars on order I set about collecting earth, branches, stones and fallen leaves and from outside and gradually the two children joined in. They were excited about bringing mud into the house - an opportunity to break the rules perhaps!
The table was covered, plants in and watered.
We moved activity and with a bit of help the youngest painted a backdrop to the scene. I was looking to film with a very shallow depth of field and so a sense of colour and shape was all I needed.
The opportunity for the children to find and film ants, worms, pea bugs was jumped upon and with bucket in hand the team ventured out. Thank goodness! This was becoming their project. The oldest also wanted to do some of the camerawork!
The Painted Lady caterpillars arrived a few days later and over the next few weeks the children followed the process of metamorphosis. It stimulated a lot of conversation, and in my eyes, was far more educational and animal-positive than the ‘big bad wolf’ story provided by school through Google classroom.
Having named all of the caterpillars, the children became quite sad about the lack of movement that came with the chrysalis stage.
As we weren’t going anywhere, both children were there to witness the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, and dry their wings in the sunlight.
We had warm and sunny weather, perfect for a butterfly release. The youngest child, (the one who did not want to go out) insisted on carrying the butterflies to the local park to let them go. The oldest wanted to keep them in her bedroom and just let them fly around for the next 12 months.
We went with option one and we set off to released the Painted Ladies into our wild flower filled local park in Beckenham.
It was a sad moment for the children but also part of growing up, understanding that things don’t always belong to us and we have to let things go. They had achieved something very simple but also important, in a time where they have little control over their own lives and a lack of comprehension about what is happening in the wider world.
But the best part of the story was that we were all outside, without shouting or putting up a flight, and we now visit the park as often as we can in search of our black and orange Painted Ladies.
Richard Hughes is a 2019 BAFTA Cymru nominated wildlife filmmaker
His work can be found on www.richardshughes.co.uk