The North Yorkshire brothers who inspired David Attenborough and led the way on wildlife photography

Two brothers from North Yorkshire who helped inspire the career choice of leading naturalist Sir David Attenborough have been nominated into the Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters campaign.

Cherry, along with brother Richard were pioneers in wildlife photography and conservation encouraging people to see live animals rather than hunting.

Richard and Cherry Kearton, born in Thwaite, Upper Swaledale during the late 1800s were early wildlife photographers and are part of the campaign being run by North Yorkshire County Council.

The Kearton brothers have an incredible story. Richard was the elder, born in January 1862 with Cherry – named after his grandfather – born July 1871.

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The records show there were five children in total and the family lived at Corner House, in relative poverty at the time when the Swaledale lead mines were in decline.

They were brought up to appreciate the natural world with their father, John, teaching them where to find birds’ nests and to identify bird songs, while grandfather Cherry taught them how to fish.

They were determined to document it, pushing their themselves and the limits of the photographic technology available at the time in order to achieve many of the wildlife photographs they captured. Creating natural – and unusual – hides to sit and wait for birds and animals to return to their habitats. They included an artificial ox, constructed with the help of a taxidermist.

They would crouch inside the ox, positioning the camera on top of a wooden frame inside waiting patiently for the right shot.

Their innovation paid off when, in 1892, they took the first photograph of a birds’ nest with eggs inside. In order to do it they had to overcome obstacles which included climbing sheer cliffs and waiting patiently for hours in often claustrophobic conditions, without moving.

In 1895 they published their first ground-breaking book, titled British Birds’ Nests How, Where and When to Find and Identify Them. It was the first nature book illustrated throughout with photographs.

Richard suffered a serious injury to his hip at the age of seven, while climbing a tree to look at a bird’s nest. He was taken to a ‘bone setter’ who was drunk and caused permanent damage. This meant Richard spent his time closer to home when Cherry travelled the world.

Described as conservationists, both brothers were keen to promote seeing animals alive rather than hunting to kill which was popular at the time.

Helen Guy, trustee of Keld Resource Centre, said Sir David Attenborough had written a letter to the centre which said the brothers “virtually invented natural history photography”. He said: “Cherry’s cinema film about the penguins on Dassen Island captivated me when I saw it as a boy back in the 1930s.”

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