Meet Chris Eyles, Exmoor Countryside Warden

My name is Chris Eyles, and I recently joined South West Lakes Trust as Countryside and Angling Warden for Exmoor, where I’m lucky enough to be looking after our sites at Wimbleball Lake and Wistlandpound Reservoir.

How did I get here? Well it’s been a slightly circuitous route but after working as a research physicist for several years I decided it was time for a career change, and to follow my dream of working in wildlife conservation. Along the way I’ve volunteered and worked my way around the South West with TCV, the RSPB, and the National Trust, which has been a fantastic journey. I’m also delighted to say that from a wildlife point of view, Wimbleball Lake is one of the most exciting sites I’ve had the chance to work on! As a keen birder I was very pleased to see my first ever treecreeper nest on the site this spring, and it’s also been very exciting to see so many small pearl bordered fritillaries on our nature reserve, which has some superb habitat for invertebrates and birds.

As some of our other wardens have already mentioned, one of the best things about working in conservation and land management is the huge variety involved in the job. Since joining South West Lakes Trust I’ve been carrying out butterfly surveys, mowing meadows with tractors, rescuing frog spawn, coppicing blocks of woodland, building concrete bases and fences on our campsite, and bringing some of the over-mature Exmoor beech hedges on the site back into management. The other highlights of the job for me are the incredible amount of wildlife you get to see every single day working around the lake – hardly a week goes by without finding a wildflower, beetle, weevil, or moth I’ve never seen before, and, I have to admit, the large variety of tractors, chainsaws, woodworking power tools, and other big boy’s toys we get to play… Our fantastic group of conservation volunteers also deserve a special mention as leading them in a wide variety of conservation and management tasks is definitely another major highlight of my working week!

Less glamourous but equally important is the large amount of work required to keep the site safe and looking great for all the people coming to enjoy the water sports and camping that Wimbleball has to offer. On a site like this it’s important to balance the requirements for conservation and wildlife with those of access and recreation, and it’s always great to see so many people and families enjoying the great outdoors. I’m also a firm believer that one of the most important things we can do as wardens for the long-term conservation of wildlife in the UK is to share our passion for natural history with the public, and to help people deepen their appreciation and understanding of our fantastic native flora, fauna, and landscape.

One completely novel aspect of the job for me has been managing Wistlandpound as a fishery and engaging with anglers. Over the last six months I’ve been learning to fly fish after work from our volunteer bailiffs which has been great fun, and I’ll always remember the first brown trout I managed to catch!

In the longer term I’m looking forward to working on the management plans for the site and seeing how we can make the site even better for wildlife, while continuing the development of the water sports and camping hand in hand alongside this.

Wimbleball really is a beautiful place and I’d highly recommend a visit – every time you walk around the lake there’s always something more to see and learn about!

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