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Nature Heroes of Sussex: Helping Nature’s Recovery with Betsy Gorman

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This week the Booth Museum of Natural History continues our series of interviews of the Nature Heroes of Sussex. Nature has helped many people get through a very difficult period due to Covid-19. Now we consider how we can help to ensure nature’s recovery for the future. This week we are highlighting Rewilding for World Environment Day (5th June 2020) with Betsy Gorman, conservation officer for the BLUE campaign.  

Nature Heroes 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. 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 local environment. We also asked them for some advice on how we can all do our bit to help our wildlife and habitats recover in Sussex.

Betsy Gorman

Growing up in Cornwall Betsy was lucky to be surrounded by nature. As a child, she spent her free time playing outside in fields and woodland with her sisters where she would search for wildlife, scrawling notes on what she had found.

After moving to Sussex, she continued to explore the natural world in local wild spots like Abbott’s Wood, but it wasn’t until she was studying her undergrad at Bristol where she discovered rewilding during an internship. Part of this internship was spent at Knepp Wildlands, where the concept of bringing spontaneity and life back into nature really struck a cord. Since then, she’s spent her time promoting and working in rewilding both in Sussex, with the Rewilding Sussex organisation and across the UK, with the BLUE campaign.

What has been your most memorable wildlife sighting in Sussex?

I would have to say it was my first time staying at Knepp. Me and some other students were heading back to our campsite driving through Repton Park. The sun was just setting and we’d had a good day of data collection and suddenly a bat flew parallel to us and stayed with us until we left the area. It was just such a beautiful moment that it’s stuck with me even so many years later. It just kind of summed up why I love working in ecology.

Common pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium / CC BY-SA

Common pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium / CC BY-SA

What have you worked on in Sussex that has made the most difference?

Woolly Rhinoceros illustration from Wikipedia, ДиБгд / CC BY-SA 4.0

In 2018 I helped with Rewilding Sussex’s Through the bush backwards’ project by contributing some drawings to a rewilding top trump game. This was alongside a comic created by the super talented artist Dan Locke. The comic described the changing landscape of Sussex through time, showing the loss of species and habitats. But it was also hopeful asking people to re-imagine what the landscape may look like. I had so much fun showing this at the Booth Museum last year and the responses from the kids visiting the stall were brilliant. Through Dan’s artwork, they became so invested in the story of Giant Deer (Irish elk) and Woolly Rhinoceros in Sussex. All their drawings of what they wanted their future to look like; more flowers, less cars, more animals was really lovely to see.

A vision for Sussex landscape for 2050, drawn by Harriet at the Booth Museum’s “Dying to Survive” Discovery Day.

What is the best way we can keep connect to nature in our everyday lives?

Flower found on a wall off St Nicholas's church, identified as Ivy-leaf toadflax by iNaturalist

Flower found on a wall off St Nicholas’s church, identified as Ivy-leaf toadflax by iNaturalist

As conservation officer for the BLUE campaign I am constantly trying to see how we can bring wildlife and nature into our everyday lives. I think in this time, there is danger of feeling disconnected, not just from each other but the natural world. You can turn your own bit of land whether its a field, garden or windowsill into a spot for wildlife just by reducing management and allowing nature to flourish. You never know what species may turn up and it’s this spontaneity that really brings the wonder back into urban green spaces. You can also use apps like iNaturalist to identify flowers, fungi and animals right from the moment you leave your door.

Nuthatch in the garden, © Lee Ismail

Nuthatch in the garden, © Lee Ismail

What project are you most excited about when you resume working with your team?

For a while now myself and the Rewilding Sussex organisation have been planning the ‘wild futures’ project and talking with the Booth Museum of Natural History about how they can be involved. This is going to involve exploring wild sites in Sussex with a group of enthusiastic young people to showcase the amazing natural resources we have in the county. We intend the project to give the younger generation a chance to explore their ideas about what the landscape should look like and give them a voice in deciding its future. It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to for some time and hopefully we’ll see it encourage others to think about their connection to the landscape.

What one thing would you recommend people do to support wildlife in Sussex?

Something everyone can do is turn their garden if they have one into a wildlife haven. I’m a huge advocate for everyone having a stake in nature recovery, regardless of how much land they have at their disposal.

Starling, Sturnus vulgaris © Lee Ismail

Starling, Sturnus vulgaris © Lee Ismail

My work at BLUE aims to encourage people to see their garden as an additional resource for food webs in their town. So a practical thing you can do to support local wildlife is leave 20-50% of your garden unmown, at least until the autumn. This’ll give native flowers a chance to establish (great for pollinators) and grass height to increase, meaning shelter and foraging opportunities for reptiles, small mammals, and birds. Leaving leaf litter to accumulate in places is also a good idea as it provides insulated habitats for some mammal species and when it decomposes returns nutrients to the soil. I would also say abandon pesticides. They cause so much unintended damage to wildlife and hopefully, if your garden attracts pest predators like birds, you won’t need them.

bumblebee (white or buff tailed) © Lee Ismail

Discover More

  • The BLUE campaign is an ever-growing community with varying sized dedicated plots, all of which can be recognised by the blue heart placed in any rewilded patch. You can check out the BLUE campaign website for more information on how to join in.
  • You can see the skull and impressive antlers of the Giant deer at the Booth Museum when we re-open – just remember to look above the front desk.
  • Learn more about rewilding across Britain on the Rewilding Britain website
  • Discover European rewilding projects on the Rewilding Europe website
  • Learn how Rewilding can help in combating the global Climate Emergency from the Rewilding Britain article: Rewilding vs climate breakdown
  • Read the Through the Bush Backwards comic on Rewilding Sussex

Watch out for our next Nature Hero of Sussex in our blog next week.

Grace Brindle, Collections Assistant