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Otterly Personal: Freddie Montague Dennis

Madelaine Stannard talks to Freddie Montague Dennis, photographer and campaigner, about his history with the otter. 


A great number of the British public would list the otter as their favourite species. Charismatic, charming, and absurdly cute, this Mustelid is an iconic mammal that has captured the hearts of many. But for Freddie Montague Dennis, the otter isn’t just a favourite. It’s also his muse. 


When asked about what first encouraged him to fall in love with the natural world, Freddie cites an incredible experience as a teenager.


“I was lucky to grow up in the countryside on the River Test, but I never appreciated it. I told people I lived in the middle of nowhere, making it impossible to see friends, that the Wifi signal was terrible. At the time it felt like hell, incredibly lonely and isolating. It wasn’t until I heard a family of otters playing outside my bedroom window one evening in my early teens, that my love for the natural world began.


“As a keystone and indicator species, I realised that having otters on my doorstep meant that other amazing animals must be out there. It led me to transfix myself on all the other species I had neglected for most of my life, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”


Freddie’s story is a little like my own - I grew up with parents who instilled in me a love of nature from a young age, but as I hit my early teens, I forgot just how magical the natural world can be. I found my love for wildlife again, just as Freddie found his. But discovering the otter, and the numerous species he is hooked on, caused him to embark on a path that would lead him to some incredible opportunities. 


Studying Marine & Natural History Photography, Freddie also moved to Cornwall. He describes a great community of like-minded and passionate naturalists all around, that solidifies his own enthusiasm for the natural world. Beginning his photography journey when he was sixteen, after watching his uncle (a photographer at the time), Freddie took to the subject like a duck to water. 


“I was already passionate about art and drawing, so I had an eye for composition and creating. Getting to take pictures of wildlife I was already interested in, especially otters, was addicting. What drives me behind the camera is the urge to get better, and to create work that I am proud of, that can help a wildlife species somehow.”


Discussing the scope that photography can have to tell a story globally,  Freddie tells us about a project he is undertaking, using his photography to make a difference. 


Think Otter is a project that highlights the reality of life for otters on the Isle of Mull, one that nobody seemed to be talking about. I wanted to highlight the poor treatment of the species from photographers, filmmakers, and ‘creators’ who can sometimes push ethical boundaries as they try to capture the best imagery possible. There is also the rising roadkill issue on the island, which as I type, is more than 110 road-related otter deaths since 2013. This is an average of eleven otters killed each year, which for an island the size of Mull is a ridiculous statistic.”


As a patron of The UK Wild Otter Trust, using his platform to advocate for the otter and its wellbeing is a key priority. Freddie became a patron for unexpectedly, after emailing to offer his support and services, as a long-standing admirer of their work. 


“I messaged Dave after following their work for a while - I was offering to photograph a release for them. His reply was short in answering that, but it followed up with him asking me to become a patron and ambassador which, as you can imagine, caught me completely off guard. It means a great deal; I don’t think I have quite processed it yet, nor will I ever. To be a part of a charity that cares so deeply about my favourite animal on the planet, and goes to great lengths to protect and save them will always be an honour, and I’m so humbled to be a part of UKWOT.”


Another issue close to Freddie’s heart is a predominant topic in both amateur and professional photography circles. For Freddie, the answer is simple. Research, he says, is the key.


Photo Credits: Freddie Montague Dennis.


“A lot of people seem to be transfixed with capturing the perfect image nowadays; they don’t seem to care about the animal's welfare at all to achieve it. I could touch on baiting, paid hides and more, but they’re separate topics as it is. But effectively, people simply don’t do the research and will enter an animal's space like a bull in a china shop. Social media especially doesn’t help, when it can sometimes create a very competitive and toxic platform. Everyone trying to outdo one another to get the ‘best’ image, when in reality, a lot of the images you see online haven’t been captured ethically at all."


“Researching the subject before I go out into the field is straightforward, and has always led me to capture images I have been pleased with. I also enjoy it, learning about the animal beforehand, because it’s not just about photography for me. I love my subjects without having a photo of one. I photograph hare a lot - they are skittish animals, so before I even attempted to photograph one for the first time, I researched their natural routines, how high the crops in the field were going to be at certain times of the year. I know the fieldcraft of how to approach them. Some of my best-ever images have been of hares, and I credit that to an ethical approach that is based on research.”



About the Authors:

Freddie Montague-Dennis is a wildlife documentary photographer and natural history filmmaker. He is also an ambassador for the UK Wild Otter Trust. Freddie is an accomplished photographer who has received recognition for his work in various competitions, including Bird Photographer of the Year, British Wildlife Photography Awards, Nature TTL, and RSPCA Young Photographer Awards. His work has also been featured on live television networks such as BBC, BBC South West, and ITV. You can find Freddie on Instagram @freddie.md, or online at https://www.freddiemontaguedennis.com/


Madelaine Stannard is a BSc Zoology graduate, who will be studying MSc Science Communication in Sheffield in the autumn. With a keen interest in endangered species conservation and wildlife photography, you can find Madelaine on Instagram @madelainestannardwild. 


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