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Environmental Consultant / Partner

Age: 38

Organisation: Think Nature

Ed Parr Ferris MCIEEM 

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

I had spent some time deciding what to do, but a series of events while travelling (1995-8 aged 20-23) made my mind up: development, over-crowding, disrespect for nature, littering, changes of lifestyles without concept of sustainability. I was also developing an interest in my home landscapes whilst seeing them under pressure.

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

I had 9 GCSEs and 2 very poor A-Levels but had worked in hospitality since I was 13 and had travelled extensively. I had volunteered with my local National Trust warden when 16 (Duke of Edinburgh’s Award) and so got chatting to him – he recommended a well-regarded course in Rural Resource Management at Seale-Hayne, which I subsequently joined. This also gave me the opportunity to become a Student Warden with the National Trust during my placement year. After four years I had a first class degree and a year’s experience as a warden. While I have done many training courses I have not gained any more qualifications, although I have been on the look-out for some time (without success) for a suitable MSc programme (landscape ecology) which I could fit around my work in the westcountry.

How long have you been in your current role?

5 years and 4 months – self-employed role which has evolved as my business has developed

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

Typical day? I’m not sure this really exists. I work from home so having extricated myself from the family I shut myself downstairs in the office and put on virtual ear defenders – I will be writing reports, arranging site visits with landowners, discussing project targets with partners, mapping results, arranging surveys, habitat restoration, grazing, etc. I spend many days out on farm visits, advising landowners on fitting nature conservation into their land management and carrying out walkabout surveys to assess land for nature conservation value and potential. These can progress to full botanical surveys and sometimes habitat restoration which might involve harvesting seed from other sites, arranging and supervising contractors, carrying out summer cuts, working with volunteers and site owners and then monitoring the results. I also carry out some woodland management and scrub control. Meetings with partners, funders and other organisations take up the rest of my time. I may get a bit of time to look at business management (invoices, bookkeeping, ordering, Continuing Professional Development (CPD), networking or advertising) but usually this is something I end up doing sporadically and not often enough. My responsibilities are to: develop, plan and carry out habitat management; manage and carry out all elements of landscape-scale conservation projects; take on contract jobs where possible in habitat management, restoration and creation, access, interpretation and landowner negotiation, and any other relevant contracts. I am also on the partnership committee for my local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which is one small part of the essential element of CPD, which is very hard to fit in when self-employed.

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

An obsessive and pathological interest in what they do. Communication and general people skills. Be a generalist but with some specific knowledge when necessary (although who knows when or what in). Be fit and healthy and willing to do any job needed to make a project happen. Be interested in all aspects of nature conservation but also keep up to date with current affairs. Self-confidence is key. Self-discipline, organisation, time-keeping are all essential although I can’t claim to have any of these.

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

Rewarding: When I find a valuable habitat that has previously been unrecorded and unrecognised. When I find a landowner who is genuinely interested in managing their land (or a piece of it) for nature conservation. Conducting all the elements of habitat restoration and creation and then seeing the results. Looking back at a job well done (e.g. planting a woodland, hay-cut complete, great seed harvest, coppicing or hedge-laying). 

Challenging: Working with landowners who aren’t interested in nature conservation or don’t even understand or recognise it – especially if they have valuable habitats on their land. Working from home can be a real challenge. I find self-employment can be lonely and I miss the banter, support and social structure that comes with having day-to-day colleagues. Who do you bounce ideas off?

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

Rural Resource Management degree – Student Warden (National Trust)  – Countryside Warden (Gloucestershire County Council) – Project Officer (Slapton Cycleau Project – Catchment Management Project) – Warden (National Trust) – self-employed (started with domestic jobs and gradually took on more roles for local authorities, local AONB and NGOs, now mainly funded through local charity which supports landscape scale project).

Plans for the future: I would like to be more involved in landscape ecology both physically running projects and academically developing theories. I would like to get involved with international conservation, perhaps with WWF – I am interested in some of their current work in Europe. I would very much like to do a Masters and / or PhD in Landscape Ecology or similar but need the right course/research subject, financial options and life circumstances to make this happen. 

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

Working in nature conservation can be very difficult due to poor wages, short contracts, and having to move to chase those contracts. If you decide to follow the self-employed route then you have to accept that, initially, much of your work won’t be conservation based and even when it comes it may be sporadic and not full-time. Having said this it can be very rewarding, with seemingly trivial meetings resulting in your best projects. If you can then try to narrow down your career path and focus on that, get trained / qualified in it and be dedicated / obsessive about it. I have spent a long time as a generalist, which while useful for bouncing from contract to contract, made it very difficult to progress – I envied people who knew what they wanted to do and could stick to it. Having decided on landscape ecology, I am finding that I can really develop in a specific direction (ruling out things that I am less good at) and start to advertise my business more specifically – something which makes me feel more satisfied and hopefully will get me more work.