Skip Content

Environmental Monitoring Assistant

Age: 22

Organisation: Environment Agency

 Louise Comley - Environmental Monitoring Assistant

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

When I first started secondary school I fell in love with Geography and knew it would be something that I would continue with and hopefully one day use it within my career. I studied Physical Geography at Plymouth University and started to look for work in the environmental sector after graduating. I loved field work, being outside and making a difference to the environment so the post with the Environment Agency seemed ideal for me.

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

I graduated in 2011 from Plymouth University with a 2:1 in Geography, having completed A-levels in Geography, Geology and Environmental Science. While studying I completed work experience within the university science laboratory and at Somerset County Council, obtaining the skills I required to gain a post with the Environment Agency. Since starting work within the Sampling and Collection team I have gained a qualification in identification of invertebrates from the Freshwater Biological Association. I volunteer one Sunday a month for Somerset Wildlife Trust as a ‘Wildlife Watch’ leader, taking groups of children into the environment and teaching them about different aspects of it. I run a group called ‘The heart of the Levels’ based on the Somerset Levels, we’ve run sessions including; bug surveys, small mammal surveys, fossil hunting, wildlife art, making bird feeders and barn owl conservation.

How long have you been in your current role?

1 year and 6 months

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

The sampling part of the role involves taking chemical samples of water from the environment and checking vital determinands (temperature, pH, conductivity & dissolved oxygen) to assess the water quality. We also take biotic(invertebrate) kick-samples in spring and autumn alongside macrophyte identification. In the summer months I am the bathing water lead, which involves taking weekly sea water samples from all designated bathing water beaches; work which DEFRA run in association with the Environment Agency. The post requires excellent communication skills: I come into daily contact with members of the public and we need to be able to explain the work we are doing and the results of previous samples. I am also involved in the Riverfly project, run alongside the Wiltshire and Dorset Wildlife Trusts, encouraging volunteers to take monthly samples to determine the quality of local watercourses. We assist in the identification of invertebrate samples and in setting ‘trigger levels’, to track the quality of the water bodies. If the quality drops below the trigger level the Environment Agency is contacted and investigate. I am also the team’s Technical Assistant: administering the team files and communicating with internal and external bodies.

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

The two most important skills for this role are good communication and the ability to collect good quality data. I would also recommend liking being outside, as we go out in all weathers throughout the year!

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

Seeing improvements in the water quality of our watercourses is a particularly rewarding part of the role; being front line staff we can see the difference we are making within the environment. Explaining our work and its results (especially bathing water sampling) to the public is also especially rewarding. I find teaching people gratifying and an important part of our job. The most challenging aspect of my job was learning all the new skills required. There were many sampling techniques different to any I’d used before, so adapting the way I worked was challenging at first.

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

I was originally offered a four month temporary contract as a Grade 2 Technical Assistant; this was extended to six months with an opportunity to go out sampling as well as completing administration tasks. After six months my contract was made permanent, which I was ecstatic about! In April last year I moved offices to undertake a summer post as the bathing water lead for Dorset and have since decided to stay in the Blandford office. At the end of December 2012 I was successful in my application for a Grade 3, three month assignment as an Environmental Monitoring Officer. so I am now out sampling more regularly and I have also taken up the role as technical coach within the team. Since becoming permanent I have trained as an ‘Incident Support Officer’ and assist the ‘Area Base Controller’ in incident response decisions. Since the start of 2013 I have been given an Environment Agency official twitter account (@LouComleyEA), to tweet about my daily work and that of the Sampling and Collection team and the Environmental Monitoring Officer. My main career goal is to continue progressing within the Environment Agency.  I am enjoying my time here and I intend to stay until retirement! In the future I would like to move to the Analysis and Reporting team to develop myself as an ecologist. I would also be interested in moving across to the Flood Risk Management team, particularly looking into flood defences.

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

Get as much experience as you can before applying: volunteer for organisations similar to the Environment Agency and take any opportunities you can, the more experience the better!