Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Graeme Mitchell - Chair

Graeme has had a lifetime’s experience in the travel and hospitality industry, having run a highly successful Tour Operating business for 25 years until its sale in 2016. As a hands-on Tour Operator no two weeks were ever the same having to deal with a multitude of deadlines and the necessary logistics that were involved in taking some 8,000 people each year to visit gardens around the world – not to mention the joys of dealing with the fall-out from volcanic ash, ferry strikes, and the odd dead body.

Graeme has been a keen birdwatcher all his life. He cut his birding teeth in the Scottish Highlands, never believing for a minute things could get any better… that is until he moved to Somerset in 2001. 

He recently set up a small birdwatching holiday business from his home near Wedmore where he shares his passion for the birds found across the county of Somerset.



Sarah Nason - Vice Chair

Sarah has had a long civil service career working in a range of HQ policy and corporate management roles, including head of Defra’s flood management division, sponsor of the Environment Agency and CEO of the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency which became part of Natural England. She is currently a public appointee on the Wessex Regional Flood and Coastal Committee where she champions sustainable flood risk management which also benefits biodiversity and natural resources. Sarah has had a lifelong interest in the natural world and is passionate about the range of landscape and habitats that Somerset has to explore. She lives in the Quantocks where she enjoys bird watching, walking, wildlife gardening and nature photography. 




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Richard Atkin - Treasurer 
Working as a water engineer in his early career on projects as diverse as Andean hydropower and Thames Tidal defences, Richard then spent most of the rest of career with European private sector businesses, working in operations, general management, finance, strategy and technology.  Richard and his family moved to a home above the Avalon marshes in 1988. He put his roots down deep, resisting all attempts at relocation, and watched his children grow up along with the Avalon Marshes. He cares deeply about creating infrastructure that enhances our relationship with the natural environment. Hobbies include walking, managing his cider orchard, cider making, and bees. He volunteers with the Mendip Hills AONB, and his dry walling skills are a work in progress.


Helen Lawy

Born and raised on a Northumberland farm and trained as a teacher, Helen taught for thirty years in primary schools in Grimsby and Jersey.  She moved to Taunton in 2001. During the last sixteen years she has been involved in raising the profile of the environment within Taunton.  Already a member of the Trust, Helen chaired the Taunton Deane Area Group Committee, and now helps coordinate a varied programme of events which focus on fostering strong community engagement with the town’s green spaces, and bringing wildlife and natural experiences to young people in an urban setting. She has been very involved in the Routes to the River Tone project and as a result of this work has established a Green Forum which brings together all volunteers who help nurture their local green space.  




Melville Trimble

Melville has spent the majority of his working life as a corporate financier and advisor to the financial services industry and retains therein a number of non-executive roles. Since retiring to the Quantocks in Somerset, he has become involved in a number of local charities. He has, since childhood, been interested in natural history generally, although his main interest was, and still is, in Lepidoptera. He is a strong advocate that the management of our countryside, for the benefit of both the wildlife and people, needs to go beyond the simple accumulation of reserves by the Trust and must involve the wider engagement of all land owners.



Phil Holms

Phil brings more than forty years of conservation management and people engagement expertise to the Trust, working for wildlife, landscape and heritage in different parts of the UK for Nature Conservancy Council, English Nature and finally Natural England, until his retirement in 2012 in the role of Senior Reserves Manager South West. One of his particular interests is the protection of birds of prey, and he has been a Trustee for the Hawk and Owl Trust for the last four years. He is also a Voluntary Warden for Natural England at Shapwick Heath, and chaired the Steering Group of the successful Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership HLF Project.





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Matthew Bell MCIM

Matthew Bell is a Chartered Institute of Marketing, and Chartered Institute of Public Relations, qualified communications professional with over 10 years’ experience in the third sector. He is currently Head of Marketing and Business Development at Brunelcare; a charity and housing association providing housing, care and support to older people in the South West. He was previously Head of Marketing and Communications at Bristol’s St Peter’s Hospice, where he was responsible for raising awareness of the work of the charity, and for promoting a large portfolio of fundraising activities. Matthew lives in the Mendips and sits on the panel of the Mendip Hills Fund, which contributes to projects that support the landscape, education and social and economic development of the Mendip Hills area of outstanding natural beauty.      


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Steve Newman

Originally from the South East, Steve studied Accountancy at Lancaster University, having chosen it for its proximity to the Lake District & all the outdoor activities he could enjoy there!  He has had a varied career in the private & public sectors, including Central Government. He has led large complex organisations in Directorships ranging from Finance, to Corporate Services to Operations & has taught at local colleges and Universities, including Warwick. His passion for the outdoors and conservation volunteering has remained constant throughout his life.  He has been a voluntary warden at different reserves, been a trustee & managed a woodland for a children’s charity for over 30 years & run conservation volunteer groups, training courses, & other woodland activities. Since retiring to Somerset 5 years ago, Steve has been heavily involved in several voluntary projects, including woodland management, conservation & experimental archaeology. He has recently taken up beekeeping.


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Simon Hicks

After leaving the army, Simon returned to Exmoor in 1969 from where he undertook forestry, game-keeping, hill farming, nature reserve and national park wardening, while studying for a certificate in field biology.  He joined the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers as Field Officer, became first Regional Officer in the SE, finishing as Director. In 1976 he joined the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, where he was responsible for finance, fundraising, memberships and publications, while developing an International Training Centre, species recovery programmes overseas, and the Zoo organic farm.  On retirement he chaired a small conservation foundation while studying for an MSc in Responsibility and (Conservation) Practice.  He is a volunteer and reserve warden for SWT.


Val Brown
Professor Valerie (Val) Brown

Val has been an active member of Somerset Wildlife Trust since moving to Stawley (nr Wellington) 13 years ago and was a founding member of the Strategic Advisory Board.  She is currently a member of Council of the National Trust and a member of its SW Regional Advisory Board. Val’s career was in academia, specialising in ecology and conservation, particularly in the agricultural environment.  She was Professor of Agro-Ecology and Director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER) at the University of Reading. Most of Val’s early career was spent at Imperial College, The University of London, from where she moved to become Director of the CABI International Institute of Entomology in London, an inter-governmental organisation, and subsequently its Director of Environment.

Val has served as scientific advisor to Defra and Natural England’s agri-environment research programme for over 10 years.  She has been a member of NERC Council, Defra’s Research Priorities Group and Science Advisory Group and English Nature’s Natural Sciences Advisory Group and held positions in various international organisations.  She has been Vice President of the British Ecological and the Royal Entomological Societies and Council member of RSPB.  She was a member of the UK Government’s ‘Making Space for Nature’ panel, the results of which are now pivotal in landscape conservation goals in the UK.  In any spare time, Val enjoys gardens and gardening and is a keen bird watcher and field botanist.

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Dr Mark Steer
Mark has been involved with Somerset Wildlife Trust since 2010, when he joined the Trust as a Development Officer working on the Somerset Levels. He has since moved into an academic role at the University of the West of England where he teaches, researches and attempts to practice conservation biology. Mark is involved in developing novel conservation monitoring techniques focused on extracting species’ DNA from the environment to understand the distribution and behaviour of elusive species ranging from eels to lemurs, he is also assisting the creation of a new protected area in Madagascar’s central highlands. He has previously been involved in a number of studies to understand the impact of changing environmental conditions and economic drivers on Somerset’s wildlife-rich habitats.