Wild about wild interview.....
It was a pleasure to interview Megan, she’s a really remarkable person with an equally remarkable career. After graduating with a degree in Biology from Oxford University, Megan moved to London where she previously worked for Kew Gardens, The Natural History Museum and currently works as a Key Habitats Officer for the charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species.
Wild About Wild: So, to start off - how did you first begin your career working in the wildlife and conservation sector?
Megan: - I grew up in the deepest countryside of the wild South-West, where, if I’m honest, learning which hedgerow plants were edible was my primary objective when learning about wildlife. Although I’ll admit that my gluttonous tendencies are not strictly confined to the past, my interests somewhat broadened when I studied Biology at Oxford. After graduation I moved to London where I have worked at some incredible organisations like Kew Gardens, The Natural History Museum and now People’s Trust for Endangered Species.
Moving to the big city wasn’t a natural decision for me, a self-professed outdoorsy country girl, but this is where the most exciting opportunities were, as well as the majority of my social circle!
I have always tried to keep a bit of the countryside with me, even in the heart of the city, which has seen me keep chickens behind Clapham junction station, become a beekeeper and keep an allotment among other things. It was in 2016 that prompted a more drastic change; somehow I missed a whole season, Autumn completely passed me by and winter had arrived. I vowed I would never let this happen again and bought a narrowboat, which I live aboard and which continues to satiate my need to live alongside wildlife.
WAW: What a great example of how we can stay close to nature even in urban areas! How would you describe your current role with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species?
M:- I work for a fantastic charity called Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. Really, it does what it says on the tin; we fund conservation research and conservation in action around the world, but also have a number of UK based projects that we run in house. Most of the UK projects we run involve mammals such as dormice, water voles and hedgehogs, but I work in the slightly less glamorous and much less cute world of dead wood. Specifically, I work with wood pasture, parkland, orchard and hedgerow habitats, where the dead and decaying wood is home to an astounding array or rare and endangered species. Like with many habitats, these are facing threats of climate change, development, tree disease and neglect to name but a few.
WAW: What do you think the main challenges are working in Conservation Science?
M: One of our biggest challenges in conservation science is having enough good quality data to make informed decisions and to guide our conservation effort. A large part of my job is to develop scientifically sound surveys for volunteers to conduct across the country to feed us the data we need. This data can tell us how much habitat is being lost, what condition the remaining sites are in, any locations that are particularly rich or impoverished and any recurring trends that may help us restore, replant or replenish these habitats.
WAW: Could you tell us what you think your main inspirations were to work in Conservation Science?
M: The idea of leaving this planet in a worse condition than we inherited it in is a dismal reality we have to face, but it also provides a continuing source of emotional motivation for me. As a child I read a story set in the near future that told of a world where blue whales, gorillas, rhinos etc had all become extinct. The idea of having to describe these majestic creatures to children that would never be able to see them for themselves is a heart-breaking one. I don’t have to imagine the guild of knowing I am part of the generation that is responsible for the mass extinction that we find ourselves a part of; this is a sad truth. But I also know that actions of individuals can and do have a huge positive impact on conservation and I certainly want to be on that side of this history.
On a scientific level, my education equipped me with the tools and the scientific curiosity to (begin to) understand the world around me. I understand that the impacts we have on one aspect of the natural world are not felt in isolation, the relationships and networks in the wild are more complex than we currently have a good scientific grasp of, so the damage we do can have a much wider impact than we realise. Species, relationships, dependencies we haven’t yet discovered are being lost, and we can’t begin to understand the ramifications of this.
WAW: What do you love about working in Conservation?
M: I’m afraid I’m going to have to conform to cliché on this one; one of the best things about working in my field is working alongside some amazing people who chose to dedicate their life to conservation and the natural world.
The other thing I love about this area is that there is constantly more to learn; active research is continually throwing us new information and there is no end to the detail you can learn new things every time you go for a walk in the woods if you are paying attention!
WAW: It sounds like there have been many, but, if you had to pick the coolest project you have worked on – what would it be?
M:- The first thing I worked on after I graduated was a project at Kew Gardens that was aimed at making science fun, creative and inspiring for kids. It was called The Great Plant Hunt and it celebrated Darwin’s 200th birthday. What I loved about it was the sense of adventure that was packed into each kit; literally a huge treasure chest filled with a plant press, a magnifying glass, exciting lesson plans, an identification kit and real scientific experiments to do. These kits were sent out to every state primary school in the UK, about 24,000 of them so I really had a sense that this could have a big impact on a whole generation of kids. When I was at school science wasn’t ‘cool’ and the ramifications of this are still being felt down the line; there just aren’t enough people in science today. The part of this job that would never fail to satisfy was receiving letters from the school kids saying how much they have learned, that they want to be a scientist just like Darwin, and how exciting it was to be doing real science experiments.
WAW: - That sounds like a great project, promoting scientific role models for kids is really important. Who would you class as your role models?
M: I would have to say my mum, who still amazes me with her breadth of knowledge about our native wildlife and her endless patience and curiosity about nature. Other than my mum I would say Marianne North; an incredible botanical artist and adventurer, and Ada Lovelace, a pioneering scientific mind.
WAW: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in Conservation Science?
M: - This is a difficult one, you face challenges every day and you know despite your best efforts you will not be able to save the world yourself, so instead try to be a crucial cog in a larger machine that can have a big impact.
I would also say it is healthy to learn how to measure your success in terms of your primary objectives. You may never earn as much as your friends that go into more mainstream careers, and in a world that measures value by worth that can be tough. It is good to reconcile yourself with that early in your career and continually remind yourself of the value of the work you do. This certainly becomes easier with friends that work in similar fields!
WAW: Thanks for a brilliant interview Megan, for those who want to know more, where can they look?
M: Our website www.ptes.org shows what projects we are funding overseas, what projects we are running in the UK and in particular the surveys that you can take part in to help protect our endangered species.