the GiGLer

The newsletter of Greenspace Information of Greater London CIC

Interview, Benjamin Town

Benjamin Town, GiGL Community Officer

Ben is GiGL’s Community Officer. He delivers work for community partners and clients. This includes work for members of the public and community groups, as well as carrying out work with students that wish to use GiGL data for research projects. At times he focuses on internal database work and core projects.

Town or countryside?

Town. Benjamin Town.

Summer or winter?

Summer.

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl.

Outdoor or indoors?

Outdoors.

Plants or animals?

Animals.

What species is closest to your heart and why?

It has to be the puffin (Fratercula artica) – bit of a strange choice considering the first time I’d ever seen one in the flesh was only 3 years ago. Thinking back, I’ve probably got my parents to thank for this wonderful little bird becoming known to me. When I was a young budding naturalist I couldn’t get enough of anything to do with animals, in particular cartoons. It just so happened that one of the only VHS’s my parents had was The First Snow of Winter; a tale of two birds losing their family during the winter migrations and having to survive the season together against the odds (and one very hungry fox). One of these two characters was Puffy the Puffin (imaginative, I know), but I think since then puffins have always brought back fond memories and have fuelled somewhat of an obsession.    

What is your favourite Greater London open space and why?

The world-famous Crystal Palace dinosaurs gave the Victorians a glimpse of what a life-size dinosaur looked like (c) Ben Sutherland

Crystal Palace Park is by far and away my favourite of all London’s parks. It’s a bit out of the way but once you make the trip, you are well rewarded with stunning views of the city and a wonderful park to explore. I think it holds a soft spot for me due to its vibrant history and the association of a well-known football team of whom I am also fairly fond of. The remains of the old great exhibition hall, the national sports centre as well as the Victorian dinosaur statues gives the park a sense of grandeur and a feeling that it was once the high point of Victorian society. It’s a place that’s always had the feeling of harking back to the times of new discovery and exploration that sets it apart from other parks in London; well at least for me.

What has been your most formative experience working with the natural environment? And what did you learn then that you keep with you today?

During my time as an undergraduate studying marine biology, I spent my summer researching seabird activity on the welsh coast at Holyhead for my third year project. My original project aim was to observe and record the rates at which gulls steal food off of returning puffin parents. Unfortunately, upon arrival to the colony, I found out that they’ve had a record low amount of retuning puffins where only eight actually showed up. This led me to thinking up, planning and conducting a whole new research project on the wing. I think this experience significantly improved my problem solving skills and allowed me to think quicker and with more confidence than I had before. I use these skills almost every day at GiGL, helping people plan and perform projects and overcome any obstacles that jump up, as they so often do when working with nature.

How long have you worked for GiGL and how has your role changed in that time?

I’ve been at GiGL since February this year, so my role hasn’t changed that much. That’s not to say every day is the same; as part of the community team a lot of what we do depends on who contacts us. This means that no two days are ever the same in the same way no two projects are the same. One day I’ll be helping a student plan their research project, the next I’ll be helping coordinate a city-wide project with 5 other organisations.

What is your most enjoyable GiGL task and why?

Getting involved with community projects is definitely the aspect I enjoy the most. It really interests me to see what’s happening in and around London. The passion that people have for their local greenspaces/species is absolutely infectious and there is nothing better than identifying how you can help them achieve their goal. It’s the sense that, when a project is up and running and you see it on the news or in the paper, you can think that you’ve played a part in making that happen and facilitating a community’s vision for their area.  

We’ve worked with Citizen Zoo on their Water Voles Conservation Project and their flagship event last month, WILD Kingston.

What are the greatest differences in the challenges now facing London’s biodiversity, compared with when you joined GiGL? How can GiGL help?

While I haven’t been at GiGL for very long, one thing has stuck out for me – air pollution. It has always been an issue but there really seems to be a building momentum in tackling it. A healthier, greener, more sustainable city that is better for us will surely benefit the wildlife around us. If part of the solution is putting an emphasis on increasing our greenspace and our biodiversity – then even better!

London has a lot to offer someone looking to learn more about wildlife and open spaces. What one thing would you advise people to explore?

Try to get involved with as many projects as you can; there are so many groups in London that would love your support and interest. Get connected with people on platforms like twitter and help grow the community. It’s amazing what kind of projects you can find on your doorstep when you really look for it.

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