This week the Booth Museum of Natural History continues our series of interviews of the Nature Heroes of Sussex with Andrew Scoon, Volunteer Ranger for South Downs National Park Authority and joint Project Lead for Brighton Dolphin Project.
These are the people who work tirelessly to help protect wildlife and connect people to nature within the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere or the South Downs National Park – and sometimes both. Each week, we focus on a different Nature Hero to highlight the projects they have worked on and find out how they have had a positive impact on our environment. We also asked them for some friendly advice on how we can all do our bit to help wildlife in Sussex, both during and after lockdown.
Andrew has been interested in wildlife since a young age, regularly visiting zoos and trying to protect wildlife around him. He enjoyed both STEM and art subjects at school and so began his early career pursuing product design and then onto engineering. He has kept in touch with the natural world by becoming a scuba diving instructor and volunteering in long-term wildlife projects. Andrew remains a Volunteer Ranger with the South Downs National Park and is Joint Project Lead at the Brighton Dolphin Project after making an assertive effort to change his career path.
What do you love about the wildlife in Sussex?
The thing that grips me about wildlife in Sussex is it’s mammals. My favourite encounters with these elusive creatures include a walk on the Harting downs, which had me cross paths with a stoat, and seeing a family of water voles quietly scamper past me, along the banks of the River Arun. I love seeing bats swooping over head and seeing signs that hedgehogs have visited my garden fills me with joy – they are closer than we think! It is a bit cliché to like the cute and fluffy stuff, but maybe it’s what we’re wired for. They are closer relatives to us and really grip our attention. Mammals tend to be quite significant to ecosystems as a whole too.
What wildlife project have you worked on in Sussex that you feel has made the most difference to wildlife?
I have been volunteering for the South Downs National Park Authority as a Volunteer Ranger for the past four and a half years, which has been an absolute pleasure. I feel they give a lot back to their volunteers through training opportunities and tools and equipment. The experience they offer has really helped with my aspirations in the sector whilst giving me inspiration. I love being active and getting dirty too! We are so lucky to have the South Downs on our doorstep, we have beautiful examples of a chalk grassland habitat, a true global rarity. With delicate streams and important rivers, the porous ground also serves the vital water that we depend upon. I have been lucky enough to construct habitats for forest-dwelling butterflies and dormice, build a hibernaculum and restore a dew pond for Great crested newts and other pond dwellers (I even got in chest deep!). I’ve also been able to take part in planting trees, as well as coppicing, scrub bashing and laying hedgerows for the dual purpose of connecting biodiversity, and maintaining order in land management. Every task is an adventure. The chance to work so closely with the SDNPA brings real insight to the overall impact of the work and the scale of what is being done and just how interlinked we are with nature.
How are you connecting to nature during lockdown? Can you offer any advice to people?
I’m lucky enough to live in a house with a garden – it’s a smallish one, but boy is it bursting with life! For those of you that don’t have a garden, indoor plants might not be improving wildlife – but your connection with the life that surrounds you will surely be strengthened. Secondly, if you can – just walk outside with your eye’s open to everything that’s around you. The UK suffers from having highly degraded wildlife, but there is still plenty out there, and without the pressures of the usual rush of house-car-work, you’ll be surprised at just how much is waiting for you right on your doorstep! It’s amazing to see the variety and strength that UK wildlife still has to offer.
What project are you most excited to get back to when things return to normal?
We’ve been using our lockdown time to plan the future of the Brighton Dolphin Project, and we believe the future is bright. This includes ramping up our focus on the practical side of conservation and research to complement our achievements to date, which have focused primarily on education and community development. We’d like to continue evolving our approach by building stronger collaborations with other active local organisations and by delivering practical insight into the marine environment around Sussex. This will provide a new level of richness to the overall project. We’re also committed to giving our amazing volunteers the deeper engagement and serious conservation opportunities that they crave, without having to leave our shores. In summary, we want to deliver enhanced activity and stronger function working with our dolphins, other marine mammals and the wider marine environment to provide opportunities for those building a career in conservation. This will be quite an undertaking but it has certainly got me raring to go.
What one thing would you recommend that people can do to support local wildlife in Sussex?
The best thing I can suggest is to just connect with nature and do this in anyway that suits you. Join a group, volunteer your time, and just engage with any opportunity – you will get so much out of it. If it’s your style, read and study about local species or you can just get outside, and get in it! If you have a creative streak, you could keep a nature journal to tell a story or create artwork around what you see, hear, smell, touch? You can share what you make on Instagram using the realwildlives handle.
- Discover how to build your own hibernaculum for amphibians and reptiles with this handy guide from The Wildlife Trusts.
- One of the Booth Museum team’s favourite wildlife identifying apps is iNaturalist. Learn more about it on their website.
- Learn how you can get involved to help save Sussex Mammals by visiting the Sussex Mammal Group website.
- We found this awesome video where you can learn more about Brighton Dolphin Project and see footage of dolphins swimming around Brighton.
- You can see lot’s of British mammals on display at the Booth Museum when re-open. In the meantime, why not enjoy seeing a cute little mammal from our collections in detail on our Close Look Collections website.
Watch out for our next Nature Hero of Sussex in our blog next week.
Grace Brindle, Collections Assistant