ELF professional member interview – Dr John Feltwell

By Elf

We are starting a regular feature, profiling through a 5-minute interview some of our wonderful ELF professional members.

As ELF approaches its 30th Birthday next year, there is no one better to start with than Dr John Feltwell who holds the honour of being one of ELF’s longest standing professional members. On last count John has been a member for over 25 years which is astounding. Always ready to help ELF, John is a great source of knowledge on ecology and the natural world. He is currently our only ecologist member and where ELF considers the law, John provides the cross disciplinary knowledge that is often lacking. Having an expert on board in a legal case can strengthen the position.

John is also an author and has written numerous books on natural history. His latest book, “A Celebration of Sweet Chestnut – a history and natural history” published in both French and English is a fascinating book, celebrating the cultural and culinary influences of the Sweet Chestnut tree and how it brings the two neighbouring countries of France and England together. If you would like to buy this book it can be purchased here.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Difficult! I’ve done 8.

  1. Passionate
  2. Innovative
  3. Expert
  4. Naturalist and Rainforest Explorer (Biodiversity reconnaissance trips: to rainforests of Sulawesi (1985), Costa Rica in 1996, 1998, 2013  and Amazonas in 1998, 2000, Mexico (2001), Vietnam (2002), Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest (2002, 2004, 2005, 2008), Dominican Republic (2003), with other trips to Hong Kong (2004) and Seychelles (2004, 2007, 2009), Antigua (2004), Dominica (2006) Mauritius (2007), Peru (2007), Madagascar (2010), New Zealand (2012), Belize (2012), Sri Lanka (2015), Hawaii (2017) … Tasmania (2019) … )
  5. Professional Conservationist and Author (over 42 books)
  6. Educator (six children’s books 30 languages)
  7. Environmental Law & Conflict resolution are enthusiasms, and also my work – over 1,300 reports for clients over 40 year career, working for myself (Wildlife Matters). 7a Promotor of Biodiversity for 40 years!
  8. Co-ordinator, Go-to ecologist  (did not like Fixer!)

How long have you been an ELF member and do you remember an ELF case of particular interest?

No idea, in excess of two decades …

Probably my experience has not been used enough.

The usefulness of an ELF expert is to inject a small amount of experienced advice to give a group a direction, and to put them in touch with other ELF experts, to move the case on.

There is a naivety amongst people that ELF exists for free.

Always pleased to assist; as a small necessary ecological cog and part of a larger advisory team.

It is good to know that one’s small input of timely advice has been helpful.

In recent years I have had to declare conflict of interest as I seem to have worked for so many developers ….

You have written a number of books on the subject of natural history. How do you choose your subject matter?

See item 4, but also publishers have come to me and asked me to write certain books.

I also like trees…

I have also published my own books on enthusiasms such as silk and mulberry trees,…And assisted with one for the HRH The Queen on the mulberry trees in Buckingham Palace.

And what interested you about the Sweet Chestnut, the subject of your latest book?

I have always been fascinated by the use of Sweet Chestnut in the social history of peoples around the Mediterranean, particularly in the Cevennes mountains of Occitanie – for house-building, food, flour, honey etc. and its movement by the Romans north to the UK etc.

You have seen nature change over the years of your practice as an ecologist. As nature in the UK declines, what do you miss the most?

The loss of insects, especially butterflies, due mostly to habitat loss.

If you could change one area of the law on nature, what would it be?

To firm up guidances and best practices into Acts. Eliminate the lack of bite in ecological law.

If you could pass on advise to new aspiring ecologists, what would it be?

Get qualified to the highest degree and follow your enthusiasms.

Live the subject.

Love nature.

Have passion for nature.


Thanks to John.