So just who is Graeme Wilson?
I've been pondering for a few weeks since I set up my new website what I should write my first blog post about and kept going round in circles before I asked my daughter what she thought. After her first answer of "Write about how tedious you are!" she suggested that I write a bit about me and how I got into ecology. So I am going to do the second thing she suggested and hopefully it will not be the first thing too!
So who am I? Well currently I am Graeme Wilson Freelance Ecologist and Wildlife Educator and am enjoying being able to carry out ecological surveys, which pay quite well, balanced with leading workshops and events, which do not pay as well but are my true passion.
However my journey to reach this stage in my life and career started nearly 50 years ago when I was about 2-3 and was given a ride-on tractor with a trailer...
I don't actually remember much about the tractor itself. All my childhood memories are of the trailer. I remember filling it with soil and keeping Earthworms in it. I would spend hours "looking after" my worms. The trailer and worms even came with us when my parents moved to a new house when I was six and I looked after them for several more years.
That was the start of my journey but my mum played a big part in my formative years, teaching me the common names of many flowers and helping me to appreciate the bird and insect life around us. Around the age of ten that appreciation led me to get my World Conservation Badge in the Cub Scout, which involved spending a couple of days a week for a few weeks with the Strathclyde Country Park Ranger Service. This was when I set myself the ambition to be a Countryside Ranger when I grew up. Little did I know it would be another 20 years before I would realise that ambition, or that it would be a very short lived one.
It was also around the age of ten that I discovered I was colour bind. This has sometimes proven problematic in my chosen career as the leave of some trees can look brown to me when green and healthy and look green when they are actually dead and brown! However it did help me when I decided to specialise many years later. More on that in a while...
Over the next ten years or so my love and interest in the natural world grew and at 21 I began my degree in Environmental Bioscience. It was a fantastic degree with the first two years at Bell College in Hamilton where there were plenty of ecological field trips and then two years at the University of Strathclyde. No field trips at university but it did mean I graduated with a degree from Strathclyde rather than Bell College!
However even graduating with a degree that included some fieldwork experience and also a work placement in second year did not open any doors job-wise for me. I still wanted to be a Countryside Ranger but knew it was going to take time so I set myself the target of being a Ranger when I was 30.
After a few months unemployed I found Training for Work course that was run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in Cumbernauld. After spending a year on the course and gaining my Scottish Vocational Qualification Level 2 in Environmental Conservation: Landscapes and Ecosystems (it is nowhere near as grand as it sounds!) and also paying for my own Chainsaw Licence I started to apply for jobs again.
This was February 1998, just at the right time to apply for seasonal Countryside Ranger positions. I applied for about 100 positions. That's not to say I wrote 100 applications. Sometimes one application was for 7 seasonal positions. Out of all those applications only three potential employers showed interest in me. South Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire Councils' Ranger Services and three different parts of the Scottish Wildlife Trust; two seasonal Ranger posts and one permanent Training Team Supervisor post. All these had one thing in common: They all knew me. I had spent the previous year making myself know to both the Lanarkshire Councils' Ranger Services and also getting myself known in the Scottish Wildlife Trust. This is something I still recommend to anyone trying to get into the ecology or conservation sector: Get yourself known!
My first interview was for the Training Team Supervisor position. I never really thought I stood much of a chance as they were looking for an experienced supervisor but I looked at it as a way of getting good interview experience. To say I was shocked when I was offered the job as Berwickshire Countryside Project Team Supervisor is an understatement but I was over the moon at landing a permanent position rather than a seasonal one as my first job in the conservation sector!
What followed was three and a half years where I gained a wealth of experience in wildlife conservation, education and dealing with people. It had its ups and downs, including the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 when I had to temporarily close the team. It was during this time that I realised that I needed to move on so in late 2001 I became the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Regional Educational and Lifelong Learning Co-ordinator for the East of Scotland.
However it was at this time that the Scottish Wildlife Trust went through a bit of a financial crisis and only an couple of months into the job I was put up for potential redundancy. However another position came along, the Site Manager of Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre in Grangemouth. I applied and was successful. Though it was called Site Manager it was a Countryside Ranger post and what age was I when I got his post? 30! As I had reached that ambition I set another: To be in charge of a small wildlife organisation when I was 40.
So I reached my ambition with a couple of months to spare before turning 31 but my happiness did not last long. Within a week of starting this new post I was issued with a notification of potential redundancy! I was offered another post that included the Site Manager role and also taking on a few more sites but I had become a father the previous year and I knew the stress of this new role was not for me so I took the redundancy offer.
Luckily I was at a meeting of my local Scottish Wildlife Trust members and after the meeting the chair of the members group said that it was a shame I wasn't a gardener as his employer, a Country House and Park, was looking for a Gardener in Charge and also an Environmental Education Co-ordinator. If I had been a gardener I could have done both roles at once. I pointed out that technically I had been in charge of Scotland's largest wildlife garden in Grangemouth, albeit only for a couple of months. Next thing I know I am called in for a very informal interview and offered both roles. This was probably my favourite job as it was a great mix of practical work with educational bits mixed in. However it was also badly paid so I had to look for a longer term position.
Eight months later I started at the Scottish Borders Rural Partnership's Rural Resource Centre as a Natural Heritage Environmental Community Development Fieldworker where I spent the next three enjoyable years working with community groups to develop wildlife projects.
In 2006 I became Midlothian Council's Biodiversity Projects Officer, a job that was both very rewarding and very challenging with its fair share of frustrations as I seemed to spend a lot of my time waiting to be given authorisation to carry out the simplest tasks and projects.
It was during this time that I started
doing work as GW Ecology, carrying
out the occasional survey and leading bat walks but never that much as I was working fulltime. I also co-founded the Lothians and Borders Mammal Group in 2010 with my friend David Dodds which took up some of my spare time.
I had started to get a real interest in mammals in the previous 10 years or so. One of the reasons I specialised in mammals was my colour blindness. Colour of fur is not that important an ID feature as there can be quite the variation in some species of mammal. There are other reasons I got into mammals such as getting involved in Red Squirrel surveying in the late 1990s and hearing bats on a bat detector for the first time in 1999, which I may write about in a future blog.
In late 2011 I escaped, sorry, I moved on from Midlothian Council to become Centre Manager of The Wildlife Information Centre (TWIC), the Local Environmental Records Centre for the Lothians and Borders. Basically I was in charge of a small wildlife organisation. My age when I did this? 40! Second ambition met.
During my time at the helm TWIC expanded into Falkirk, Stirling, Clackmannanshire and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and increased the number of staff involved. I loved the ecological and educational side of the work but dealing with the financial side took its toll on my physical and mental health so I moved on in spring 2019.
I took the rest of 2019 out to get my health sorted. Being close to wildlife played a big part in my recovery. I cannot stress enough how important the natural world was to aiding my physical and mental recovery.
I felt better by early 2020 and had big plans for that year but then covid hit! I was disappointed that I had to postpone my plans but in reality it gave me a bit more time to recover. I actually coped quite well with the first 15 months or so of the covid pandemic and found it a great way to recharge my batteries some more and also learn lots of new skills such as social wasp ID, moth trapping and ID and video editing. I strarted editing videos for my wife, who is a minister and had to lead services online. This experience gave me the confidence to make a couple of wildlife videos for YouTube during 2020 and also make a one hour video for an online mammal workshop I was asked to lead.
It was making these videos that gave me the idea of making a weekly wildlife video during 2021 in a project I called My Wildlife Year and also got me to offer online workshops and events on different subjects.
The latter part of 2021 was a hard time as I lost my mum suddenly in late May, having only seen her twice in the previous 15 months. I struggled a lot mentally through the rest of the year but managed to continue to produce a weekly video for My Wildlife Year, including a short one in the week she passed that I dedicated to her. Again wildlife and the natural world helped me through this tough time.
I had planned to keep producing weekly videos during 2022 for My Wildlife Year but covid finally caught up with me in mid-January and it took me a few weeks to recover, followed by my wife being pretty ill with a pulmonary embolism, meaning I haven’t been posting to YouTube for most of the year so far. I have been posting short wildlife videos to My Wildlife Year social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok though.
The biggest news of 2022 so far has been the creation of my GW Ecology website. Something I have been contemplating for a while and kept putting off but I took the plunge as I have some more exciting plans for 2022 that I need a website to pubicise so watch this space!
So that is a brief history of me, Graeme Wilson, and my wildlife career. Hopefully you didn't find it too tedious! I am not sure how often I will make blog posts but I aim to do it fairly regularly.