Ben Oliver

ben_oliverBen is Learning and Participation Manager at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, which is part of the Forestry Commission. He is also Chair of BGEN.

How long have you been working with plants and the natural world?

I’ve been working in the environmental sector since leaving university in 1998. All of my roles have revolved around the relationship of people and nature, so all have had learning at their heart.

Why is helping to connect people and plants important to you?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a village by the River Thames in the Cotswolds. My earliest memories are of the large oak tree that still stands in my parents’ garden. I can remember disappearing with my friends into the surrounding fields and woods – roaming around to see what we could find! Nature fascinated me – climbing (and more often than not falling out of) trees, collecting grass snakes, frogs, snails and any other stuff we could find, building dens.

As I got older I began to see just how lucky I was, but also the fact that the environment I had grown up in was changing and often disappearing – and this was really why I wanted to work in the environmental sector. I believe that to protect nature in the long term, everyone has to care about it. For this to happen people have to value it as an essential part of their own lives; this can be difficult achieve nowadays. So for me working in the sector is a real win-win scenario – I get to continue my own relationship with nature and better still I get to help people to have their own intimate experiences with it.

Tell us about a project you’re really proud to have been involved in.

There are loads, but I’m probably most proud of helping to develop natural play and family activities at Westonbirt. When I first started some elements of Westonbirt were quite traditional. Families were not particularly encouraged, I think largely because some were concerned that children would run riot. We’ve chipped away at this gradually – so much so that the office now has large pictures of children exploring and playing in the collection on the walls!

Finally, what is your favourite plant?

This is a tough question to answer as I love all trees. I like particular species for different reasons and I’m constantly discovering new ‘favourite’ specimens! However, if I was allowed to pick two, I would probably say the oak in my parents’ back garden where I grew up, and the katsura – I love to watch the delight on people’s faces when they first smell its toffee caramel scent in autumn!

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