Is for zoologist
With one foot in tradition and one in innovation, how does Somerset inspire its workers? VIK MARTIN takes a stroll through the alphabet to find out
Nestled in the Mendips, with panoramic views over the Somerset Levels, Priddy looks like something from my childhood drawings - the kind of place granny would live. You barely need to scratch the surface though, to find it’s actually way cooler than that. I pop in the pub for directions and the staff are wearing t-shirts that read ‘Priddy. Like The Archers, but on acid’.
Zoologist Jen Nightingale (when I finally find her, cuddling a pet rabbit outside her cute stone cottage) confirms my suspicion. “It’s such a secret, but it’s a magic place,” she tells me. “It’s a fantastic community, with many like-minded people.”
After introducing me to her pets, Jen takes me into an outbuilding where there are tanks full of tiny, lobster-like creatures which, she explains, are baby white-clawed crayfish - our only native species of freshwater crayfish. At this point, I notice, she really comes to life.
“I’m on a complete personal mission here; you could say I moved to Somerset to save crayfish. We bring females in with their eggs to give them a better chance of surviving - and we’ve learnt how to breed them. We’ve got the only hatchery in the country. We’ve set up nine ark sites across the county, as safe havens for them. One of the biggest threats is the American signal crayfish. They prey on everything and they carry a nasty disease called crayfish plague. It’s complicated to find the perfect site, but there’s one at Vobster dive site. Not that they’re lobsters...but I did think that was a funny coincidence and that it would really engage the divers. They get excited when they see crayfish, which is great, and they also understand the conservation messages.
“When I moved to Somerset it all came together for me. I had no idea how magical it was before I lived here. You may think I’m just a bunny hugger, but there’s nothing bunny huggery about me at all.”
We look at each other and snigger.
“Except for that bunny you were hugging when I got here...”
“Oh yeah, well there was that, but crayfish are so much cooler!”