Sophie has worked with some of the top providers of access to nature. She has worked as a facilitator and environmental interpreter in the UK and in Mozambique.
Sophie explains why she is fired with a love of the natural world and how she has paved her way to help others to enjoy nature.
How would you describe your role?
I read a very helpful thing early in my career and I wish I could attribute this but sadly can’t…’today it is not so much about a career path but crazy paving you lay yourself!’
I began my career after my Masters in Environmental Policy and Management at the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust working there for near 5 years laying down a large limestone slab to begin my path. Since then I have sought opportunities and challenges to created my own, perhaps unconventional, path. I have been lucky to work for the National Trust, Wetland Centre in Barnes and Natural History Museum.
Today I work as a consultant here in UK for part of the year specializing in interpretation and project development and for the rest of the year work in a very remote part of Northern Mozambique developing a community conservation project called Mareja.
What do you do?
I see myself as a facilitator, working where I can to encourage discovery, meaning and action in the field of nature conservation.
My work is varied from developing exhibitions, education programmes, community projects to promoting biodiversity research. I have built up a tool box of skills and experience, which I am still actively honing.
Why do you do it?
To facilitate access to the natural world and deepen understanding and appreciation of its extraordinary and fundamental value. Our environment, on this large and expansive planet of ours, is a source of such fascination, beauty and inspiration – those of us that can enjoy it are privileged indeed. I feel access to this resource is a basic human right.
I was brought up on a farm and very lucky to have found a fascination for wild things from a young age.
What has been your biggest/best achievement?
I am probably most proud of projects I have delivered under pressure and on small budgets, such as a Darwin Exhibition at the British Library and the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum.
Though I am proud of seemingly small and varied achievements in Mozambique, where you face quite different hurdles – such as learning to cook on an open fire, making a cake without scales in a woodfired furnace, (cakes cheer everyone along), building ecohouses with local mud and grass, running a tile-making project with local women or initiating an Memorandum Of Understanding for biodiversity research and development with Unilurio the new local university and national park. (As a guage of the local working culture, when we imported a light microscope it was empounded at customs for months as they could not imagine what it was or why we needed it)
What advice would you give to someone wanting to make a big difference?
Where possible be driven by your passion and interests, this way you are likely to achieve great things but while doing so try to keep your head! It can be hard to be objective when you greatly care about your cause but often you need to place your passion in the cooler context of the wider world. This capacity is essential to gather support and stay sane!
Try not to be put off by those who say “Arh but we tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work!” Learn from past mistakes but galvanise your energy to surmount barriers, anything is possible with enough will and determination.
Work to realistic timescales, we are always in a hurry. This is particularly true if you are working with communities, understanding their needs, perspective and interests takes time.
Release your creativity, we all have it and it comes in different forms.
Find learning opportunities in the work place. I found learning post university by far the most rewarding sort of education.
Lastly learn to listen, it is a great skill.
What are you planning next?
Never has it been more important to breath new meaning into the way we interpret our environment; people are jaded by climate change debates and engulfed by economic worries. And in Africa, where I also work, Super Powers are plundering remaining natural resources at an alarming and devastating rate.
I am at an interesting point, having just become a mother later in life and with a husband working at the sharp end of conservation in Mozambique trying to avert elephant poaching. My challenges are to embrace motherhood while continuing to foster my career and support often high risk work in Africa.
Increasingly I want to work on brave, creative and noisy projects.
I am greatly looking forward to observing my son as he explores the natural world and using this to reinvigorate my interpretation work….however, it is possible that with two nature-loving parents he will yearn for the urban jungle!