Like many people in this line of work, I have been fascinated by nature since I was a young child. My technique for rearing earthworms even made it into Peter Marren’s Bugs Britannica – though unfortunately miscredited!
My first real experience of conservation was working on Hilbre Island while at school, building erosion controls under the guidance of the then Warden Tim Cleeves. I went on to study Ecology at Lancaster University, and afterwards worked on various urban environmental improvement schemes and conservation projects.
From 1988 to 1997 I worked at the Mersey Valley Countryside Warden Service, first as a Seasonal Water Park Warden, then Ecologist, and finally as Chief Warden. The Mersey Valley taught me a huge amount about working in partnerships and managing services and budgets. I was then seconded to two projects in Manchester City Council’s Outdoor Leisure section – the Clayton Vale Project (recovering a 45ha urban countryside site that had fallen out of active management) and the Manchester Greenspace Management Project (developing a strategy for managing Outdoor Leisure’s range of sites, from formal parks to pockets of countryside). While working on these projects, I also undertook a part-time MSc in Countryside Management at Manchester Metropolitan University – this was a fantastic opportunity and gave me a real interest in linking academic work with conservation on the ground.
I then worked for Coleraine Council as Parks General Manager, responsible for 35 staff and a budget of £750k per annum and also co-ordinating major projects, including the 2003 Britain In Bloom entry which won a Silver award.
In 2007 I joined Red Rose Forest, the community forest for western Greater Manchester (which I had been an active supporter of while at Mersey Valley), to work on the first phase of the Greater Manchester Green Infrastructure Plan. Working on this project expanded my skills in GIS and got me really interested in the Green Infrastructure/ Ecosystem Services approach. From February 2008 until August 2015 I was Operations Manager at Red Rose, where I was responsible for co-ordinating and managing the day-to-day work of Red Rose Forest; supporting and developing the Red Rose Forest Partnership; developing and managing the Red Rose Forest Business Plan; securing funding and other support, including bid-writing; and leading on green infrastructure/land management/planning within the Forest Team.
As a family, we then decided to return to Northern Ireland. It was sad to leave the Forest at an exciting stage in its development, with its Heritage Lottery Fund-supported Heritage Trees project getting into its stride and the new City Of Trees movement aiming to create a new tree and woodland culture for Greater Manchester, but we hope to keep working together on various projects.
When not working, I enjoy walking and cycling, and have recently got back into birdwatching. Having had an allotment for the past 5 years, I am also looking forward to seeing how much food I can grow in our garden…