Creating and conserving England’s largest new native broadleaf woodland would not be possible without our dedicated and hardworking team. Meet Sophie, our biodiversity manager.
Joined the charity
Role at the charity
Tell us about your work prior to joining the charity
I have worked in the nature conservation sector for over 20 years. In the early 1990’s I gained a BSc in biology and environmental biology which I then followed up with a MSc in nature conservation. From there I secured a place on a voluntary trainee programme at Somerset Wildlife Trust where I learnt to how to use a chainsaw, lay hedges and build dry stone walls. I was part of scheme not dissimilar to the Heart of England Forest’s internship programme.
I then went on to work for the Yorkshire Dales National Park and became their first female ranger. In 1998, I started at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust where I stayed for 16 years. My role developed from working on and managing the Trust’s 55 nature reserves, to managing and fundraising for landscape-scale conservation projects. I worked in partnership with other organisations and local groups and together we secured funding for the Tame Valley Wetland Landscape Partnership, a five year project to create and enhance wetland habitats along the River Tame between Tamworth and Coleshill in North Warwickshire. This partnership is still active today.
When did your interest in biodiversity begin?
I was interested in wildlife from an early age. I remember going on nature walks with my primary school which I absolutely loved. At the age of 10 we all had to do a wildlife project. I did mine on grasses. I collected samples, identified them and stuck them in a book. For this I won the school’s Nature Cup!
My family also instilled in me a love of the outdoors and I was lucky enough to grow up in the countryside. I would spend a lot of time in the garden and local fields. My parents have always been keen gardeners and I have encouraged them to make space for nature in their garden by leaving patches of long grass and sowing wildflower seeds.
What are your specialist areas?
I have a background in habitat management; a love of woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands, and I enjoy undertaking wildflower and butterfly surveys.
What do you like most about working at the charity?
I was born and brought up in Worcestershire, so I really enjoy working for a conservation charity in my local patch. I strongly believe in the Heart of England Forest’s mission to create a contiguous native broadleaf Forest across 30,000 acres, encompassing a mosaic of habitats.
The Forest is a haven for wildlife and an essential wildlife corridor (nature recovery network) in the heart of England. This is particularly important in the Midlands region where habitats have become very fragmented leaving many species vulnerable to climate change. It is very exciting to be involved in creating the Forest and optimising its biodiversity potential.
We are constantly finding out more about what lives in the Forest and this is exciting, especially when you learn species like the purple emperor butterfly are here. There is always something new to see and learn about.
I also enjoy working with the team of staff and volunteers. Everyone is friendly and supportive, and we are all passionate about contributing to growing the Forest both for people and wildlife.
What is the biggest challenge in your role?
The Forest covers a large area and it can be quite challenging identifying where to target my time to get the best outcomes for wildlife. But this is of course a good thing, it means there is a lot of space for nature and although not all projects can be done at once we can plan their delivery and then make them happen.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m married with two children so spare time is a bit of a luxury! I enjoy being with my family, going on walks and exploring new trails. The children are good at spotting wildlife too.
I also enjoy playing tennis and I’m a keen skier. In recent years we have traveled to a small town north of the Arctic Circle in Finland – the air is very fresh and clean, the snowy landscapes are amazing and there is even the chance of spotting the Northern Lights.
Helping our native pollinators
We plan to do more for our native pollinators by enhancing the floristic diversity of the woodland rides and glades over the coming years. Read Sophie’s article to find out more.