Our patrons and ambassadors

Richard and Anne Williamson

We’re honoured to have Richard and Anne Williamson join the team as patrons. Richard is the son of Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter: the very nature novel that has inspired many otter specialists in the past, and will continue to do so long into the future. It’s fitting that they are joining us as we’re based in the very county in which Henry Williamson wrote the book, and we continue to monitor the otter population in the same area today. This is a historic partnership and will bring new ideas to the Trust. We shall work together to benefit all otter conservation.

The Henry Williamson Society Website: www.henrywilliamson.co.uk.

Image from The Exeter Daily

Sophie Neville

Sophie is an award-winning author whose books include The Making of Swallows & Amazons and Funnily Enough. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in Anthropology, she began a career in television working on dramas such as Doctor Who, Eastenders, My Family & Other Animals, and the veterinary series One by One, before directing educational programmes for schools. After producing the INSET series she emigrated to South Africa where she lived for 12 years, working freelance for the BBC Natural History Unit whilst working as a safari guide.

Sadly, disaster struck after she fell off a horse and broke her pelvis—but she used her time on crutches to become a professional wildlife artist, and has since exhibited all over the UK and South Africa. Sophie now lives on the Lymington river in Hampshire, where Otters are often spotted. Having been brought up with Asian short-clawed Otters owned by her mother Daphne Neville, who is also a Patron to the Trust, Sophie has given many talks on otter conservation that have grabbed the attention of the press. Sophie complements our existing team of patrons perfectly, and we look forward to a great association in the coming years.

Sophie’s website: www.sophieneville.net.

Richard Taylor-Jones

Richard is well-known amongst wildlife enthusiasts across the world, is a respected contributor to Springwatch and Autumnwatch, and recently completed filming for BBC1’s Big Blue UK. During his career, Richard has made well in excess of 150 short films for the BBC Natural History Unit. He holds a degree in Zoology with Biological Imaging from Nottingham University. Richard says, “I believe the natural world includes humankind in every possible way. I do the job because I love it. If people viewing my work feel or learn something from it, if they choose to try and make a difference afterwards, no matter how small, then I have achieved well beyond what I could have ever hoped for.” Richard’s positive and encouraging attitude captures the perspective of the UKWOT, and we are very excited about Richard joining us. We look forward to a long and educational working relationship with him.

Richard’s website: www.richardtaylorjones.co.uk.

A message from Richard

Lindsey Chapman

Lindsey is a well-known and respected TV presenter, and recently fronted Big Blue UK on BBC1. Filming for the programme took her all over the UK in search of great British wildlife on our seashores and in our seas, from shark spotting in Tiree to tagging Gannets on Alderney. Lindsey is in her element outdoors, and loves exploring the ways in which we all connect to the natural world. As lead presenter on BBC Springwatch Extra and roving reporter on BBC Autumnwatch and Winterwatch Unsprung, Lindsey is fascinated by British wildlife. She loves seeing otters in the wild and can often be found watching the Springwatch underwater cameras in the hope of catching a glimpse of one! Lindsey will be a huge asset to the Trust, and we look forward to a long and happy working partnership in the future.

Lindsey’s website: www.lindseychapman.co.uk.

A message from Lindsey

Daphne Neville

Daphne Neville trained at RADA and went on to work as an accomplished presenter, announcer, author, speaker and actress. Daphne has cared for otters at her family home in Gloucestershire for over 20 years, including her very own Asian Short-Clawed Otters Belinda and Rudi. She performs talks on otters around the world roughly once a week. She was one of two UK representatives to attend the 8th IUCN Otter Colloquium, held in Chile in 2001. Daphne brings a huge passion and knowledge to the Trust and we thank her for becoming a patron. We look forward to a long and exciting partnership in the future, working towards otter conservation and public engagement with the species.

Daphne’s website: www.daphnneville.com.

Peter Talbot

Peter is author of Tarka and Me and was the principal otter handler on David Cobham’s 1979 film version of Henry Williamsons Tarka The Otter, which was filmed over a two-year period with his tame otter, Spade, on the River Torridge in North Devon. Peter trained under Philip Wayre at the Otter Trust in Norfolk and also worked with Bill Travers, who starred in Ring of Bright Water. He has also worked with the Natural History filmmakers Ron and Rose Eastman and Steve Downer. Peter commented, “North Devon became a second home to my otter Spade and I, and we often swam together in the River Torridge.” Peter was very interested to learn that we are monitoring the very same area today.

We’re grateful for Peter’s enthusiasm for our cause, and feel that his past experiences and love of otters will be greatly benefit the Trust.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

We are extremely pleased to welcome Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE to the UK Wild Otter Trust as a Patron. He is well known as a British Explorer and is also a campaigner against animal cruelty. Sir Ranulph has a distinguished career in the military, serving in the Special Air Service for many years where he specialised in demolitions. In 1984, he was named as the world’s greatest Explorer, and is an accomplished author. With his background and love of wildlife, we welcome Sir Ranulph to our organisation.

George Monbiot

We are pleased to announce that George Monbiot has joined us a Patron to complement the already impressive team supporting UKWOT. George is well known for his ecological views and as an accomplished writer. George told us: “I’m delighted to be a Patron to the UK Wild Otter Trust. Otters fill me with joy and everyone should have the chance of watching them, as they are amongst the most fascinating of the world’s creatures. They are a powerful sign of a thriving ecosystem and we should seek to create the conditions that favour them.” Welcome to the team George!

Chris Packham (Ambassador)

Chris is a prolific broadcaster, naturalist, and science communicator who has worked wonders to engage the public with the wonders of the natural world, and be a vocal advocate for important conservation activity. As a broadcaster he is a presenter of the BBC’s award-winning Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch series. He presents notable natural history series such as Nature’s Weirdest Events, World’s Weirdest Events, World’s Sneakiest Animals, Cats V Dogs, The Burrowers, Inside the Animal Mind, Operation Iceberg and Secrets of our Living Planet. He has always been active and vocal about wildlife and conservation issues and injustice. We’re proud to have him on board as a UKWOT Ambassador.

“I am always drawn to organisations which talk less, do more and get results. It was therefore an honour to be invited to join the UK Wild Otter Trust as their very first Ambassador. In the relatively short lifespan of this charity, I have seen great strides taken to present passive, pragmatic solutions to otter conservation in the UK. Our young, future custodians of the countryside are an important and integral part of this and I look forward to working with UKWOT and other Ambassadors for the good of conservation and otters: these charismatic animals capture the imagination of many generations, and the work that UKWOT do will only captivate more people to take conservation seriously. I look forward to helping this cause, watching it flourish and being a part of an exciting Ambassador program.”

A message from Chris

Megan McCubbin (Ambassador)

We’re thrilled to welcome Megan as an ambassador for the trust! Megan is a passionate scientist with a particular interest in behaviour, evolution and the illegal wildlife trade. Her interest stems from a childhood growing up in and around the Isle of Wight Zoo, which specialises in the rescue and rehabilitation of ex-circus and pet trade animals. She is an accomplished TV presenter, wildlife photographer, and science communicator, and is a real asset to UKWOT.

Andy Rouse (Ambassador)

We are very pleased to welcome Andy Rouse to our organisation as an Ambassador. Andy is a well-known wildlife photographer and an asset to our growing organisation. In Andy’s words:

“I have always had an affinity with otters, from my earliest days visiting the original Phillip Wayre Otter Trust in Norfolk. Since then, I have sat in ditches, lurked in reeds and generally got frozen, smelly and often both whilst waiting for a wild otter to pass within range of my camera. A few years ago I was chosen to shoot the otter portfolio for the 2020 vision conservation project and loved spending 50+ days purely on otter love, right next to a brewery as it goes! These days I have otters in the brook that crosses the farm where I live and, as usual, I see spraint and nothing else – but thats normal eh?! To be an Ambassador for the UK Wild Otter Trust is, to coin a phrase, mint… it’s banging! To me, furthering the conservation of the species to both young and old alike by using the power of social media is a wonderful accolade and I promise to spread my otter love far and wide to support UKWOT in their great work.”

Andy’s work can be followed by visiting his website at www.andyrouse.co.uk.

Hannah Stitfall (Ambassador)

We are thrilled to announce that Hannah Stitfall has joined us as an Ambassador. Hannah is an ardent conservationist, filmmaker, and presenter. She is an expert in the illegal trading and trafficking of wildlife on social media, and has a first class degree in zoology. She is a presenter and producer for the BBC Earth online as well as being the face of BBC Springwatch Digital. Hannah’s love of otters has led her on many a camera trap mission into the depths of the Cornish countryside where she lives, but she is yet to find one. Being a champion of British wildlife and vocal on the conservation of our wild places and species, she is the perfect addition to the UK Wild Otter Trust, and she is as excited about working together as we are!

Sophie Pavelle (Ambassador)

We are very happy that Sophie Pavelle has agreed to join us as an Ambassador! Sophie is an adventurous zoologist with a first-class degree and a masters in science communication, and has influenced many projects since she graduated. Sophie is a staunch conservationist and presenter.

“Otters are one of Britain’s most iconic mammals with one of greatest conservation stories to tell,” says Sophie. “They command a river like nothing else and there is still so much that we don’t know about their elusive ways. We’re in a time where communication and public engagement with the natural world on our doorstep has never been so important, so I am thrilled to be joining such a fantastic charity so close to home, alongside an incredible team of Ambassadors – to champion the life, habitat and protection of these wonderful animals and shout as loud as I can for them!”

Welcome Sophie – we look forward to working with you to make a difference!

Gillian Burke

We are very excited and honoured to welcome Gillian Burke to our team of Patrons! Gillian joined the much-loved BBC Springwatch brand – a seasonal wildlife series affectionately known as “The Watches” – in 2018 alongside hosts Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Iolo Williams. She also recently presented the BBC’s Blue Planet UK with co-host Steve Brown. Gillian may be a bright new face to TV presenting, but she’s no stranger to broadcasting. Having earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Bristol University, Gillian pursued a career in natural history filmmaking, working her way up the ranks from Researcher to Producer/Director on several Animal Planet and Discovery Channel series. Closer to home, and outside of her television work, Gillian applies her biology and media experience to work closely with a number of charities based in Cornwall, where she now lives. She is a Patron to the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust and an active volunteer of the Marine Strandings Network, where she attends call-outs for stranded marine mammals and birds. She also supports the work of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Gillian is an excellent addition to the team, and we’re very happy to have her on board.

Adam Lúcás Ó Hare (Ambassador)

We are pleased to welcome Adam Lúcás Ó Hare to our Ambassador team. Adam is a renowned wildlife film maker, broadcaster and communicator from Birmingham. He is focused on engaging people with nature and the natural world, especially those from the working class backgrounds like his own. He saw his first otter in 2014 and has been hooked since, and has been inspired by Bill Oddie OBE. He has been featured in many local TV programs and BBC news programs and, in 2016, he co-produced and co-presented ‘The Wild Side‘ on Cambridge TV. Adam says, “I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to have been asked to support UKWOT as an Ambassador.”

Tolga Aktas (Ambassador)

We are very pleased to welcome Tolga Aktas to our Ambassador team! Tolga is a conservation biologist, writer and environmental photojournalist from the UK. He largely focuses on connecting people with nature – no matter their background. His biggest aspiration is to build a rewarding career that helps to protect the environment, so he can continuously obtain an understanding of how everything is connected and provide a future where humans can co-exist with wildlife and nature. Tolga says, “Otters are very special species for us here in the UK; in the same way as the Bornean rainforests have the Orangutans as the guardians of the forest, for me, the otter is a guardian of the rivers. I have not yet been fortunate to see one in the wild but to see one would indicate the overall health of the river simply by its presence. Behind the scenes, the Eurasian otter is doing more for our river systems than we know or appreciate – and that alone is a sound reason why we must take care of them all.” Welcome Tolga! We look forward to us joining forces and making that difference!

Romain Pizzi (Veterinary Advisor)

We are extremely excited to welcome veterinarian Romain Pizzi to the UKWOT fold. Romain has a very impressive understanding of everything wildlife and has extensive medical knowledge of the Eurasian otter (amongst many other rare species). Romain joins us as our Veterinary Advisor, and we are very lucky to have him with us.

Sophie Pierce (Ambassador)

We are pleased to gain another valued Ambassador in Sophie Pierce. Sophie joins us having graduated from Oxford University with a masters in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. Sophie is also a researcher for Natural History films and television and makes her own wildlife shows for children. One of her interests is human/wildlife conflict, which is something close to us as an organisation. Sophie says, “I am obsessed with otters and am looking forward to being actively involved in the many exciting projects that UKWOT are working on. It has never been a more important time to find effective and realistic ways to live alongside the wonders of our planet. We are regularly seeing more and more species at risk of imminent extinction – we need to act now. UKWOT are acting now, and I’m thrilled to join them.” Welcome Sophie!

Charlie Hamilton James

We are hugely excited to announce that Charlie Hamilton James has agreed to join us as a Patron. Such is Charlie’s pedigree and knowledge of otters that he needs no introduction – you automatically think of Charlie whenever otter filming is mentioned. He has worked on otter filming, notably underwater with the air bubble smelling film amongst many others (even working on UKWOT’s local river, the River Torridge here in Devon). Charlie says, “I’ve spent most of my life filming, photographing and studying otters as they have been a lifelong obsession. I saw my first otter when I took myself to Shetland at the age of 16 to photograph them for two months and then spent much of my early career at the BBC filming them – both above and underwater. In 2001, I started trying to film them on English rivers. Back then they were predominantly nocturnal and few had ever been filmed south of the border. It was a very steep learning curve, using some clunky technology, but we managed to not only film them but open up a new understanding of them and how they lived! I am still obsessed with otters and miss them terribly when I don’t see one for a while – the last time I saw one was on the ice and I was in my canoe in the Grand Teton National Park… Anyway, now I can live vicariously through UKWOT and see all the otters I like there, including being a member of the UKWOT Facebook page.” We welcome Charlie to our team with much excitement; he joins an already impressive line-up of supporters taking us as an otter conservation organisation from strength to strength. Welcome Charlie!

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