Which organisation do you work for?
I’ve always loved outdoor activities and immersing myself in landscapes, whether it’s walking, white water kayaking or wild camping. I studied Geography at university because of my passion for the environment and this led to a career working with soils which fulfils my interest to work outdoors.
I also have a bit of a creative streak and always have a few projects on the go at any one time. This year I set myself a challenge of completing a painting every month, with the intention of creating a calendar for next year.
Can you describe your work in general? And what are you currently working on?
My career started at a small soil science consultancy where I learnt soil survey methods. It was great to work in a small team with people who were as passionate about soils as me.
I now work for FWAG SW and most of my time is spent on natural flood management (NFM), most notably on the Hills to Levels project in Somerset. NFM is very much about the relationship between soils and water, adopting techniques to ‘slow the flow’ to reduce flooding and erosion. I work with farmers to improve soil and land management, as well as install in-stream and in-field measures that retain floodwater or trap sediment.
One of FWAG’s charitable aims is to teach children about the environment by facilitating farm visits for schools. I have been lucky enough to get involved with this and have developed a fun soils activity which looks at what soils are made of and why they’re so important.
Why List 5 things that make your job interesting..
- Getting to know landscapes well
- Meeting interesting people
- Opportunity to work with farms over a long time, which is rewarding when you see changes happen
- Working outdoors throughout the seasons
- Opportunity to work both from an overview perspective (e.g. catchment scale scoping) and a very detailed scale (e.g. resolving very specific issues)
Can you recommend any information resources that have been useful for you in your work?
The three soil resources I use the most are:
- Soil Association and Soil Series pages on the Landis website
- Soils and their Use in South West England – books covering other regions available
- Soils and Natural Flood Management – this was written for Devon and Cornwall but there is lots of useful information that can be applied elsewhere
For more agricultural topics, the AHDB have a whole host of useful information and downloads on their website.
Not an information resource, but worth a mention… Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream. Sorts out dry hands after working with soil.
Could you tell us an interesting fact?
A ‘bag for life’ should be reused about 35 times before it is better than a single use carrier bag, because of the extra plastic used to make them stronger.
What is the most exciting or interesting thing you have ever done?
In 2017, I went on a 240km kayaking trip along the Sun Kosi river in Nepal. The river was a combination of intimidating rapids, confusing whirlpools and beautifully calm flatwater sections. We paddled past waterfalls, temples and remote villages and wild-camped on riverside beaches. It was fantastic to travel by river and to see how its landscape changed along the way; from arid conditions, to the misty ‘jungle corridor’ and finishing on wide, flat plains. Embarking on an 8 day trip felt like a huge commitment at the time; it was a real sense of achievement when we finished and I would love to do it all again.
Who would you most like to have dinner with, and why?
Marianne North: botanical artist and explorer (1830-1890). I would be fascinated to hear her accounts of discovering new plant species, meeting tribes and visiting remote places in a time when foreign travel was not commonplace. In a world that is full of social media and with easy access to spectacular photos, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for her exploring new places. I’d also love to hear what it was like being a female explorer in a time when it was a very male dominated profession.
The Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens is well worth a visit.
What advice would you have for anyone looking at a career in soil science?
Get digging! If you’re like me, and you learn through doing, I would suggest getting out there with a spade and auger to explore the soils. This will give you a good understanding of texture, structure, how soil profiles vary with habitat / land use, slope and landscape. With these foundations, it’ll make the science much easier.