Almost 30 years ago, Rodger McPhail was commissioned to paint the first ever Wildlife Habitat Trust stamp. Charlie Wearden provides an insight into the renowned artist’s background and inspiration, and the story behind the painting on the Trust’s stamp for 2020/21.
Rodger McPhail is a widely known wildlife and sporting artist whose work is sought after internationally. An enthusiastic shot, fisherman and naturalist, his love and knowledge of his subjects is evident in his work.
Rodger spent much of his childhood drawing and painting and was obsessed with birds and animals from an early age. He spent his free time wandering the local fields and woods. Inspired by nature, it was inevitable that his twin passions of art and wildlife would merge.
Rodger modestly claims that he became an artist because he did not excel at anything else: “When you are only good at one thing, it rather restricts your choice of career! I began to realise that I just might be able to make a living from art when I started doing illustrations for the Shooting Times magazine, and even managed to sell a few paintings when I was still at school.”
After attending art colleges in Coventry and Liverpool, Rodger went straight into his career as a wildlife artist, “without ever having to do a proper job”.
Many might be surprised to learn that Rodger did not come from a ‘sporting’ family. “At the age of 11, the only shooting available was the opportunity to head out wildfowling with my brother-in-law for a weekend on the marshes at Morecambe Bay. Still living in Coventry at the time, this was a big treat,” he explains.
Since then, Rodger’s passion for shooting and fishing has enabled him to travel the globe in pursuit of a vast range of quarry – from bonefish to bobwhite quail.
Rodger was commissioned to paint the first ever UK ‘Duck Stamp’ nearly 30 years ago and feels honoured to be asked again.
Pink-footed geese over Morecambe Bay was chosen as the subject, and this perfectly coincides with the Morecambe Bay Wildfowlers Association’s centenary. It is fitting that the Wildlife Habitat Trust 2020/21 stamp should depict the glorious ritual of pink-footed geese flighting over Cockerham Marsh – a sight that so many wildfowlers will be familiar with.
Rodger decided to paint the geese from an aerial viewpoint, looking down onto the marsh and showing a unique bird’s-eye view of this famous area. “I am much indebted to my good friends and experienced local wildfowlers Keith and Tom Sykes,” he acknowledges. “They helped me choose the site, tracked down recent drone footage of the bay, and even supplied me with a freshly shot pink-foot as a model.”
The Wildlife Habitat Trust (WHT) provides an important avenue for people wanting to buy land for shooting and conservation. All the money raised by the sale of WHT stamps and other merchandise is used to facilitate land purchase and provide grants.
The WHT has demonstrated what can be achieved with the support of the shooting community. To date, it has enabled 4,299 acres of land valued (at date of purchase) at £3,699,818 to be bought by BASC-affiliated shooting groups. Without the support of BASC members, this would not be possible.