Meet the staff: Steve Tillman

, 16 January 2024
Meet the staff: Steve Tillman
Wilder Horsham District team (Steve Tillman on the right) © Fran Southgate

Emma Chaplin

Communications Officer

Tell us a bit about your journey to and at Sussex Wildlife Trust

I've always been practical, and that runs in the family. My grandfather was a carpenter. Conservation was actually my second career. I was an apprentice carpenter from the age of 16. Then there was a building recession in the late 1980s when I was in my mid 20s and I lost my job. I signed on for a while, and someone suggested I volunteer for the National Trust on a site near Storrington. Then there was a Government initiative to get unemployed people to be volunteers, and the National Trust were looking for a team leader to run a practical volunteer group. I was lucky enough to get the job, so for a couple of years I was undertaking practical conservation work across many of the National Trusts West Sussex nature reserves including Cissbury Ring.

Steve Tillman at Seaford Head © Miles Davies
Steve Tillman at Seaford Head in 2013 © Miles Davies

From the National Trust I moved to Brinsbury College, Billingshurst working as a technician instructor in practical conservation looking after the workshops and teaching students in practical conservation techniques. A few years later, I saw that Sussex Wildlife Trust were looking for a Warden/Caretaker of Woods Mill offices and nature reserve. I was interviewed by (colleague) Steve Webster and got the job, which I began in January 1999. Wood Mill was very much my introduction to managing a nature reserve for a Wildlife Trust and therefore a springboard to a long term conservation career. I eventually became Site Manager responsible for covering multiple sites in 2001/2, including many Downland nature reserves such as Malling Down, Southerham Farm and Ditchling Beacon.
Now I work for the Wilder Horsham District project as a landowner advisor, supporting Horsham District in its nature recovery.

Any changes you've particularly enjoyed?

As part of the Land Management team, I saw and influenced the inception of the Trust's grazing project in 2002/3. Owning our own livestock enabled us to better manage our nature reserves with more control, and we have never looked back.

What's your favourite landscape?

Chalk downland. Due to its low fertility it is one of the richest habitats for wildlife you will find anywhere. It's a very soft, rolling landscape, with fantastic views. Humans have been using and working on it for thousands of years and evidence of this long history can be seen everywhere. There's lots of archaeology and local past history to be found and seen across this often treeless landscape. Hill Forts such as Mount Caburn, ancient Celtic field systems called lynchets, and a multitude of historic lumps and bumps adding to the complexities of the landscape.
Southerham is really special place to me - when you are within the landscape in the valley, you feel enveloped.

What are your favourite species?

The Adonis Blue butterfly, Pride of Sussex, plus it's always lovely to see the yellow flowers of Birds-foot Trefoil and Cowslips, thousands in the spring.

What changes have you seen over the years at Woods Mill?

Woods Mill has doubled in size. We bought neighbouring land in 2007 which included an extension of the Woods Mill river. In 2010, we undertook a project partnering up with the Environment Agency to reconnect the river to the floodplain. It used to be a very deep manmade ditch. The EA repositioned it to the new location, creating more connection to the river system and landscape, with bends and turns, which speeds up and slows down the flow adding to variation in the stream bed. Its new profile has made it better adapted to cope with flood events and provides addition wetland habitats across the nature reserve. Lots of interesting science and engineering went into this process, which I found very satisfying.

Sam Buckland recently created some great scrapes at Woods Mill, a project I'd very much been interested in developing. These will further benefit wildlife and enhance the wetland habitats across the nature reserve and surround landscape.

When I began working at Sussex Wildlife Trust all that time ago, it was very much a small organisation, although still professional, but it has upped its game over the years and become a respected conservation organisation. You don't start a job thinking you'll be there after 25 years! I feel there is knowledge from length of service as well as stability that I hope can offer other team members as they move forward in their careers.

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  • Peter Challis:

    An asset to the Wilder Horsham project. You couldn’t have found a better person.

    16 Jan 2024 17:52:00