How many years have you been working in conservation?
I started volunteering with Ulster Wildlife in 2007, mostly at Bog Meadows and later in 2014 I got a position on the fantastic Nature Skills Traineeship. I got very lucky in 2015, just as I was finishing the traineeship, when a job came up with the Nature Reserves Team. I got that job and here I am today.
Why did you choose a role in conservation?
I always had a fairly passive interest in wildlife from when I was young. I fed the birds and could ID them, I could identify a few common wildflowers when out walking or fishing but never considered a job in conservation. I always wanted to play music and always thought I would have a career in music, playing, teaching or recording. Whilst studying in Belfast I saw one of the Ulster Wildlife vehicles parked one day and thought ‘I wonder what they do?’ so I checked out the charity and began volunteering in my spare time and loved it.
Between 2000 and 2015, I took a break from volunteering and joined a band. We tried to break in to the world of rock stardom, it’s a tough nut to crack it turns out, but we give it a good go. Remembering the fun we had when I volunteered, I left the band with the idea to retrain and possibly return to University to study conservation. Planets aligned and the traineeship came up just at the right time for me and everything fell into place. I consider myself to be very lucky.
What does a typical day in your job look like?
Things of course have changed for us now as we deal with the restrictions relating to Covid but we still get to carry out our essential maintenance on the nature reserves. We start our morning at HQ where we load our truck with the tools we need for a day’s work. We set off for one of our stunning reserves and depending on the season we set about carrying out our work; it could be access maintenance, keeping paths open and safe for the public, invasive species control, scrub control, species monitoring, habitat restoration, meadow cutting, pond clearance, tree planting - the list goes on. We are usually accompanied with a small team of European volunteers or the current trainees, so we are constantly sharing our skills with one another and occasionally getting distracted when a species pops up that is too good not to watch in awe or to photograph.
If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do, what would it be?
It is an incredibly varied job that we do, but to try and put it very simply we are the current but short-lived custodians of these pieces of long established land.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
I enjoy the physical work that it takes to keep these nature reserves at their best and to carry out this demanding work alongside a passionate team is a joy.
What has been your proudest moment to date, since working for Ulster Wildlife?
Some of our nature reserves are regarded as the best examples of their habitat type in the country and simply having the opportunity to maintain these site makes me very proud - that’s the textbook answer. The utterance of ‘ye’s are doing a great job’ from a passing member of the public whilst were working on our public sites makes me proud too.
What is your favourite Ulster wildlife?
I do like a kestrel. A bird that has seen some decline in recent years which makes it all the more exciting to see one.
What’s your most memorable wildlife encounter?
Not to sound too corny but it involves a blue tit. When I was young I pestered my Dad to help me build a bird box - it took some pestering. We built the box and in no time I noticed blue tits coming and going to the box. With the naivety of youth, I had to look in to the box and there where a brood of juvenile blue tits looking up at me. I watched that box and the progress of the chicks all summer long.