Nature saved my life: Scottish photographer reveals how wildlife healed his soul

Ross Lawford is loving his life.

And he has plenty of reasons why. Now aged 39 and living in Edinburgh, he has a partner and a two-year-old son. He is a keen amateur photographer and has just published his first book, with a second in the pipeline. The future is bright.

But it wasn’t always this way. Mr Lawford has had to overcome debilitating mental health troubles to get where he is today.

For more than a year in his early 20s he was unable to leave the house due to crippling agoraphobia, then spent another two years battling serious depression.

Edinburgh wildlife photographer Ross Lawford and his two-year-old son Daniel have been enjoying exploring nature together during lockdown Ross Lawford - 'How watching wildlife (otters in particular) helped Edinburgh-based amateur photographer overcome struggles with mental health'.

He was unable to work, had no close friends and relied on his mum and dad to care for him.

It’s only now he can look back with clarity and chart his path to recovery.

The process began while he was hiding away in his parental home, too fearful to go outside. He would spend hours just staring out of the windows, watching birds, foxes and other wildlife in the garden, and soon developed a fascination with nature.

As time went on, he was eventually moved to plan an expedition to experience the outdoors first-hand. But any outing had to be organised in advance with military precision.

Watching the antics of otters proved a major inspiration for Lawford's journey to wellness

He could travel by bike, so avoiding contact with people. The exact route would be mapped, as well as departure time, to dodge crowds. The weather had to be right. He would set out each item of clothing he had to wear.

Each detail was important. Plans would instantly fall asunder if any deviation was required.

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But he did it. And slowly, over the past few years, he has reached a previously unknown level of contentment. He puts it all down to the healing powers of nature.

Now aged 39, Ross Lawford has never felt happier and more positive about life Ross Lawford - 'How watching wildlife (otters in particular) helped Edinburgh-based amateur photographer overcome struggles with mental health'.

So strong was his connection with animals, he would go on to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary and later work face-to-face with the public, offering nature tours on the Isle of Mull.

His first book, Otter Tracks, is released this week. In it he describes an early encounter with an otter named Squeaks who inspired his journey to wellness.

“The little otter bounds out, armed with an abundance of energy; she’s like a coiled spring that’s been released,” he writes.

“She stands on her back legs to get that little bit taller to best view the man staring straight back.

“Her deep hazel eyes stare me down as her nose twitches uncontrollably, whilst her long whiskers drape down to cover her pale cheeks, her front paws grasped together as she let out a quiet squeak.”

Mr Lawford was furloughed from his job in a restaurant kitchen when the coronavirus crisis hit and then made redundant.

But he has been making the most of the free time, sharing care of his young son with partner Kerry.

“I’m now the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “I’ve been enjoying teaching Daniel about wildlife.

“We’ve explored rivers and forests and he has been on his first proper hill walk, with him in a backpack. He has also seen an otter.

“It’s wonderful – we can never get that time back.”

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