Charlotte Wells- Education Officer & Moth Mad!
Today we have the wonderful Charlotte Wells talking to us about her career as an Wildlife Education Officer and her LOVEEEEEE for all things moths!
Short bio about yourself and your career:
I’m Charlotte and I’m the Education & Community Officer for the Wildlife Trusts. I grew up on the Isle of Man surrounded by nature, but despite the amazing wildlife there weren’t many opportunities for a career in conservation, and even less in environmental education. This made it very difficult to even gain experience, so I found opportunities that made it possible for me to gain experience up and down the UK. I completed a Zoology degree and Conservation Masters down in Cornwall before heading up to Scotland to be a residential volunteer at the Scottish Whale and Dolphin Centre. I then spent a few weeks surveying grey seal pups and a long winter trying to identify them all from photos, before heading down to Devon to complete a funded ‘Marine Education Ranger’ Traineeship. After that I managed to secure my first proper paying job, a year-long contract in Oxford with the wildlife trust there as an Education Officer. When that was over I finally made my way to Essex after being offered my current job to work with the lovely team at Abberton.
How did your career begin?
I have known since I was a child I wanted to work with animals having been absolutely obsessed with tigers. My first taste of environmental education was delivering the animal encounter and feeding talks at the Wildlife Park back on the Isle of Man when I was in sixth form. I had always hated public speaking but wanted to gain some experience and really just to have an excuse to play with the bearded dragons, snakes and lesser hedgehog tenrec! After finally working up the courage to talk, I realised I actually loved telling people all about wildlife and turned out I was so enthusiastic about animals that I was good at it! My time at university gave me the knowledge I needed, and the chances I got to help with events like Bioblitzs and activities with the local primary school convinced me environmental education was definitely for me. Although it took a lot of volunteering and effort to turn it from a passion to a career!
What does your job entail?
I organise and deliver all the educational events for children and occasionally for adults to! This involves running curriculum linked school visits, or sometimes visiting the children at their schools to run workshops. I run our weekly Nature Tots group for children under 5 to get them outside and interested while they are young. I am in charge of the school holiday events programmes, where we run activities like pond dipping, bug hunting, dinosaur discovery, fairy trails and wild art just to name a few almost every day. And if that wasn’t enough, I host nature themed birthday parties most weekends as well. I don’t just do the fun bits though; I also handle the admin side including taking the bookings, risk assessments, advertising and invoices. So basically I get to spend my days running around a nature reserve looking for wildlife and playing nature based games with large groups of overexcited children, often in pouring rain – it’s fabulous!
Please highlight a conservation issue you are particularly involved in:
I think educating future generations is in itself a conservation issue and one I am clearly involved in. In particular getting children outside and engaging with nature and helping them to reduce their plastic use. Essex Wildlife Trust runs plasticology workshops where we teach children how to recycle and think about small changes that can be made to reduce our single plastic usage. An even bigger issue for me is how many children do not spend time outside - and unfortunately many schools don’t provide outdoor learning opportunities. It is so beneficial for children, including improving wellbeing, mental health, physical strength, co-ordination, social skills, risk management. My entire job is about encouraging children to spend more time in nature and get outdoors but recently I have been working on the Nature Friendly Schools Project. It is an enormous countrywide project that works with select schools to give them the knowledge and resources to make outdoor learning a regular feature of each week in an effort to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the pupils! It is an insane amount of work but undeniably rewarding.
What can people do you help with this issue?
Anyone can make small little swaps to reduce their plastic, including swapping clingfilm for foil, beeswax wraps or reusable boxes; a reusable water bottle, shampoo bars or even a bamboo toothbrush. And you can encourage children you know to go outside, point out bugs and trees, jump in puddles, make a mud pie and just ignite the spark of interest from which a love of nature can grow!
How did you get into moths?
My friend dragged me to a moth morning run by the ecological society (it was far too early for me) in our 3rd year at university - but I haven’t regretted getting out of bed for a moment. They had received funding that allowed them to buy several moth traps which were set out overnight at various sites around the local reservoirs, and so they ran regular events to go see what they caught. I could not believe that moths were so interesting! 2500 species in the UK alone, they are not all tiny, they definitely are not all brown, so fluffy and the names are fascinating (neglected rustic, feathered gothic, uncertain). I convinced my Dad to make me a moth trap for my birthday as I couldn’t afford to buy one and it has been all round the country with me. Not only do the moths come to you for minimal effort but I still see multiple new species every year and I imagine I always will – I cannot recommend giving it a go enough if you get the chance.
What is your greatest achievement?
I think my greatest achievement was organising the Fishstock Festival activities week for local school children when I was a Marine education trainee in Devon. It involved things I do every day now, but at the time I had never done most of them before and had very little help to arrange. I organised for a different school group to get a tour of the local fish market every day for a week. I then arranged coaches to take them back to the farm I worked at where I taught them all about sustainable fishing, gave them cooking lessons where we made fish tachos with salsa and booked a local artist to run workshops where they made a large fish and royal themed (weird combination I know) piece of artwork. I did all of it myself, from budgeting, risk assessing and finding an artist to booking the schools, coaches and ordering and preparing 15kg of sustainably caught fish! I probably got just as much experience from organising and running this one week of activities as I did the rest of my traineeship.
What is your favourite species and why?
So hard to pick! I love tigers, bumble bees, whales but I think it has to be a moth. The garden tiger is probably my favourite one I have caught. The colours are amazing, with white and brown patchy forewings and bright orange hindwings with black spots outlined in yellow and filled with blue! When I finally caught one in my garden it was so much bigger and more beautiful than I had anticipated. I love that this amazing creature is just flying around in our gardens and most people haven’t even heard of them let alone seen one. And if that wasn’t enough their caterpillars are so fluffy they are known as woolly bears.
Advice for people wanting to pursue a career in wildlife education?
Probably the same advice as most people give, but volunteer and get as much experience as you can; In particular working with children of different ages, even if it isn’t in an environmental setting. A good tip I was given is too look at the experience required on jobs that you aspire to – and try volunteering to do that. If you know who you would like to work for then try and volunteer with them, it is a really great way to get your foot in the door and may help your chances if a job comes up as you will know what they do and how they do it. Don’t give up if it doesn’t happen straight away, you will almost certainly have to work your way up from volunteer to seasonal to full time. It is quite a small sector and I personally found it really hard to get enough experience because of where I was from, so for me it was a long process but I didn’t give up and it paid off. And lastly make sure you have a good CV and ‘additional information’ section for application forms. You will need to adapt it for each job, but it is this that gets you the interview – fill it in wrong or write it badly and you will never get to show them how great you are in person no matter how much experience you have!