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Environmental Monitoring Officer

Age: 30

Organisation: Environment Agency

Amy Buckenham

Why did you decide on a career in ecology/environmental management, and when did you decide?

I spent a lot of my childhood playing in streams and enjoyed pond dipping so a career in aquatic ecology came naturally to me. A housing development on an old common next to my childhood home motivated me to find out more about environmental protection. I decided on a career in science at an early age, and studied several sciences at A level. At university I studied Environmental Sciences, and I specialised in ecology because I find the interactions between species and the environment most interesting. Also there is something fascinating about things that are alive and truly wild.

How did you get started in the sector?  What qualifications and experience did you have? Have you gained any additional qualifications since?

My first job in the environmental sector was as a visitor centre assistant at a wildlife trust reserve; I had several temporary admin jobs since graduating with a BSc so this seemed a step in the right direction. Apparently I didn’t have the necessary experience and applied skills required for jobs in ecology, although I had done my dissertation on aquatic invertebrates in a local river. When the contract ended at the visitor centre, I started a completely unrelated job in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) carrying out flood modelling for an insurance company. I still wanted to work in ecology so I returned to University to study for an MRes. I would recommend an MRes to someone in a similar position because this enabled me to work with partner organisations which gave me valuable skills and fortunately this resulted in my first job as an ecologist.

How long have you been in your current role?

2 years 3 months.

What does a typical day involve? What are your responsibilities?

There are two main parts to my job: analysing macro-invertebrate samples in the laboratory and carrying out aquatic plant surveys. A typical day in the laboratory would involve sorting a kick sample from a river or lake and identifying which species are present. In summer, a typical day would be to travel out to a survey site on a river and identify all aquatic plants in a 100 m stretch and estimate their percentage cover. My main responsibilities are to analyse macro-invertebrate samples and algal bloom samples, to carry out aquatic plant surveys and investigate biological impacts of pollution incidents. I also enter and analyse the data and write reports e.g. to investigate failures under the Water Framework Directive.

What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have?

I think that the most important thing is to be interested in the aquatic environment; you need to be motivated to learn all the different species of macro-invertebrates and aquatic plants. I also think you need to have attention to detail, be organised and be keen to work with others (within the organisation and with partner organisations).

Describe the aspects of your job you find particularly rewarding and those you find challenging?

I really enjoy carrying out the field work, seeing the habitat that your sample comes from can give you a real insight into what the issues are at a particular site. It is also good to know that you can make a difference through your work with others. Aquatic samples are now mainly taken by a different team called Sampling and Collection (I am in Analysis and Reporting). This can be challenging because I feel that a trained ecologist would take a better quality sample and it would be beneficial to see the process through from start to finish.

Describe your career progression so far and any plans you have for the future

I am hoping to become a technical specialist in aquatic ecology; at the moment I am a Grade 3 so I am looking for an opportunity to become a Grade 4 ecologist.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the sector?

My advice would be to work with other organisations wherever possible, e.g. seek an external mentor or supervisor for your dissertation at University. Some organisations and companies have great ideas for research but don’t have the time or resources to carry them out so this can benefit both parties. I would also advise people to volunteer for a couple of weeks work experience, let them know what you can do already and what you would be interested in e.g. surveys of headwaters or surveying for mammals.