Foz, for everyone who doesn’t know – who are you, where are you from, where do you live and who do you skate with?
I’m James Foster and I grew up in a little village near Leicester, but I live in Manchester at the minute. I skate with Ben Rowles, Neil Worthington, Joe O’Donnell, Tom Day sometimes and all the Manc lads really. Sick guys.
Let’s get down to it; what is your job title?
I am an assistant ecologist.
And for most of us out there who aren’t ecologists, can you explain what that is please?
I work for an ecological consultancy; we work with developers and we check the sites that they want to develop on to see if there are any protected species that they have to deal with, as they are protected by legislation. If they are disturbed or killed in the process of development then the developers will get heavy fines, and we are there to stop that.
What sort of protected species are you dealing with?
There are quite a lot of protected species: anything from a little dormouse, to all nesting birds, to otters, badgers, bats, grey crested newts and the Natterjack toad. They kill it. Basically all wildlife has got at least some small level protection against their habitat being destroyed by development.
So if you find any wildlife on a site, are they still allowed to develop there?
Yeah, they will always build there. In this country the animals don’t get a huge level of protection, but if they lose a roost then the developers will have to build another one and this is how you get things like bat houses being created.
One site I worked on was an old quarry and the developers needed the original stone for a listed building. So they had to reopen this quarry that had been dead for over one hundred years and there was tons and tons of bat activity going on there, so they had to put in a bat house for them. It’s pretty interesting. That goes across all species, so with newts we have to move them off-site, which means we have to trap them, take them for a short little walk and put them under some logs somewhere else.
You moved to London recently for just a few weeks. How was that?
Yeah, I got a job in London for a bit. It was a bit odd to be honest. I’ve grown up as a country bumpkin and I’d been working in the Peak District the year before and it was quite an adjustment. At the end of the day it was just a couple of personal things within the job, and then the crazy amount of rent you have to pay in London compared to the paying three or four times less to live in a house with my boys in Manchester that led to me leaving London fairly rapidly.
In your old job before the move to London, you spent a lot of time staying away in hotels. Are you still doing that in your new role?
Nah, in this new job we fully go in. We’ve got vans and we just do the drive. We used to sit at the site for a couple of hours, then go for a meal, go out again for another two hours, finish up and head back to the hotel for the night. Now we get in the van and drive for a few hours and do two or three different sites along the way, get back home at about 2am, have food and then back out again at about 6am. I’m definitely getting my hours in during a really busy newt season.
When is ‘newt season’?
Typically spring until early summer, when they go to the ponds to breed.
Bee on the bin not in the trousers – Photo Reece Leung
You mentioned something earlier about finding a bee in your pants when you were driving. What was that about?
Oh dear; you’ve worded that pretty well. I was going around checking for newts in little buckets and moving them off the site. I came across a little wet bumblebee. It was absolutely pissing it down and I was drenched, he was drenched, so I kept hold of him while I did the rest of my work. Then I got back to the van, put the heater on full blast and I didn’t want to drive home completely soaking wet, so I took my trousers off. Obviously I’d like to mention that I was working alone. So I’m drying my trousers off as I’m driving back with the bee in his own little corner of the van sipping on sugar water. Then slowly during the hour and a quarter that I was driving, he dried out and started flying about.
Do you think the bee appreciated it?
Yeah I think so. Once he’d dried out he started grooming himself for a little while and then flew about the van for a bit. I love the little bees you know, the little bumbles.
So currently you’re working with newts and making sure their habitats aren’t destroyed, or if they are, moving them onto a new home?
Yeah, throughout the newt season I was, but now we are moving on into the bat season. Most of the work I do involves newts and bats, but you’ve got plenty of other stuff going on alongside it. There are building inspections for bats that can go on all year, then we have ‘Phase 1’ surveys where we go and look at the habitat and vegetation on a site and we have to list all the plant species, which I am pretty useless at to be fair.
What is your strength/speciality when it comes to your job?
Definitely bat surveys, and then putting two litre bottles into ponds and catching newts.
Didn’t you get attacked by a sheep on a site one time?
Again, on this newt site we were on, we had to cross this farmer’s field with livestock in there. Earlier in the year there were bullocks in there and one of them tried to push smebody into a pond. That was pretty good! Basically, this time there was a sheep that was quite friendly and it was coming up to the fence and I was petting it. It was a full-grown ewe with these gnarly horns. I went into the field and she just started head butting me, so I had to grab the horns and you have to grasp your inner shepherd instincts. I took off my hi-vis and used it as a matador style cloak and mesmerised the sheep enough to get away. The next day I went into the field with a stick and it wasn’t fucking with me then.
Swapping the newt bucket for the hat variety Foz switch flips – Photo Reece Leung
Does your job leave you plenty of time to skate?
So far this year it has been alright, but last year I was doing a lot of work with bats and doing a load of dawn surveys, which meant I was doing crazy hours. Obviously bats are out at night, so during a month like June it can be absolutely killer as there are early sun rises and late sunsets and that’s when you have to be out. So you’ve got to try and sleep during the day, but even then you have stuff to do in the office. It definitely messes with your body clock, but when it comes to the weekend you have to get out for a beer and a skate.
You enjoy it though, right?
Oh yeah of course.
Everyone who has met you could probably guess that you would end up working with animals. Did you think you would end up in something like this?
I suppose that the chance just came along. I did it and once I got a taste for it I decided to do some voluntary stuff and then I did it part-time for years to build up my experience until somebody would take me on full-time. Every time I am driving around on the way to a bat survey and I see a dog going for a walk, I kind of wish I was working with them more to be honest. Maybe one day I could train a dog to detect bats like they have in the Manchester bat group.
That’s the dream right there! So finally, it’s half time between Portugal and France. Who’s your money on to win the final?
France obviously… Bonsoir!