Reprinted from Newsletter 98, dated 2001 January–February

English Nature—and butterflies—reward Geoff Brunt’s dedication

Two men stand wearing coats in front of a vehicle. They are on a gravel road running between many trees and bushes. The man on the left has dark receding hair and a beard, and he wears a suit and tie beneath his coat. He is smiling and handing a framed certificate to the man on the right, who has short grey hair and wears glasses.

David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome, presents the English Nature SSSI Award for 1999–2000 to Geoff Brunt (right) at the Polden Hills grasslands.

Unassuming Geoff Brunt might be a thwarted biologist, but to conservation, he is definitely someone rather special. “My first love was biology, but I couldn’t get to grips with the Latin, so I became a physicist instead,” laughs Geoff, who received an English Nature SSSI Award of Excellence.

Although he will be the last to admit it, Geoff has been the guiding light in the restoration of the calcareous grasslands in the Polden Hills SSSI (site of special scientific interest).

A retired physics teacher from Millfield School, he combined his passion for nature conservation with his unerring charm to persuade his old school to purchase a nearby nature reserve to improve it for wildlife.

For nearly 10 years, between 200 and 250 pupils a year have been actively involved in strimming, coppicing and other hands-on activities, helping to regenerate the reserve.

“The pupils have been mainly first-years and most are extremely enthusiastic too. Of course, it depends on their tutor to whip up the initial enthusiasm, but many of those 13-year-olds will be our conservationists of the future,” Geoff says.

And while delighted to have been nominated for the award, Geoff, a former area chairman for Glastonbury and Street branch of Somerset Wildlife Trust, would rather talk about his many friends and colleagues who have helped him with his pet project. “I am very grateful to all the people who have given their time to the project — people like David Lester, the voluntary warden from Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Reserve at Great Breach Wood. He’s given hours of practical assistance, together with some very illuminating slide shows for Millfield,” he enthuses. “Since I first got involved with the Trust 16 years ago David has taught me all I know,” he adds.

He is equally quick to recognise organisations such as the Clarks Trust and English Nature, who each contributed £6,000 for sheep management by installing fencing at Hatch Hill, where Geoff also manages land on behalf of the Clarks Trust. This immediately leads into praise for John Poingdestre’s fencing — “exceptionally good quality“.

English Nature’s conservation officer, Mike Edgington, flies the flag for Geoff: “He has organised the entire project and both sites involved have now achieved SSSI status. On one site, the chalk hill blue butterfly’s population has risen from a count of two to over 50 in just over six years,” he points out. Other thriving species include autumn lady tresses, bee orchid and early gentian.

Not content with his achievements to date, Geoff aims to link a further great swath of land from Walton Hill to the Millfield reserve. Only one small piece of land remains in private ownership and he is determined to trace the owner!

Last, but not least, Geoff mentions someone else to be acknowledged. “It’s Marjorie, my wife. She’s been so tolerant.”