Dr. Julian Bayliss: The Real Life Explorer
After meeting Dr. Julian Bayliss at Cambridge University back in 2011, shortly after he discovered what is known as the Google Forest, he inspired me to study Zoology after telling me about some of his adventures. Now featuring in his own Google explorer advert he’s inspiring others by showing that new discoveries are still out there to be made. I caught up with him again and asked him some questions about his choices and how he managed to get to where he is today.
Why did you choose to work in conservation?
I chose to work in conservation due to my love of nature, my desire and my interest to find out more about how animals and plants live together and are connected. It was also through my concern about global issues such as habitat destruction that led me to pursue conservation as a career.
What is your current job title?
Biodiversity and Protected Areas Specialist, technical adviser to the Government of Malawi.
What does your job involve?
I am charged with looking after 2 National Parks, 3 Forest Reserves and a large wetland, writing management plans for the areas as well as helping to develop a co-management agreement with the communities. This agreement allows the communities to take the responsibility for looking after the forest reserve instead of illegally exploiting it. By giving the community a sense of ownership, pride and responsibility, it is hoped that the forest reserves that they live next to will be sustainably managed in the future. It’s a different take on conservation compared to the ‘do not cross the line’ approach which doesn’t seem to work mainly due to the lack of resources in the African forestry department and so we shall have to wait and see whether the new method works.
What are the best parts of the job?
Getting to explore the field, camping under the stars, seeing the forest at all different times of day, catching butterflies, bats and snakes, putting out camera traps with the hope of seeing something unusual or never seen before.
What are the worst parts of the job?
Meetings, report writing and being stuck in front of a computer day after day!
What’s your proudest moment so far in your career?
I’ve discovered over 20 new species to science which include 8 butterflies, 4 chameleons, 3 snakes, 3 crabs and 2 bats along with still having species currently being examined from my expeditions in Malawi and Mozambique. I have 3 species named after me as a result (2 butterflies and 1 chameleon). Discovering the largest rainforest in southern Africa also has to be one of my greatest achievements. Gaining my PhD was also a very proud moment.
What steps have taken you to where you are today?
I guess it started when my family moved from Cardiff to North Wales when I was 7 and in our new farm house the previous owners had left a moth trap in the garden. I turned on the trap and started collecting moths which naturally led to my interest in butterflies. I then started buying books with information about them and in so many pictures you would see someone in the rainforest with a huge net. It was these images took me to a completely different world where humans were only millimetres tall compared to the trees and natural world around them.
This led to my decision to study Zoology at University and then from there I ran expeditions in Tanzania for Frontier (the adventure travel company) for three and a half hard years. After that job, where I had learnt so much, I came back to the UK and completed a masters degree in Conservation Biology. From there I did some work in Madagascar and then started my PhD which I chose to be a lot more technical, entitled ‘The use of GIS and geostatistics in multilevel modelling for biodiversity action planning’. This was based in the UK intentionally so I would still balance my career with different conservation elements. The focus of the PhD was on modelling habitats for 8 threatened UK grassland and wetland bird species in Oxfordshire through agri-environment schemes.
I then secured a job in Malawi on a World Bank GEF project for 6 years (the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust) through the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), followed by a Darwin Initiative award project led by Kew Gardens which was all about Mount Mulanje and the biological similarities that Mt. Mulanje had with other neighbouring mountains in northern Mozambique. Mount Mulanje was originally thought to have many endemic species but it was found that several of these other mountains being studied in northern Mozambique also have some of these species making the mountains an archipelago of shared biodiversity.
Following my years in Malawi I then returned to the UK working in the Zoology Department at the University of Cambridge coordinating an ecosystem services evaluation project called ‘Valuing the Arc’ in Tanzania, and with FFI (Flora and Fauna International) on a project focusing on Mount Nimba in West Africa which spans 3 countries. The mountain is 80% iron ore and so we had to coordinate and harmonise 3 conservation policies to allow the region to be protected and that lead to where I am now. A very mixed bag really of all sorts of conservation jobs over the years. My current position with the Government of Malawi is really as a result of the time I spent there working on Mt. Mulanje
How did you gain your first job in conservation?
After going on a 3 month expedition with Frontier in my second year at university I kept in touch and once I had finished my first degree I got back in touch and applied for a job which they thankfully offered me. In retrospect it was a great first job, very challenging but it allowed me to learn all about living, moving and surviving in the forest along with the skills I use all the time such as bat netting, butterfly and snake catching and finding clean water and suitable places to set up a camp.
What advice would you give to young conservationists?
1. You must follow your heart and find a habitat or species that you’re interested in and will allow you to go the extra mile, as you are often on your own.
2. Have a desire to find out more.
3. When going to work or volunteer, try to help solve a conservation problem, so when you leave, you leave knowing that you have made a difference however big or small. This will give you a sense of achievement and spur you on for the next job knowing that you have made a difference in some way.
4. Always look for the magic, discovering nature’s magic can often be a lonely and humbling experience but always beautiful.
Yet again he really made me think…. about my own magic moments to date and those that await us if we pursue a career in conservation.