Charlotte Bradley- Conservation Ranger
Short bio about yourself and your career:
My name is Charlotte Bradley, I have worked for Essex Wildlife Trust for 12 Years, starting in May 2008 as Warden at Abberton Reservoir Nature Reserve.
I started my career in livestock farming after achieving an HND in Agriculture at Writtle College. I worked as the herdsperson on a dairy farm for a number of years. I then went back to do a top up degree in Rural Resource Management, gaining a BSc Hons. 2:1. I then worked at Hanningfield Fishing Lodge for Essex & Suffolk Water as a Ranger for a couple of years, before getting the role of Warden at Abberton. My job title changed to Ranger in recent years, but the role is to look after the nature reserve maintenance and enhancement of habitats, species protection and visitor engagement. I work 2 days a week in this role and I also work 2 days a week as Conservation and Land Advisor for Essex & Suffolk Water also based at Abberton Reservoir, looking after the landscape around the reservoir. The two roles sit very nicely side by side and give me a good understanding of how the nature reserve fits into the surrounding landscape being beside the reservoir that is an SSSI, SPA and Ramsar site, so of international importance as a wetland and for the waterfowl species that frequent it. Lat year I achieved full membership of CIEEM. I live with my husband and our rescue Lurcher called Dolly Willow! I have chickens and enjoy looking after my garden and allotment. I practice yoga and play the piano, and enjoy going for walks with our dog.
How did your career begin?
My career began in livestock farming which I did for around 12 years and I have always been drawn to the idea of humans being custodians and protectors of the landscape rather than having ownership over it. I very much believe in farming practices that work with nature and spent a holiday as a child on an amazing dairy farm that had all sorts of environmental projects going on alongside its regular farming practices. I have since through my current job visited farms that are doing the same and much of the ESW tenanted land around Abberton Reservoir is under environmentally friendly prescriptions such as wildflower margins around the arable land. A background in farming can give practical skills alongside being adaptable to ongoing situations and arising issues and an ability to be flexible and work round problems such as changing weather, breakdowns and breakages, and plants not always growing as or where you would wish them too! I think it was a good basis for me to move across into conservation and certainly not a hindrance.
What does your job entail?
My job as Ranger is full and varied and is never the same on any day. I lead a group of over 20 reserve volunteers in two work parties every week alongside our Assistant Ranger Katie, who I am mentoring through this, her first conservation role. We continue to develop and maintain the nature reserve to be the best example of good habitat management that it can be with a variety of habitats on a fairly small area and a high number of visitors. So public engagement is also key. I have given regular guided walks on the reserve for many years and Katie and I have also added Guide in the Hide sessions to engage with the public and these have proved to be popular as have the guided walks where we can explain in more detail the work it takes to maintain and enhance such a wonderful young reserve.
Please highlight a conservation issue you are particularly involved in:
I have spent much of the years since starting at Abberton focussing on the habitat management which is really important on a young and developing reserve. Making sure it is robust and flourishing. Creating or enhancing a natural habitat is an amazing thing to embark upon and can often be highlighted in the media quite rightly as an achievement for wildlife, but the follow up management can make or break the success of such endeavours. More mundane but so important to me is making sure all the habitats we have created at Abberton reach their full potential and are sustained in good condition going into the future. The wildflower areas take very specific management of annual cut and collect to keep them in top condition and flowering with a wide variety of species every year. The ponds have had some recent maintenance to make them more resilient to changing weather patterns. I have had them made bigger, deeper and had the base re-puddled to hold more water through times of low rainfall. We have finished planting trees in our woodland, but we are moving into a period of management where we need to begin thinning, coppicing, clearing glades and widening paths and rides. A high number of trees are initially planted to make sure we have enough surviving, but now some will need to be removed so they do not outgrow each other. Coppicing will also maintain a range of layers within the woodland and scrub making it suitable for many species, and birds such as Nightingale like early stage coppice woodland that provides dense cover. I am also now looking at species specific work such as increasing surveying as many species as we can across the reserve, and we have great volunteers who help with bird and butterfly surveys. I would also like to put out some tracking ink pads to see if we have Dormice at our site. Last year we discovered we have Great Crested Newts, so I plan to survey all the ponds (next year now as we had to postpone this year) to record their occurrence and any specific management we may need to consider in order to protect them. I also plan to work towards my Great Crested Newt Licence.
What can people do to help with this issue?
Monitoring protected species is important as it helps record the value of a particular site and inform future management and protection both on the reserve and the surrounding landscape. People can support protected species by getting involved with Essex Wildlife Trust Campaigns, become a volunteer, but also be aware that wildlife can be in their own space. All nesting birds are protected so it is important not to cut down trees and hedges through the summer season, from February right through to September. Keep any summer pruning light and just the outermost growth. Trees are best cut in Winter anyway when they are dormant so will survive work done on them better. Creating a pond, even a small one can help all sorts of wildlife including newts and frogs, as long as they have an escape route. Even damp, cool, corners of a shed, yard or under plant pots can provide vital overwintering shelter to such creatures.
What is your greatest achievement?
I am very proud to be working In a role where I can help to protect the wildlife of Essex into the future, help make the landscape more resilient to a changing climate and other pressures, engaging with people to give them a greater understanding of the importance of looking after the natural world and having a great working relationship with our dedicated team of volunteers who help us so much with the ongoing and never ending list of tasks on and around the reserve.
What is your favourite species and why?
The Brown Hare. They are the most magical creature. A fairly large, long eared mammal, but they can disappear before your very eyes giving them an ethereal quality. They are not often seen so it is always a treat when I spot one or if I am lucky more than one, loping across a field, or maybe chasing and boxing. I have had a few close encounters and when you see a Hare up close and look into its amazing huge dark eyes it thrills as much as seeing some rare or exotic species. They are a good marker of the general health of the countryside as they like to range over a variety of habitats including grassland, arable, hedges and woodland edges, so we need to look after all these things as a whole to help these and other creatures move safely around and to thrive going into the future.
Advice for people wanting to pursue a career in practical conservation?
This is not an easy sector to achieve a career in, and it took me some time to make the move across from farming into conservation with many years of volunteering alongside my qualifications and background transferable skills. If you really want to do it then do not give up. Persist until you achieve it. It can be disheartening if you get knocked back, but if you work hard, including much volunteering to get your face known as well as to gain experience is probably key. Qualifications alone may not be enough, and you will gain great experience as our volunteers do many of the jobs we do including getting trained up to use equipment such as tractors, brushcutters etc. You will also gain great friendships and get out in the fresh air and landscape. This will help you be sure that this is definitely the direction you want to go in. Some tasks can be monotonous however valuable, and it can be cold or wet or both sometimes! Engaging with the public has also become much more a focus of many wildlife organisations in recent years so you must be able to enthuse about what you do.