Introducing Mark Slaughter – Naturally Native Project Officer at Tees Valley Wildlife Trust
Thinking back to my childhood, our family holidays invariably involved tents, rain, and queues for lukewarm showers. To my school friends, these sounded like key ingredients for a week of misery. “We’ve been on the beach in Spain for a week”, they’d announce proudly. “Boring”, I’d murmur. Because whilst our family trips did entail tents and rain, they were also filled with joy, a real sense of adventure, and a genuine feeling of connection – with each other, with the people we meet, and with nature. Undoubtedly, these holidays played a huge part in shaping my appreciation, fascination and understanding of the natural world.
Fast forward ten years – the decision to study geography at university seemed like a very natural choice. My dad taught geography for over 30 years, so there was plenty of encouragement from him. This led to an MSc in Environmental Management, which introduced me to the world of water voles. Students were required to complete a twelve-week work placement, and I just so happened to land on the doorstep of Hartlepool Borough Council and Tees Valley Wildlife Trust. One of my duties was to ‘update regional water vole records’. Following some expert training, I enjoyed a blissful summer of poking around in streams and ditches, recording water vole field signs. This helped paint a picture of water vole populations and their connectivity to one-another. Disappointingly, the results reflected the national trend – that water voles were declining, fast.
Since graduating in 2009, I’ve been lucky enough to work in a variety of incredibly rewarding roles. These have included teaching field studies, delivering practical habitat management, and conducting scientific fieldwork. Though these roles have been varied, they’ve all had something in common; inspirational people. It has been a genuine privilege to meet and to learn from so many wonderful people who are so impassioned about protecting nature, sharing their wisdom and creating communities.
I’m really excited to be part of Naturally Native and the Wildlife Trusts. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share skills, to continue learning, and to try to inspire in the way that so many people have unknowingly inspired me. As one of the UK’s fastest declining mammals, the water vole is certainly in need of our attention. I feel optimistic that through community engagement, habitat restoration, and by reducing predation pressures from the non-native American mink, we can begin to reverse the decline that I was so shocked to discover over a decade ago, and pave the way for resilient, connected and cherished water vole populations across the north east.