Today I’m bringing you another episode of Conservation Conversations. This time with the wonderful Holly! She is a Research Technician for the Soil and Ecosystem Ecology Lab at the University of Manchester, and writes for a conservation blog in my spare time. The blog is called I Fucking Love Conservation is a multi-platform blog highlighting worldwide conservation projects and news. Fun fact was that this very blog was one of my main inspirations in getting into writing!
- Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?
The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), because as well as being insanely cute, I studied them for my MSc project. I’m particularly interested in small mammals anyway, and I found out how interesting dormice physiology and natural history are when I studied their locomotion and gap crossing abilities with the captive individuals at Wildwood. I got to work up close with a few dormice that had been brought in due to injury, and had been rehabilitated to either be released or used in a captive breeding program.
- So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?
I’ve cared about animals and the environment for as long as I can remember and I’m sure there are millions of tiny experiences that influenced the choice, but the decision to study it and pursue it seriously as a career came on a college fieldtrip to an FSC centre. I was stood in a courtyard when tens of lesser horseshoe bats emerged from the stable and flew around my head, checking out what I was. They were so close to my face I could feel the air from their wings flapping. Rather than being freaked out like most of the other students in the courtyard, I felt incredibly calm and privileged to be there. Since then, I’ve just known I wanted to work in conservation. I came to another cross-road after I finished my BSc, when choosing a masters. I was leaning towards the Environmental Management and Sustainable Development course, having reasoned it was more likely to lead to stable employment. Then we went on a family day out to Monkey Forest in Threntham and I felt that spark of inspiration again, and realised I wouldn’t be happy in the long run doing sustainability. I emailed the university to switch to the Conservation Biology course that same night, and it’s one of the best choices I ever made. There’s nothing else I can imagine doing.
- Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?
For me, it’s a bit like air. I don’t need inspiration to remember to keep breathing. But you’re right, it’s not an easy area to work in, so sometimes I do just need to recharge my batteries. I have two very different methods for this, the first is a serious TV binge session (but who doesn’t need one of those every now and then!), where I can become absorbed in a series and switch my brain off. The second is best described by the Japanese phrase “shinrin-yoku”, or “forest bathing”. I love spending time in nature and I’ve always particularly loved mature woodland. Being out in the mottled sunshine, listening to the birds, getting away from the hustle and bustle – I find it very energising. I tend to go for gentle walks rather than hardcore hikes, sometimes with a picnic, ID book or friend in tow.
I also find real life stories and anecdotes from the sector inspirational. I remember during my undergraduate degree, I’d fallen behind a bit in my 3rd year after a serious illness, and was researching eagles for an assignment. I was looking for facts and figures but came across this first-person story from a ranger. It’s a bit fuzzy because I read it some 8 years ago, but I think his job was to locate new nests and tag/weigh the chicks. To his surprise, he found a nest, so he set up the tree climbing equipment and shimmied carefully up to the nest when the adult had left. But while weighing one chick, the other plopped over the edge of the nest and fell softly to the ground. He retrieved it, but as he climbed back up to the nest with the chick stowed safely in a bag, in one of those moments where you know what is going to happen but are powerless to stop it, the second check jumped overboard too. Cue another chick rescue and very tense climb hoping they’d both stay in this time. It was humorously and engagingly written, with enough detail to be informative too. It’s a small thing, but laughing along to that story really helped remind me why I was studying ecology and conservation. Since reading that, I’ve been writing and collecting conservation and biology anecdotes, first for my own blog and now for I Fucking Love Conservation, under the #ConservationTales tag.
- What’s next on your career bucket list?
I would love to get some practical tropical ecology experience, particularly in Central or South America. Working as a research assistant on a project involving small to medium mammals or bats would be a dream. Basically, I’m looking for an adventure, while I’m still young enough to make the most of it! Rather than trekking through the jungle I would like to be based at a research station but those sorts of roles are few and far between, and tend to be filled by word of mouth pretty fast.
- What’s been your career highlight so far?
Working for at the UoM with two fantastic academics has been great. Even though it’s working on roots which are really not my specialism, being part of such a prestigious lab group, carrying out research at the forefront of our scientific knowledge and getting to do really interesting tasks was just brilliant.
- Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?
It’s hard to choose when there are so many incredible things to see. I would have to pick the classic aurora borealis, or maybe bioluminescent waves. I think seeing lenticular clouds in person, in some beautiful mountainous region, would be incredible too.
- If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?
That if we don’t make some serious changes soon and start all taking responsibility, it may be too late. And not just for some obscure species, the negative effects will hit humans too.
- Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?
I would make humans less selfish. It seems like a simple enough thing but really it would be entirely changing our base instincts, removing something that has conveyed an evolutionary advantage for so long. But a lot of our problems with each other and the world come from people behaving selfishly; the need to acquire more, the whole capitalist system, the inability to put the needs of other species above or even equal to our own, the refusal to make any sacrifices now to safeguard the future of the planet for our children and the millions of other species that inhabit the earth. Many conflicts and political decisions also stem from selfishness, whether the guilty party is thinking only of themselves, of their family, of their political party or of their country even – if they aren’t thinking of the whole world then it’s selfish. It’s prevalent it in everyday life too, any time someone absent-mindedly litters (assuming it’s someone else’s problem), tries to get on a train before letting people off (because their need for a seat is more important than all the people waiting to get off) or undercuts a row of cars on a slip road politely filtering into a queue, to force their way in further ahead. If we could change that mindset, I think the situation for conservation and conservationists would really improve.
Now for some favourites!
- Favourite sound?
Woodland birdsong with trickling water
- Favourite fact?
Less time separates the existence of humans and the Tyrannosaurus rex than the T-rex and the stegosaurus.
- Favourite snack?
- Favourite word?
- Favourite curse word?
In terms of frequency of use, probably “fuck”. But I actually prefer “frak”.
- Least favourite word?
- What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?
Work small changes into your behaviour, and encourage friends to do the same. Just recycling, buying less, being a responsible consumer and letting your local councillor or other elected representative know you care about conservation issues, can accumulate into real change over time.
Thank you so much to Holly for answering these questions in such an insightful way. I really suggest going and checking out I Fucking Love Conservation. If you want more from Holly herself and I think you should for sure! Then shes on twitter with @Ecology_Holly