Gavin Bennett

Gavin Bennett

Mammal Project Assistant, BBOWT

Describe your job in a nutshell

My job is split between two separate projects which have now been called The Mammal Project.

We have a long-running water vole project where I liaise with land owners to arrange access (this is in the wider countryside as opposed to BBOWT reserves), and then survey for presence/absence along the various waterways, either on the banks or in waders!

Attached to that I’m set to do mink monitoring for some of our partners – we’re partnered with a few people including the Canal & River Trust, so I’ll be monitoring some mink rafts for them.

I also act as a general contact for any landowners who are interested in habitat improvements for water vole – we don’t do any specific habitat management works ourselves for them but we do direct them to the right person and explain the relevant HLS agreements etc which can benefit water voles and generate some cash.

So your job is mostly field based?

Yes, predominantly. It’s been mostly water vole work so far, but I am about to be trained up to do badger vaccinations for bovine TB as well. A few of the Wildlife Trusts have started a badger vaccination program and we’re starting one up later in the year.

That will involve badger surveys, initially on our reserves – mapping setts and planning our trapping schedule, and later on vaccinating badgers, which should be fun!

Gavin Bennett

You seem to have landed yourself a dream conservation role – how did you get your first break?

After I did a Masters in Environmental Sciences at Newcastle I quickly realised that I hadn’t done enough volunteering to get into this sector.

So I started off doing some voluntary research assistant work with Imperial College – mostly bird ringing and related surveys. After that I did a year’s volunteering with BBOWT, which was practical work 3 days a week; chain sawing, brush cutting, chasing cows around and so on!

And then following on from that, I got a place on the Heritage Lottery Fund Developing Green Talent program, where I was one of eight trainees. That was a year’s paid work, working across the reserves team, countryside team, and doing wider countryside work such as helping with Local Nature Partnerships, or looking at planning applications – quite a breadth of things.

Immediately after that I went over to Landguard Bird Observatory in Felixstowe and worked for almost a year as a warden. I did bird surveys, habitat work and bird ringing almost every day for 8 months, which was tiring but fun.

Following that I got my job prior to this one as Assistant Reserves Ecology Officer at BBOWT, where I coordinated all the surveys on our reserves across 3 counties. I managed about 100 volunteers and provided them with all the information they needed, sorted out access, and dealt with all the resulting data. I did quite a lot of surveys myself as well, so it was also a field-based role, 3 or 4 days a week outside in the spring/summer time which was nice.

A month after that I started my current role with BBOWT; so I’ve been around a bit!

Would you say that volunteering experience is essential, no matter what level you’re educated to?

Yes. From what I’ve found myself, and also seen from other people that I’ve worked with – even if you’ve done a PhD, if you want to get into the conservation sector you can’t get ahead without doing voluntary work. It’s essential because it’s so competitive.

What skills do you need for your role?

You need strong ID skills; having a specialism is helpful, but it’s also important to have a broad knowledge of ID skills and associated survey techniques. The surveys I was doing last year were anything from bird surveys to butterflies, as well as detailed vegetation surveys, so it definitely helps to have a breadth of experience.

Attached to the survey side of things, being able to collect data and do something useful with it afterwards is essential! So having good database and spreadsheet skills is important, as is being able to produce user-friendly reports at the end of it all. And being able to use GIS is helpful too. I know it’s something that a lot of undergraduates get trained in now, but it’s easily forgotten if not used day-to-day, so it’s good to keep on top of it.

A love of being outdoors is a must! It’s a competitive field so you also need to be determined and be able to stick at things, and not easily put off when things go wrong – be that when you’re trying to get a job, or when you’re doing your job and things don’t go to plan.

Your job is very field-based, so in terms of personal qualities what helps you succeed in your line of work, other than not minding getting cold and wet?!

A love of being outdoors is a must! It’s a competitive field so you also need to be determined and be able to stick at things, and not easily put off when things go wrong – be that when you’re trying to get a job, or when you’re doing your job and things don’t go to plan.

Especially when you’re doing practical outdoor work, if you turn up and have forgotten something or something unexpected comes up, you need to be fairly resourceful to deal with the situation. And finally, I do a lot of work with volunteers, so it helps if you’re personable and happy to get along with a wide range of people.