Ben Rogers, Trainee Ecologist at JFA, talks us through a typical working day out in the field, his sporting prowess, and why defecating snakes are the bane of his existence.
Why ecology? What attracted you to the profession?
As a student in conservation and biodiversity I’m looking to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible in every area of the industry, and the opportunity I’ve been given here at JFA has been a valuable one. The insight gained from the work I’ve taken part in has given me a greater understanding and appreciation for this sector of the industry and given me a lot of food for thought in terms of a career path. The real passion, though, comes from being out in the countryside surrounded by beautiful scenery and engaging with the wildlife in a hands-on approach. It doesn’t get much better.
Describe a typical working day (if you have one!)
A typical day involves waking up before dawn and laying there for 20 minutes whilst trying to come to terms with being conscious at that time of the day. I then invariably sit in traffic on the M20 for 40 minutes.
Once I arrive on site, I engage in a game of cat and mouse with lizards and snakes in the hopes of transferring as many of them to their new site in Maidstone. Once I’m back from the translocation part of my day, I then spend the afternoon learning Latin while putting species lists together, or working on desk studies.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It has to be the hands-on factor of translocations, engaging with reptiles in their natural habitat and being surrounded by beautiful scenery.
What are the biggest challenges you face, in your field?Early starts and defecating snakes.
How would you characterise JFA as an organisation and what are its principal values?
In my time as a member of the team I have seen JFA display itself as a diverse and vibrant organisation that takes great care in ensuring delivery of the best possible service for their clients while maintaining a high level of responsibility when it comes to the wildlife and landscapes it deals with. As for the principles and values I can only imagine keeping the teabags stocked up is at the top of the list.
What future changes can you foresee in the ecology sector that will have a direct effect on developers?
Reptiles going on strike and refusing to make public appearances between the months of October and February, making it impossible to carry out any translocations.
What are your favourite hobbies or interests?
I have always been very sporty. I played rugby throughout my childhood years, toured in South Africa and in more recent years I have toured in Singapore and Australia. I was a little late making my comeback in time for the World Cup, but I will be ready for the next one in four years.
As well as rugby I enjoy following and occasionally training in mixed martial arts, and have a passion for the theatre. I try not to combine these last two hobbies as it can get a little messy.
If you could invite any three guests to a dinner party – alive or dead – who would you invite and why?
Alan Watts, a philosopher with a keen sense of humour and a flair for telling good stories (liked a drink too, apparently).
My fiancée, a hilarious little lady who is my best friend and someone adore (I need someone to do the dishes too).
Johnny Wilkinson, national hero and rugby legend. My fiancée loves him to bits so he’ll be a good distraction while I sit in a corner and exchange stories with Alan, drinking into the small hours of the morning.
Natural England with Woking Borough Council in Surrey are trialling a new approach to Great Crested Newt (GCN) mitigation with the aim of reducing delays to developments. This strategic new approach considers regional GCN populations and habitat, identifying areas for development and mitigation. At the same time Natural England will look at simplifying the licencing system for developers.
Sounds good, but who pays and how will it be put into practice?
GCN exist in metapopulations utilising multiple ponds and linked good quality terrestrial habitat at a landscape scale. The new approach will involve surveying GCN populations to establish the size, locations and habitat use of GCN populations in the region. This information will be used to identify areas where development will have the least impact and also areas where habitat creation is required to improve connectivity. This information will then be put into a local conservation plan for great crested newts.
At the same time Natural England will use this work to look at how the licencing system can be more straightforward for developers. Great crested newts are protected under European and UK law. As a European Protected Species it is illegal to capture, kill, injure or disturb them without a licence from Natural England. The current process to obtain a mitigation licence involves producing a method statement and associated plans; supported by recent survey data. This application then has to be reviewed by Natural England before the licence will be granted. Due to time constraints around the survey data collection period and the time Natural England require to review the application, a development project can experience delays even before the mitigation stage has begun.
The current idea for the pilot project is that the council will put in place the new habitat so that when development results in habitat loss, the habitat gains will already be in place to compensate. Where there are sites of high conservation value for great crested newts it is likely that developers will seek to avoid those areas.
The potential for this pilot project to help newts and developers is clear to see, effectively it would see developers changing from smaller schemes designed to mitigate the impact of their own development in isolation but be part of a single larger scheme which should be more focused on the population as a whole. The project however would likely require significant upfront funding from local authorities already unable to meet their annual budgets. The mechanism for delivery of the pilot let alone a national scheme on this basis is yet to be explained. However, should these financial hurdles be overcome and the project prove to be successful, this could lead to the licencing system in its current manifestation becoming obsolete.
The pilot project is due to be launched in the autumn. Natural England will be consulting national and local partners from across conservation organisations and the development industry as it evaluates the pilot.
For further information about the pilot scheme, click here.
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