Friday 23 February 2018

Interview with Slimbridge Wetland Centre's Scott Petrek

Ahead of the first Severn Wader Festival at Slimbridge Wetland Centre, SoGlos talks to reserve warden Scott Petrek about wildlife, animals, and what makes waders so special.

SoGlos speaks to Slimbridge Wetland Centre’s reserve warden, Scott Petrek, about his interest in wildlife, love of birds, and the anticipated Severn Wader Festival this September.

The brand new event at Slimbridge Wetland Centre celebrates wading birds with everything from high tide safaris to bird watching mornings, offering the perfect chance to discover these amazing species.

Can you tell SoGlos readers a little bit about yourself, and your background in wildlife?

I’ve always had an interest in wildlife, particularly birds, for as long as I can remember. I first got involved with wildlife conservation around the age of 10 when I joined my local Wildlife Trust Watch Group.

From there my interest grew and I’ve been fortunate enough to work for the same Wildlife Trust, running the nature reserve I’d pretty much grown up on as a child. Being on a wetland reserve full of birds really rubbed off on me, and now I get to work on one of the best wetland reserves in the UK.

Can you describe a typical day in your job as reserve warden at Slimbridge Wetland Centre?

A typical day starts with our bird hide rounds; a check of the reserve for notable birds and other wildlife, and to check the site is ready to receive visitors.

Every day is different and it’s great to head out and see what is around. During the winter we also have additional duties such as feeding the Bewick’s swans and other wintering birds on the Rushy Pen, which is a real privilege!

What’s the most interesting part of your job?

Being relatively new to the job, getting to know Slimbridge has been one of the most interesting parts. I’ve come for years as a visitor, but now working here you get a completely different perspective on how much work is involved to keep the reserve in a great condition and moving forward.

Our centres offer something for everyone; birders can come and experience some of the best wildlife spectacles anywhere in the UK, whilst families can visit and enjoy our exhibits and play areas.

Does your role differ during the seasons?

Massively, although the key elements remain the same: habitat management, visitor engagement and monitoring. Most of our time is focussed on management which varies through the seasons, and we couldn’t achieve anywhere near as much without our dedicated team of volunteers.

Late summer into autumn is one of our busiest times as we have a short window to complete a hectic programme of vegetation management and mowing areas of grassland to get ready for the wintering birds to arrive. Work continues through the winter along with daily feeds for the wild wintering birds.

The Reserve Team also delivers a wide range of events throughout the year to enhance people’s experience the wildlife of the reserve. There is never a quiet period in our line of work!

Why are centres such as Slimbridge so important?

WWT have nine centres across the UK, plus our reserve at Steart Marshes. Each has its own character and suite of species, but all offer fantastic opportunities to see wetland wildlife up close.

Our centres have changed a lot over the years, but they’ve always retained their wildlife value and I like to think they offer something for everyone; birders can come and experience some of the best wildlife spectacles anywhere in the UK, whilst families can visit and enjoy our exhibits and play areas.

Our centres are also great for those just starting to discover wildlife, as everyone is welcome to come and learn from our staff and volunteers by visiting our hides or joining an event.

If you were to work in another area of wildlife, what would it be?

I only moved to Slimbridge last year and I’m not looking to move on any time soon! But if I had to I’d find it difficult to find anything that compares to working with birds and wetlands. They’re my two passions and where I feel most at home.

Do you have a career bucket list or a bird or animal you’d love to work with?

Working for WWT has opened up a whole new world for me but I love being hands-on and actively managing a reserve, and then seeing the results.

Career-wise, I’d love to get involved with some of WWT’s international work in the future, particularly around Europe. It’s something that my colleagues have done and will be doing this year as WWT heads back to Russia to catch and ring Bewick’s swans.

In terms of birds, I love working with waders so I’d be keen to get involved with any future projects working with these great birds. Either way, I don’t want to take too much time away from Slimbridge – it’s a fantastic place run by fantastic people.

The Wader Festival celebrates this fantastic group of birds, and help people learn more about them.

Slimbridge is about to host the first ever Severn Wader Festival; what gave you the inspiration to host such an event?

The Wader Festival is something I’ve wanted to run for years, but I’ve never had the platform to put something together before working at Slimbridge.

Our friends at Wader Quest have run similar festivals across the UK with other organisations, so it seemed natural to team up with them and put together an event to celebrate this fantastic group of birds, and help people learn more about them.

With all the wildlife and visitor facilities at Slimbridge, I hope we can offer a great event for everyone to enjoy.

What can people expect to see and do at the Severn Wader Festival?

Waders! Wildlife is unpredictable but September is a great month for waders at Slimbridge, as birds arrive for the winter or stop off on their way further south. We’ve chosen this weekend especially as it has the highest tides of the month, which should produce the best spectacles.

What are you most looking forward to during the Severn Wader Festival?

We’ve got a great range of events on offer to cater for everyone from keen birders to families new to wildlife watching, and anyone who wants to brush up on their wader knowledge and ID skills.

The high tide safaris are going to be special as our wardens take groups out to see the waders roosting on the edge of the river.

Wading birds will be the star of the festival, can you tell us a little bit more about them?

Waders are a diverse group of birds that nearly all depend on wetlands, so the work of WWT can and does have a huge impact on their lives.

Generally they are long-legged birds that wade through water to find food, and each has evolved to have its own bill type and feeding habits. Some like lapwing and black-tailed godwit can be brilliantly coloured and have loud energetic displays, whilst others such as snipe and woodcock are secretive and hide themselves away.

The variety and character is what really grabs me about them; every one of them does something slightly different.

The high tide safaris at the Severn Wader Festival are going to be special as our wardens take groups out to see the waders roosting on the edge of the river.

And finally, do you have a favourite wader?

Some birders hate being asked what their favourite bird is, there are so many to choose from! I’ve an interest in all birds, but for me the lapwing is the best.

Its iridescent green-purple plumage, tumbling display flight and their antics in a wintering flock are things I absolutely love about watching them. They’re an all-year-round bird, but sadly still in decline.

Although lapwing are top, I love watching other waders too. I have fond memories of watching a greenshank catching fish, seeing my first avocet chicks, and watching flocks of golden plover in winter.

A close second to the display flight of a lapwing has to be watching and listening to snipe drumming. It sends shivers down my spine – it’s such an awesome noise!

The Severn Wader Festival takes place from Saturday 9 to Sunday 10 September 2017.

For more information see Severn Wader Festival, or visit directly.

© SoGlos
Friday 21 July 2017

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