Working for the Wildlife Trust

Josh Hellon tells us how he found himself working for the Wildlife Trust BCN - and why volunteers are so important to everything we do

I was born in Swavesey, a small village between Huntingdon and Cambridge, and developed an interest in wildlife at a very young age. I have an early memory of writing to David Bellamy for help setting up a wildlife garden at my primary school and being very excited to receive a reply. My uncle worked at Monk’s Wood research station and really encouraged my interest in the natural world.

I studied at the University of Hull, earning a degree in Aquatic Biology and a Masters in Aquatic Biodiversity Monitoring and Conservation. My fieldwork took me to some exotic locations; studying coral at the Ras Mohammed National Park in Egypt and the artisanal fisheries of Lake Nyasa in Tanzania.

After my studies I moved back to Cambridge and started work with the Environment Agency. Initially I worked for the fisheries team, conducting electrofishing surveys, but I moved towards a role in water quality and habitat monitoring. I joined the Wildlife Trust in 2014, coordinating surveys and research at the Great Fen.

Recently I took a new role as the head of the new Monitoring and Research team, organising ecological surveys across  Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. We work with volunteers and staff to collect a wealth of information on species and habitats - our surveys include monitoring of mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and birds, often supporting national monitoring schemes.

The data we collect is used to inform the way we carry out our conservation work; we ensure that the Trust’s work is underpinned by sound science and demonstrate the positive results of our reserve management.

Our work wouldn’t be possible without the help of our volunteers; some have been helping out for more than a decade, surveying and collecting environmental information. A team of volunteers also assist with the hard work of processing data back in the office.

Last year we began a programme of grassland monitoring to assess these important and declining habitats; we visit our sites and check that the condition of species-rich grasslands is not declining. This is based on which species of plant are present and the diversity at the site.

There has been a long-term decline in populations of the hazel dormouse in the UK, the species is now considered rare and vulnerable to extinction. Our programme of monitoring at Brampton Wood is linked to the PTES (People's Trust for Endangered Species) national dormouse monitoring and reintroduction programme - we provide nest boxes for the dormice and use these to keep track of numbers and breeding success.

In our woodlands, we survey bat and bird populations, these surveys tell us the species which are present, and also where they are found. Reserves staff can use this information to help with woodland management.

New technology has completely changed the way we work - we make much use of flying a drone (I am now a licensed pilot) and this enables us to produce accurate aerial maps of our reserves and local wildlife sites. This kind of technology adds to, but doesn’t replace, old fashioned ‘boots on the ground’ surveying.

One of our core values is that, ‘Conservation depends on local knowledge and good science’. Through working with local volunteers, staff and researchers we can ensure that we understand the status of local wildlife and habitats. With this knowledge we can work together to protect them.