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Conservation student proves it’s never too late to make a difference

Posted on: 20 September, 2023

A mature student is proving it’s never too late to follow your passion in life, after winning a top conservation award from Bristol Zoological Society.

Sixty-four-year-old Gerry Tissier recently completed a Master’s degree in Advanced Wildlife Conservation in Practice, a course which is jointly run by Bristol Zoological Society and UWE Bristol.

After graduating with a distinction, Gerry has been presented with the Society’s ‘Conservationist of the Future’ award.

For the past five years Gerry has been working with Friends of the Earth to develop a pilot greening project in the east London borough of Hackney, where he lives. The initiative pays a ‘postcode gardener’ to help make a neighbourhood better for nature and people. With the support of the Co-operative Bank, the project is set to be rolled out to transform 1,000 nature deprived spaces in towns and cities across the UK.

For his Master’s research project, Gerry developed a new way of mapping urban park grasslands to help distinguish between meadows and mown grass. This could help authorities plan park grassland restorations in the UK and internationally.

He used the findings to demonstrate how the area of parkland set aside for meadows in Hackney grew by more than 13 hectares after the council introduced a biodiversity action plan. From this, Gerry was able to make recommendations for further meadow restorations to help conservation efforts for the only nationally threatened bumblebee found in London - the brown-banded carder bee.

Gerry, who decided to embark on his degree after the pandemic, said: “When I heard the news about the award I was surprised and delighted, I felt very proud. My work is inspired by the terrible state of our planet – it is enormously sad that we are on the verge of mass extinction. I am lucky to have grown up where fields were buzzing with wildlife, but we have lost so much of our wildlife already. It’s so important that we are able to connect with wildlife.

“What we have been able to show is that people are really engaged with the nature around them. You don’t have to be watching David Attenborough to be a part of it – nature is all around us.”

Gerry is among more than 400 students to have recently undertaken one of the six degrees Bristol Zoological Society currently offers, in partnership with UWE, the University of Bristol and SGS College.

Dr Sam Cotton, Head of Field Conservation and Higher Education for Bristol Zoological Society, said: “Gerry has shown himself to be a highly capable student and I am thrilled to see that he can use the skills and experiences gained during his degree at Bristol Zoological Society to be an impactful conservationist in the field.

“Our students have the unique opportunity to be taught by applied conservation professionals who undertake conservation work here at Bristol Zoo Project, the South West, and more widely across our many global conservation programmes. Gerry’s success wonderfully reflects the Society’s vision to create a sustainable and impactful alumni-based conservation legacy. I wish him a successful future and I look forward to hearing more about his journey and his conservation successes.”

Gerry is now setting up a 4km pollinator corridor between four parks called the Hackney Buzzline, which aims to support Hackney Council's local nature recovery plan. He is working with the local community and the council to create pollinator-friendly flower patches and meadow and long grass areas in the parks, along active travel routes - informed by his MSc research project.

Gerry added: “I was worried I was too old to do this, but it hasn’t stopped me. Of course, it was challenging, but I am so happy to have done it. My advice to anyone thinking about embarking on something like this is to go for it and do what your heart tells you to do – seize the opportunity.”