Ben and Chris - Wild about Life!

© Chris Lewis

Ben and Chris first met at The Abbey School in Farnham where Chris was one of Ben’s teachers. They never imagined that 14 years later they be working as photographers and exploring the flora and fauna of Surrey and Hampshire together!

Ben was born with a rare medical condition called Septo-Optic Dysplasia. This means that as well as being on regular medication he has mild learning difficulties. Ben however has never let this hold him back, and he went on to study both Media and Business courses at local colleges.

Chris had to medically retire from teaching in 2015 and with the support of Surrey Adult Social Care became Ben’s Buddy and business partner. They share a passion for wildlife, nature and photography and have been members of the Surrey Wildlife Trust for a number of years. Their photographs have featured in a number of Surrey based charity calendars and they work commercially in the construction industry producing blogs for social media sites.

Ben and Chris walk together extensively during the week exploring nature and the countryside throughout Surrey and Hampshire. Each trip is recorded in Ben’s personal blog with accompanying photographs and notes. Last year they both felt they could be doing more for the wildlife on their own doorstep and took the plunge to build a pond!

© Chris Lewis

As with many ideas the project grew and the pond ended up being at least twice the original intended size! The pair did a lot of online research and visited World of Water in Elstead to gain expert advice. The pond was initially excavated using a mini digger as Ben’s parents were in the process of having an extension built on their house to give Ben greater independent living space. The pond was then sculptured by hand to provide shelving and slopes to allow easy access for wildlife. A liner was used and the surroundings were landscaped with a mixture of large stones, pebbles, gravel, logs and old pots. After a few weeks to let the ground settle aquatic plants were added to the pond and its borders. Inspired by their success Ben and Chris decided to further support the biodiversity of the area around the pond by constructing a large bug hotel complete with green living roof!

Just one year later and Ben and Chris are amazed by how their wildlife pond and conservation area has evolved. Dragon and damsel flies are among the many visitors and this year they are delighted to have spotted a common newt in the pond. Foxes and a large variety of birds regularly drink from the pond and even woodpeckers and sparrow hawks have been seen in the garden. Ben commented “The pond has given me an all year round interest and makes me feel we are doing something important for wildlife in Surrey”. Chris has been unable to see the pond since March due to the Corona Pandemic but works with Ben every week online. He said “Without doubt the highlight of the lockdown for me was receiving the picture of the newt from Ben!”

When life returns to something like normal Ben and Chris are looking forward to resuming their exploits together. Last year they thoroughly enjoyed the Surrey Wildlife Trust Understanding Owls course in Winchester, and hope to partake in more of our activities in the future. They are also looking forward to returning to Underdown, our smallest nature reserve which is right on their doorstep!

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© Jon Hawkins