Wildlife Holiday News

King Penguins (Tim Melling)

Gini Whitlock (002)

An interview with Tour Leader Tim Melling

There are few tour leaders who could match Dr Timothy Melling for the sheer number of different destinations he has led wildlife tours to. From Canada to China, Antarctica to the Arctic and Brazil to Baja (to name but a few), Tim has led our groups around six of the world’s seven continents and his enthusiasm for each is still as infectious as it was when he first started guiding for us back in the late 1990s! So Tim please tell us …

When and how did your interest in wildlife begin?

“My interest in wildlife dates back further than I can remember. As a very young child I was taken to the local library and my Mum told me that I borrowed all the butterfly books on my very first visit. Butterflies were my first passion, and I remember taking up birdwatching as something to do in winter when there weren’t any butterflies about. But my interest in natural history broadened and deepened as I grew older. My parents helped my interest by taking me to lots of wild places around Britain, and I soon became aware that all of these different habitats had lots of different wildlife that I did not see at home. I was hooked, and many decades on I still have my childhood enthusiasm for wildlife.”

When and where was your first tour leading assignment for Naturetrek?

“It started in the late 1990s when Paul Dukes was listening to me explaining to a young family about a Hummingbird Hawk Moth they were watching on the Scilly Isles. A little later Paul wandered over and asked if I had ever led wildlife holidays because he thought I would be good at it. He explained that he worked for Naturetrek and they were looking for people who not only knew about wildlife, but were good at communicating it. A few months later he phoned me up asking if I could accompany Maureen Ponting on a joint birds and flower tour to Crete. So while Maureen had her eyes to the ground looking for flowers I was pointing out Lammergeiers and Golden Eagles above. I enjoyed every minute of that trip and learned a lot from Maureen about tour leading. After just one trip Maureen said that I was perfectly capable of leading a group by myself, and that was the start of a long and happy relationship with Naturetrek.”


Common Blue (Tim Melling)


Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Tim Melling)


Lammergeier (Tim Melling)

What is, or was, your ‘day job’?

“I worked for RSPB for 30 years in the north of England, but have just taken early retirement. My job involved working with developers to safeguard important places for wildlife, but I was also their media spokesperson in the north.”

What other interests do you have outside of wildlife?

“I have a daughter and twin boys who are sport-obsessed, so a lot of my time in recent years was spent taking them to play cricket and football. I also have an interest in photography, but predictably it is mainly wildlife photographs that I take.”

What current conservation projects or issues most interest or concern you?

“Having spent three decades immersed in nature conservation I have lots of concerns.  Globally, climate change concerns me, plus the loss of wildlife habitats through agriculture and development. Closer to home I am appalled that large scale killing of birds of prey still takes place by people with game shooting interests, even though it has been illegal for decades.”

Do you have a favourite bird, mammal or plant?

“Orcas are a firm favourite. I saw my first one in Scotland nearly 40 years ago, and I have had the great privilege to encounter them many times on numerous Naturetrek trips all over the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic. They are always a high point on my trips and they still excite me just as much now as when I saw my first one. I love to see the joy on everyone’s face when we get a really close encounter with a big pod of Orcas.”

What is your most memorable wildlife encounter to date?

“I was leading the Canada West tour back in 2011 and we had set off on an early morning boat trip in search of Sea Otters. I noticed the head of an animal swimming some distance away that I didn’t immediately recognise, but it seemed to be rather cat-like. We hurried to intercept it and were treated to a magnificent Cougar swimming just a few metres in front of us. We followed him to the shore where he climbed out and stared at us disdainfully for a few seconds, before he bounded off and disappeared into the forest. Cougar sightings in North America are very rare and I never dreamed I would see one, let alone getting such good views for the entire group.”  


Orcas (Tim Melling)


Cougar (Tim Melling)

What do you enjoy most about leading wildlife tours?

“Although I love my encounters with wildlife, it often seems a bit flat if there is no one there to enjoy it with me – so Naturetrek tours are perfect for me, where I can enjoy wonderful wildlife encounters with like-minded people.”

What new destination would you most like to travel to next?

“I have always wanted to see a Snow Leopard, so I would love to visit Ladakh.”

What are you reading at the moment?

“I’m just finishing the Ascent of Birds by John Reilly, which explains why birds are where they are on the planet. It gives all manner of interesting explanations, such as the ancestors of Kiwis, Emus, Rheas and Ostriches all colonised their respective locations using flight, and evolved flightlessness independently. And how South American Hoatzins originated in Africa but died out there, and probably colonised America on a floating tree, surviving by eating leaves.”



Which 3 people would you invite to dinner?

“David Attenborough would be my first choice, as his programmes have inspired me since childhood, and I love his way of simplifying complex biological issues so that everyone can understand them. Billy Connolly has always made me laugh, and he comes across as someone that I would love to chat to. And finally as a combination of the two, I’d invite Iolo Williams. I had the great pleasure of working with Iolo when he was at RSPB and he was fantastically knowledgeable about wildlife, but he also has a wonderfully wicked sense of humour and was great fun to be with. That would be quite some dinner party!”

Tim leads our tours to Western Canada, Sichuan, Yunnan, Antarctica, Spitsbergen, Baja California, and a wide variety of other destinations! For more information on Tim’s plans for 2020 please call the Naturetrek office on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..