Meet the dormouse whisperer at Bateman's
Kevan Gibbons is a ranger at Bateman’s. He takes time out to tell us about the birds and the bees…as well as the dormice, great crested newts, dragonflies, flora and fauna that fill his days in the beautiful High Weald.
My day-to-day runs with the seasons. In some ways it’s cyclical – woodland work in winter, running the annual Apple Day in autumn.
But the arrival of spring and transformation to summer is always particularly special.
Come nightfall from April, you’ll find me treading carefully across the Bateman’s estate. I’m looking for rare great crested newt colonies. We’re lucky enough to find them in the many ponds that dot the landscape.
Spring and into summer is peak time to check in on our newts. At night, they swim in open water, displaying their jagged crest to attract females.
A career change
A childhood love of the countryside inspired me to make a career change in my mid-thirties. I’ve been a ranger with the National Trust for a decade now.
My work falls into two categories:
- Looking after the land to make sure visitors can explore the wider estate safely.
- Nurturing the many wildlife habitats we have here in ‘Kipling country’
This summer is particularly special for the newt surveys. It’s the first since we revitalised three important ponds. This was part of the National Trust’s work to help reverse the UK’s decline in wildlife.
We’re hoping the surveys will show the newts expanding their territories and numbers. The restored ponds will provide a home for other wildlife, such as dragon and damselflies, too.
The National Trust aims to create 25,000 hectares of new habitats such as these across the country by 2025.
Hearty hay bales
My team and I look after 300 acres of countryside, so we’re always busy. In summer, you’ll spot us clearing pathway vegetation and maintaining stiles and gates.
I also take school groups pond-dipping and lead walks. It’s great to be able to tell people first-hand about our conservation work.
And although it’s busy, I still find time for my pet project: restoring the hay-meadows.
We’re letting the grasses grow this year. They attract wildflowers, butterflies and bees, which for me are the natural beating heart of this unique landscape.
Come late summer, the nutrient-rich grass makes for extra-hearty hay bales too.
Once a month from March to October, I take on a smaller, but no less important, task.
I’m a licensed dormouse handler. I check and weigh our dormice for the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. It’s a real treat to get up close to our cutest residents.
The dormice are most docile in early morning, as they get ready to sleep for the day. They rarely bite, and when they do it’s more of a nip before getting back to the important business of naptime.
Be a ranger in your own back garden
There are some really simple steps you can take to help wildlife thrive in your own back garden:
- Introduce a water feature – an old kitchen sink will do. Water is the source of so much wildlife.
- Keep some ‘untidier’ areas. Long grasses and wildflowers attract butterflies and bees.
- Build a log pile. Insects love decaying wood, providing food for songbirds.
To find out more about how the National Trust is looking after wildlife, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nature-and-wildlife.