Former ranger finds inspiration in wildlife

When wildlife artist John Steele wanders the Northumbrian countryside searching for subjects he never fails to find inspiration.

When wildlife artist John Steele wanders the Northumbrian countryside searching for subjects he never fails to find inspiration.

But then John is well equipped to know what to look for and where.

He has recently retired after 23 years working for Northumberland National Park as a ranger in the Cheviot Hills and latterly as park species and habitats officer.

"During my work there was always the opportunity to observe and increase my knowledge and awareness of plants and animals," says John.

"All my work is field-based. I like to get habitats correct and I spend a tremendous amount of time in the field.

"I never fail to find something of interest, even in the worst weather."

More than 20 of John's artworks are on show at the Kielder Castle visitor centre in Northumberland today and tomorrow.

Yet John spent the first 13 years of his working life in urban Tyneside.

He was brought up in High Heaton in Newcastle and worked as a building control officer for the city council and South Tyneside Council.

But he had developed a taste for the countryside and wildlife as a boy while staying at the family caravan at Boulmer.

"I used to spend all my holidays and weekends there and spent many a happy hour out in the field," says John.

Later in life John would "escape" into the countryside and also took up painting as a way of relaxing.

His interest extended into leading guided walks in the national park on summer weekends. Then at the age of 32 he decided to make the break and applied for the job of park ranger in the Cheviot Hills.

"I had to half my salary but my wife was very supportive. It was a life-changing event," he says.

Wife Jan is a midwife and the couple have four children - Emma 29, Ben 27, Ruth, 25, and Richard, 23 - and live in Rothbury.

Now John, 56, mixes his art with ecological consultancy and working on interpretation panels.

One of his works in the Kielder display features a short eared owl he spotted roosting in the dunes on Lindisfarne.

There is a study of a goshawk on the edge of Harwood Forest south of Simonside. John says: "I was walking in the forest on a very wintry day and the goshawk was sitting on an exposed branch."

Studies of red squirrels near Rothbury are from observations of animals which arrive to take food which is left out for them on a bridleway by a local resident. Other works feature redshanks in the golden glow of sunset on Budle Bay, a buzzard over Debdon at Rothbury, roe deer in birch woods and among cotton grass, a goshawk at Cragside, a barn owl at Hepple, puffins on the Farne Islands and a wheeling flock of bar-tailed godwits at Lindisfarne.


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