I was in at the start of the Environment Agency – well, actually, years before that, in its earlier life as the water company. Then, as a nervous conservation officer in 1984 (32 years ago), I was handed a typewriter (there were no computers then) and given the job of ‘greening up’ the engineers.
Good and bad moments followed. 30 years ago, there was sexism in a way that would never happen nowadays and one of the worst moments was when a pipeline manager telling me to ‘go and do something useful, like wash up for a man...’.
However, there were many more good moments than bad and most of the engineers just needed the prompt to develop their soft engineering skills - the precursor to natural flood management, large woody debris, ‘slow the flow’ and similar initiatives that we celebrate today. Many of these colleagues moved into the Environment Agency with me in 1996.
Since then, I’ve had an interesting and varied career – staying long enough in posts to really get to know people and understand the issues (and hopefully, play my part in solving a few of them!) but also moving roles to gain wider experience and stay fresh. Working in the Environment Agency gives staff opportunities to experience a huge range of tasks, events, projects and approaches.
High spots? Well, as a team leader, one of the great privileges is seeing your staff develop their skills and go on to deliver great projects in the environment. Personally, although I have a wet ditch named after me on the Wylye, those moments which have been most rewarding have been those which have intellectually challenged me – working with Defra, Parliamentary staff, and seeing how a Secretary of State worked and came to decisions is towards the top of my list.
Worst moments? Personal attack is always hard to take (people feel very strongly about their environment); and being woken at 2am as Area Base Controller for my urgent advice on preventing pollution from a burning cheese wrapping factory was also a low spot…
I’ve now joined the ranks of the ‘flexible retired’ working 2 days a week as a project manager. This is a good scheme, allowing me to transfer skills and contribute some experience – and I have a little more time to think and help out when needed. I’ve never left Wessex – it’s a great part of the country to work and live in, with lovely rivers, coastline, heritage and habitats. I could never tire of it.
The EA is bigger (and safer) than its previous component organisations. My hope, though, is that in its need to standardise, the special qualities of each place and personality will not be lost. Here’s to another 20 years of environmental achievements! Happy 20th birthday!