It’s a frog’s life: an interview with Froglife’s toad-ally new patron, Jules Howard

Jules Howard started out his early career at Froglife, a charity committed to conserving the UK’s native amphibians and reptiles. Two published books and plenty of stories later, he’s come full circle and has re-joined the organisation, as a patron.

His work for the Guardian and BBC Wildlife is both novel an engaging, whilst his second book “Death on Earth” provides an insight into a seldom touched topic. Jules’ unique and, frankly, wonderful way of looking at the animal world leads to fascinating stories and articles that encourage discussion.

As well as writing, Jules is a UK science ambassador and is truly passionate about encouraging new audiences to enjoy, study and pursue careers in science and nature. I was able to catch up with Jules and talk about how his experiences have shaped his career and how he would advise others looking to follow in his footsteps. 

Have you always been passionate about wildlife and conservation, or was there a specific event or person that led you along this path?

I guess I’ve always had that warm “wow!” feeling about animals. I’ve always had the kind of awe you see children have when they look at dinosaur skeletons in museums. I get that same feeling now from looking at slugs and rodent teeth or fish parasites or, of course, frogs. Do I get that buzz when thinking about conservation? Not really. If I’m a conservationist, it’s probably by necessity. I like animals. I want to keep ‘em around.

In your early career you worked on the enquiry line for Froglife and have now come full circle as a patron for the organisation. What makes you so passionate about frogs and toads? 

The official answer, I guess, is that they’re crucial components of freshwater habitats and foodwebs and that their freshwater habitats are intrinsically linked to the health of humans and their livelihoods the world over. Secretly though, the stupid side of me loves frogs and toads because they are so strange and charismatic and such a stark and almost hilarious reminder of a former world of land-fish from which we all descended. (Also: people seem to love them. I think tadpoles are a gateway drug to nature. As are reptiles, for that matter).

”Jules began working for Froglife in 2003 on its frog helpline. He then moved into training young people in monitoring amphibian populations, including great crested newts” (photographed)

”Jules began working for Froglife in 2003 on its frog helpline. He then moved into training young people in monitoring amphibian populations, including great crested newts” (photographed)

You’re a regular writer for the Guardian and have written pieces for the BBC wildlife Magazine as well as publishing your own books. What inspired you to start writing and how do you choose the subjects you write about?

The writing thing happened by accident. I was working the frog helpline and completely out of the blue I got a call from BBC Wildlife Magazine who had some readers’ questions. I offered to email them the answers, which they deemed (to my great surprise) printable. I realised that my occasional weird perspectives on animals translated better into words than from my mouth. It went from there.

Your latest book “Death on Earth: Adventures in Evolution and Mortality”, explores a rarely talked about subject from a different perspective. Do you have any stand out memories from your time researching it?

That’s a tough question! Hmmm… investigating the invertebrates that colonise dead mammals? Holding the most aged animal in the world? Immortal jellyfish? I can’t decide. A couple of chapters feature toads (of which thousands die on UK roads each year) which is an issue about which Froglife campaigns. I’m glad to finally tell the story of the toads that travel each year to the lake that surrounds Princess Diana’s burial site!

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"Jules's latest book, Death on Earth, has seen him investigate the darker side of nature and why understanding biological death could help us feel better about being mortal." (Credit: TEDx Eastend 2016)

“Jules’s latest book, Death on Earth, has seen him investigate the darker side of nature and why understanding biological death could help us feel better about being mortal.” (Credit: TEDx Eastend 2016)

You mentioned the issue of wildlife and road crossings, will you be involved with the toads on roads project as part of your work with Froglife? Or will you focus more on other issues and upcoming projects?

Yes, I’ll continue trying to help raise awareness of toad migrations and how we can all get involved in larger monitoring initiatives for amphibians and reptiles, including those managed by Froglife. I’m here to add to and help support Froglife’s suite of interesting and innovative conservation projects. I’m a big fan of their creative approach to conservation, for instance through community projects that support disadvantaged young people. In the last ten years I’ve seen young people come through Froglife projects and then take on wider conservation jobs in the real-world. I’ve seen careers begin, which is pretty cool. Froglife’s work really can alter lives.

”In the past five years, Jules has worked with 100,000 young people, helping them explore biological concepts like wildlife conservation and evolution and natural selection"

”In the past five years, Jules has worked with 100,000 young people, helping them explore biological concepts like wildlife conservation and evolution and natural selection”

And lastly. Do you have any advice for budding conservationists who would like to pursue a career in scientific writing?

I think, when I started out, it was about lucky breaks and who you know. Now, the world is changing. Young conservationists have so many tools to promote their style and their content: Twitter, blogs, YouTube. It’s levelled the playing field, opening up the sector to allow (hopefully) for more diversity, something lacking in the conservation sector for decades. For me, it took time. I treated the first five years as practice. I churned out all sorts of rubbish online, which I’m a bit ashamed about now. But it was practice. I had to find my style, and it came eventually. My simple advice is to write, write, write. Write any way, everywhere, about everything. Publish the things you love and hide the rest in a box somewhere.


Find out more about Jules, and Froglife here:

http://www.froglife.org/what-we-do/

http://www.wildlife-man.co.uk/about.html

Aimee Farndale: June 2016

Career Stories, Conservation Jobs & Careers Advice

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