Meet the staff: Matt Phelps

, 29 November 2023
Meet the staff: Matt Phelps
Matt Phelps © Emma Chaplin

Emma Chaplin catches up with Species Recovery Officer, Matt Phelps

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m a birder, all-round naturalist and writer originally from Hampshire, now based in West Sussex. My fascination with the natural world began with childhood explorations of local woodlands and heathlands, where I gained my earliest knowledge of wildlife, before studying countryside management at agricultural college. Since then, I have spent most of my working life nurturing landscapes for wildlife alongside ecological surveying and other related activities such as leading guided walks and talks. Most recently, I have worked as a safari guide at the Knepp Wilding project near Horsham. Among other things I sit on the Sussex Ornithological Society Records Committee and write regular articles for Birdwatch magazine. I have also recently co-authored Where to Watch Birds in Surrey and Sussex.

And your role as Species Recovery Officer?

I am so excited to have been appointed as Species Recovery Officer for the Trust. I will be splitting my time between coordinating Beaver and Pine Marten work across Sussex. I am also writing a Species Recovery Strategy for the Trust, which will focus on reviewing whether it is appropriate to restore ecosystem engineer and keystone species to Sussex, and our priorities for doing so. Sussex is blessed with many wonderful wild places and special species but there are also many we have lost or almost lost, so it’s very exciting to be part of the Wilder Landscapes team focusing on nurturing a wilder future for us all.

Matt at a possible Pine Marten visit site in the High Weald
Matt and colleagues at a possible Pine Marten visit site in the High Weald

Where are your favourite wild spaces in Sussex?

I’m lucky to live near Pulborough in the Arun Valley so am really spoilt for choice when it comes to wild spaces. Waltham Brooks reserve is within walking distance from home so that’s one I love to spend a fair bit of time at, and just across the Arun is Amberley Wildbrooks, which offers a wetland wildlife experience on an altogether bigger scale, especially in the winter when it often entirely floods and looks like an inland sea! Another favourite of mine is Burton and Chingford Ponds a little further down the road with its wonderful patchwork of ponds, woodland and heathland always offering a rich visiting experience.

What’s an ideal Sunday afternoon for you?

I will often be out and about at one of the aforementioned wild spaces at the weekend or grabbing lunch with my wife and our young daughter at one of the lovely little cafes nearby. If there’s time, and the weather is favourable, we might head over to our allotment for an hour or two, or spend time playing indoors with our daughter if it’s not so pleasant! My daughter has just turned two so I am enjoying being able to teach her more about wildlife now, she can already identify a few different bird species. She also enjoys a walk near home to see the cows and horses in the nearby fields.

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  • Joanna Wyatt:

    Brilliant job! I live in a semi rural area- fast disappearing.

    My lane is a pre C14th route,. It has mature hedgerows ( wooded) and runs through farmland between an LNR and a conservation zone. Unofficially, its a green lane. Up until about 4 years ago, we had Turtle Doves here, swallows, swifts, cuckoo, nightingales and snipe, down by the Aldingbourne Rife. Would Turtle Doves be a species you are interested in? If so, please get in touch as ADC are planning to turn the LNR into a country park, opening it up to increased footfall and reopening Shripney Lane ( currently closed to traffic ) and building a car park, on the bank of the rife, which is underwater, when it rains. This is a sensitive area for wildlifebut not as well known as other sites. I am hoping it stays that way.

    01 Dec 2023 10:13:00

  • Heather:

    Congratulations Matt! You will be great!

    01 Dec 2023 10:49:00

  • Benjamin Page:

    Hello, in response to the re-introduction of pine martens, how can we get involved?

    27 Feb 2024 15:32:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Hi there.  Interested persons can sign up for updates on our website where there are also contact details for Amy and Suzanne who lead the project: South East Pine Marten Restoration Project | Sussex Wildlife Trust