It is with great sadness that I write this tribute to my roe deer mentor and great friend Terry Copperthwaite who passed away a few weeks ago. All the images appearing in this post were taken with Terry over a number of years.
I first came across Terry five years ago when I was looking for a deer expert to help me with a long term project to document the natural history of Roe deer. Roe are perhaps our most beautiful species of deer in the British Isles. As a prey species though they are naturally shy and therefore difficult to get close to. In approaching the project I knew I would need to learn the specialist fieldcraft required if I was to have any hope of getting close enough to get the images I was hoping for. Terry appeared on a DVD I bought from Sweden about stalking Roe. Terry was introduced as a professional deer stalker, whose territory he managed lying in the beautiful rolling hills of southern England, holding a well kept and balanced population of Roe deer. The film features a variety of encounters with Roebucks during the rut. On each occasion Terry was able to get the Swedish stalkers to within just a few metres of the buck. At the end of the film the programme makers included a credit to Terry which simply read ‘Terry Copperthwaite – thank you for teaching us.’
I contacted Terry to introduce myself and asked if he could help me with my project, teaching me the fieldcraft skills involved in stalking Roe. I wasn’t expecting a reply to be honest. Hunting is an emotive subject and the stalking community are naturally careful when it comes to unsolicited approaches. I was very surprised therefore when Terry came back to me almost straight away. That was Terry though, he would do anything for anyone.
Terry said he really liked my work and proposed a deal, he would help me and in return he wanted my help with photographing the deer. Terry had a deep love and passion for Roe deer and whilst he had stalked Roe all his life he confessed that these days he preferred watching and photographing them to shooting. I agreed and so developed the start of a very long and rewarding mentoring relationship and friendship.
I went down to stay with Terry at his based on the outskirts of Salisbury and he would take me out to find deer early morning and late evening on the 24 or so farms he managed across Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset. The Roe rut takes place during high summer so it meant getting up early at 4am and we weren’t back to 11pm. These were halcyon days though. Terry was extremely generous with his knowledge and taught me so much about the natural history of Roe deer. He had also led a very interesting life, characterised typically by bravery and serving others, having previously had a long and highly distinguished career in the Metropolitan police before retiring in 2010 to set up his stalking business. We spent many hours talking and putting the world to rights. As well as being highly knowledgeable about his subject and possessing a huge generosity of spirit Terry also had a very dry sense of humour that suited my own and there was a lot of laughter. My times with Terry over the next few summers are now such treasured memories
In 2014 Terry and I started leading Roe deer workshops together. To my knowledge we were the only people confident enough to offer specialist Roe deer photography workshops.
The above image of a Roe doe in a crop of barley was taken with Terry. Called ‘Fields of Gold’ both Terry and I were proud that it won a highly commended in the Habitat category of the British Wildlife Photography Awards a couple of years ago. Those close to Terry will appreciate the way in which the title of the image now resonates.
Terry was more than just a mentor and business partner though, he was a dear friend. He was very caring and I will never forget the times he called me when I have been going through difficult times myself. His support during these periods made all the difference and helped get me through a stronger person. Terry was like that, just inspirational.
I count myself fortunate enough to be able to spend time with Terry before his passing and got the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to me. I also made Terry a promise that I would finish the Roe deer project and that the resulting book would be for him. It will take me a few more years to ensure it is a fitting tribute but I intend to keep that promise
Terry was a true gentleman, a loyal friend, a superbly knowledgable naturalist and a passionate conservationist. I am going to miss him greatly. My thoughts are very much with Terry’s family at this difficult time. I would like to take the opportunity to thank them for welcoming me so warmly into it. I very much feel like a member of the Copperthwaite clan.
In the weeks since Terry’s passing I have spent a lot of time out in the wild with the Roe, determined to continue with the project. This has been a great comfort in dealing with my own personal grief. I have felt Terry with me, his voice and presence, as I have put into practice the fieldcraft and knowledge he generously passed on to me. I hope it shows in my work which will feature in my next blog, Heatherlands. In the meantime, I wanted to finish with the images below. Going back through my files these are the last two photographs I took with Terry on a workshop with a couple of clients during the Roe rut in 2016. I hope this blog is a fitting tribute to a very special person and role model.
Terry Copperthwaite, master buck you’ll always be with me in my heart and thoughts – thank you for teaching me. My turn now to pass it on to the next generation.