Jo Wray- Site Manager who built a nature reserve from scratch!
Updated: May 26, 2020
For our first inspirational conservationist, may I present Jo Wray! Jo is an incredible naturalist who has been fighting to protect nature for over 20 years...
Short bio about yourself and your career:
Hi there my name is Jo Wray, I was born on Ascension Island so had a great childhood snorkelling in the sea, watching green turtles and climbing up various volcanoes. I’m sure that’s where my love of wildlife and animals came from. I have lived in Essex for nearly 18 years and have worked for Essex Wildlife Trust all of that time. Previously I worked in Cambridgeshire for the local Wildlife Trust at Grafham Water. I have a BSc Hons degree in Conservation Management. I also love cooking and baking cakes and have recently taken up karate which I do with my daughter to try and stay fit. My daughter, partner and I love to walk our mad cocker spaniel along the estuary or in woodlands and really appreciate spending time outdoors. I love spending time with family and friends especially if we are eating all of the cakes I’ve made!
How did you get into conservation?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do apart from I wanted to work with animals. I was looking for university courses and came across conservation degrees. I liked the idea of this as I’d be outdoors, managing habitats for animals. That’s when I decided to get into conservation. My degree was a four years sandwich course with a year out doing work. I went to Grafham Water and had the most amazing year there and never looked back.
What was it like building a nature reserve from scratch?
Amazing. Difficult. Life changing. Fantastic .... I could keep going.
I started with Essex Wildlife Trust in September 2002. I spent the following months designing the nature reserve and trying to include the needs of lots of different groups. In the winter of 2003/04 I started marking out the area to be planted and then planting started in the November. It was a cold wet winter. Water was running like a river over the field and when you dug a slot it would fill with water straight away. I remember thinking, what on Earth am I doing? In the first year all of the guards and stakes were in sheds at our headquarters and the trees were heeled into my allotment (I lived at our headquarters then too) so I would have to drive my little tractor and trailer to the farm to collect equipment, which was 3 miles away. This was mainly done out of hours so I did long days. I was lucky and had already got a good group of volunteers they helped put the stakes out in the field and then helped to plant trees. I colour coded each tree (10species in total) and would have to mark where I wanted each species to be planted so that I knew I planted the correct number for the woodland grant. This meant that I would have to ensure there were enough stakes in and that they were colour coded prior to work parties and general public planting days. Creating ponds was really easy, dig a hole wait for it to fill up and amazingly creatures arrive and plants establish. Grassland creation was the hardest. Ragwort, bristly oxtongue cause huge problems when trying to establish grassland. Wildflower areas were easy once the area had been levelled and raked. It has been really hard work and I had a love hate relationship with the reserve in the early years, but now that I walk around the reserve which is starting to establish really well I am really proud of what I have achieved and I love seeing it develop each year and seeing different species coming in to use the reserve. I also get great pleasure seeing people enjoying my reserve.
What is your favourite species and why?
That’s very difficult...
Long tailed tits - I love these little birds and all they stand for. It’s all about family with them as they go around in family groups. Love that.
Dormouse - what’s not to like. I’ve had my dormouse licence for over 20 years and have had the privilege of seeing and handling these lovely mice. They are so cute.
Who are your highlight naturalists that you have met? Why do you admire them?
I’ve been lucky and have met lots of amazing people including Simon King, Bill Oddie, Steve Backshall, Nick Baker, Mike Dilger, Michaela Strachan, Chris Packham, David Bellamy, John Craven, but my most memorable is of course Sir David Attenborough. He is my absolute hero, and I was fortunate to have coffee and pastries with him at Abberton so I could talk about my nature reserve. He opened Abberton Reservoir after the enhancement project. He is such an interesting man and I admire all that he has done and still is doing for the natural world. He has educated and inspired so many people about the natural world. I hate to think what the world would have been like without him campaigning and educating people.
What within the world of conservation are you currently most passionate about?
There are so many areas to be passionate about including reducing single use plastics, wildlife corridors, species protection so it’s very difficult to say one thing. I am however very passionate at trying to enthuse others to care about their local environment but also to do their bit for the planet as a whole. I do believe that individuals can make a small difference but to do anything significant we need to change the hearts and souls of the majority. I think that’s what I am most passionate about.
How can people get into conservation and make wildlife a part of their life?
It’s easy. Put a bird box up, leave an area of your garden to go wild, don’t be so tidy in your gardens, plant wild flowers, put some holes in your garden fence to allow animals to move from garden to garden, feed the birds, dig a pond. The list is endless. It isn’t just people like me that manage nature reserves that can make a difference- everyone can.
If you want to get into conservation as a career then volunteering is the best way to get a foot in and shows that you are really keen. Get in contact with your local Wildlife Trust they will be able to help. Getting your face known and showing that you are keen speaks volumes.
A degree or other qualification can help too, but have a look at job adverts at the moment to see what organisations are asking for.