An exhibition of stunning images from Ashley’s new book which captures one man’s mission to document climate change around the world.
Ashley gained a BSc Hons in Physical Geography from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1983. Entering the marketplace in the era of Maggie’s Millions, Ashley decided to return to his holiday job as a bin man for the Ribble Valley Borough Council, alongside evening bar work to earn enough money to go travelling. The low point of this career move was on Mondays, when he was placed on the affectionately named ‘shit tanker’. This lorry toured the properties that were not attached to mains sewerage and didn’t have a septic tank. A metal bucket with a wooden plank over the top was to be found in the toilet shed in back yards. These metal buckets had to be emptied once a week.
Ashley first decided to travel to Malawi to meet with a school friend who was working as a volunteer teacher there. In those days you could not fly direct to Malawi, but had to go via Lusaka in Zambia. During the stop over he decided to explore the shanty town outskirts of the city, with camera and binoculars around his neck. Unbeknown to him, the headquarters of the ANC in exile were based in Lusaka, and the week before his visit the South African security services had sent a hit squad to blow it up. The Zambians were understandably paranoid about South African spies. He was approached by a group of teenagers who accused him of being a South African spy. Ashley decided the best course of action was to leg it. A keen runner, he outran the mob, thinking he had escaped, only moments later to be arrested by the Zambian police on suspicion of being a South African spy. For an ardent Mandela fan this was the ultimate insult. Thankfully he was released to carry on his journey to Malawi, after some worrying hours thinking of Midnight Express.
It was whilst in Malawi that Ashley saw at first hand the work of LEPRA, the British Leprosy Relief Association. He returned to the UK, determined to help. The idea of a continuous expedition to climb every 3,000 foot mountain in Great Britain and Ireland was hatched. Six months of planning later Ashley set off on the 10th May 1986. Little did he know that this was to be the coldest and wettest spring/summer on record in Scotland, where most of the 3,000 footers are to be found. 111 days later, Ashley became the first person to climb every 3,000 foot peak in Great Britain and Eire in one continuous expedition. The walk was over 1,450 miles with over 500,000 feet of ascent. It rained and /or snowed on 93 of the 111 days, with few views from the tops. Ashley came close to being killed on three occasions. The first when 120 mph winds bowled him across an ice plateau and threatened to tear him off the mountain and over a 600 foot cliff, the second when he was avalanched in the Cairngorms, and the third when he realised he was stood on the cornice overhanging the 2,000 foot northern cliffs of Ben Nevis, in a total white out. The feat has not been repeated to this day, but more importantly raised £14,000 for LEPRA. Ashley returned to Malawi in 1987 to see at first hand, how the money he had raised was being spent. One of the proudest moments of his life was meeting the many leprosy sufferers being treated by LEPRA. The funds raised paid for over 1,000 people to be treated. Returning home Ashley moved to the Lake District to take up a job with Europa Sport, who had sponsored all his mountaineering equipment for the walk.
In 1990 Ashley was employed by the NSPCC, as the Appeals Manager for Cumbria. When he started, the child protection charity had one service unit based in Carlisle. Working closely with volunteers over the next twenty years, Ashley raised over £4 Million for services to children in Cumbria, and launched separate appeals to raise the money to open up an additional three child protection teams.
In 2010 Ashley won the climate change category of the Worldwide Environmental Photographer of the Year Competition. His work is published widely in newspapers, books, magazines and on TV around the world. In 2013, Ashley documented what was probably the first known incident of a Polar Bear starving to death directly as a result of climate change. The photograph was run as the lead, front page story in the Guardian newspaper.
For the last thirteen years Ashley has been travelling the world, documenting the impacts of climate change, the last seven of which have been full time. His travels have taken him to over thirty countries and every continent on the planet. His passion for the subject is fuelled by the knowledge that climate change poses the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.
Ashley has been a team member of the Langdale/Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team for the last twenty three years. The team is one of the busiest in the UK, averaging over 100 rescues a year. He has had spells as both Team Secretary and Chairman.
Ashley lives in Ambleside with his wife Jill and Border Collie, Tag.