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WINGS Tour Leaders – Paul French

Paul French

Image of Paul French

Paul French was born and raised in Wolverhampton, the heart of the Industrial Revolution. Despite this early setback, Paul spent most of his free time exploring the fields and woods (and occasional private fishing pits!) of the surrounding area, while an early assimilation into the Wolverhampton Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) members group saw him visit such wonderful far-flung places as Spurn and north Norfolk. These trips cemented his determination to see as many birds as possible, while having a career in conservation and birding.

After graduating high school, he moved to London and gained his degree in Wildlife Conservation. Along the way, he helped found the East London Birders Forum and managed to get British Storm-Petrel on his London list! After university, Paul did several years of short term contracts for various conservation charities, spending two years as assistant warden at Fair Isle Bird Observatory and a further three years as the RSPB's assistant warden on Shetland, working mainly with seabirds and Red-necked Phalaropes. One winter was spent working for the Barn Owl Trust, doing a population and distribution atlas of Cornwall's Barn Owls. The next challenge came as a full time RSPB warden at the newly purchased Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore reserves. Here, Paul was part of the team that transformed wheat and potato fields into one of the best freshwater wetlands in Britain, creating reedbeds, wet grassland and freshwater scrapes. After nearly 5 years there, a new challenge was provided by working in partnership with the minerals industry on the restoration of their quarries to quality habitats, but government uncertainties saw him encouraged to try his hand at something a little different.

In 2012, Paul decided to take the leap into being a freelance ornithologist, and spent the next 10 or so years working in the consultancy sector doing bird surveys for onshore and offshore windfarms, and on the odd occasion a worthy University, as well as leading several tours a year for Sunbird. When covid hit, he took a full-time job and now leads the bird ID team at HiDef Aerial Surveying.

In his free time, Paul spent much of his 20's and early 30's trying to increase his British "self-found" list, while trying to figure out which part of the world to travel to next. A mild obsession with the British rarity scene and identification in general saw him elected to the British Birds Rarities Committee in 2008, a position which he held for a number of years before being elected as the committee's Chair in in 2015 and continues in that role today. It is probably one of the few roles that calls for just as much diplomacy and bird ID knowledge as being a tour leader!

Outside of the UK, Paul's travels have seen him spend extended times in Israel and Georgia (volunteering for the International Bird Research Centre Eilat and the Batumi Raptor Count respectively), as well as much of the rest of the Western Palearctic. From the deserts of the Western Sahara to the forests of the Ural Mountains, there are few corners of this region he hasn't visited and birded in. Further afield, Paul spent two months in Philippines, two months in Madagascar and made multiple trips to Mongolia, now with a full time job, the only tour he makes time for. Other travels to West Papua, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Ethiopia hint at a love for the road less travelled.

Paul now lives near Spurn in East Yorkshire where his non-bird fascinations include history, science and good beer. 


Updated: June 2023