In the sixth of our Interview with an Influencer series, Inside Ecology interviews Stephanie Wray, President of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM)…
How did you get to where you are today?
I studied Zoology at Reading University and then did a PhD in Ecology at Bristol. After a couple of short post-doc contracts (including a year studying bats in tropical rainforest), I took a temporary role in a consultancy to make ends meet and accidentally never stopped. I love working as a consultant – I enjoy the challenge of brokering the right outcomes that balance real net gain for the environment with sound commercial returns. That interest in the business side led me to do an MBA [Master of Business Administration] part-time whilst running my own consultancy. An MBA doesn’t teach you how to run a business, but it does give you the insight and vocabulary to understand your clients better.
You have been President of CIEEM since November 2015, what have been your biggest challenges to date?
Brexit! At CIEEM, we expected to do a lot of work on the implications of leaving the EU in the run-up to the referendum in June 2016. Like many people, though, I didn’t expect the outcome we have seen and so that work is still ongoing and expanding. Although I still have very strong concerns about the impacts of leaving the EU, not just on the natural environment, I am determined that we should make the most of the opportunities that leaving the EU offers for the UK to become a world leader in environmental protection.
What do you think ecologists and wildlife professionals should be doing more of to further their cause in protecting and conserving biodiversity?
Talking. In particular, talking to people outside of the profession. In this era of alterative truths and distrust of “experts” I think it’s more important than ever that we connect with people in all walks of life and explain that what we do isn’t some niche interest – it’s vital for everyone. We all need clean air, fresh water, fuel, food. We can only have a strong economy with jobs and prosperity if our more basic needs have been met. People have become too detached from nature and we need to reconnect.
What opportunities do you think the UK can take advantage of as a result of the decision to leave the EU?
Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to review our whole approach to protection of the environment. CIEEM believes that we need a new Environment Act, which should draw on the lessons learnt in developing the recent far-sighted environmental legislation in Wales and Scotland. It must set out an ambitious framework for protecting the rarest and most vulnerable habitats and species through designations that follow the principles set out in the Lawton Review, and demand improved delivery of land and marine management through more effective, integrated planning. Central to securing a better natural environment for future generations is taking a transformative approach to land and marine management that utilises Biodiversity Net Gain principles. Whilst currently gaining traction in infrastructure development, embedding this approach in agriculture and fisheries management will not only drive forward sustainable food production, but will also restore damaged ecosystems. For example, with the need to replace farm subsidies, net gain principles can be incorporated into long-term contracts with landowners to deliver targeted environmental outcomes (i.e. public money for public benefit) alongside food production, and provide some financial certainty as a buffer against market volatility. Effective arrangements for genuine accountability and independent scrutiny are essential components to achieving this new approach to environmental protection and I believe a new, effective, environmental regulator will be required.
How is CIEEM ensuring that its’ voice is heard with regards to Brexit?
We are working hard to raise our profile and are working closely with other organisations with an interest in the natural environment through Greener UK, Soc Env and informal alliances through the Law Society and others. There is a real sense of collaboration at the moment and organisations are coming together to set out a clear vision for the future of environmental management.
For our part, CIEEM and many of our members and their employers, are investing a great deal of time in setting out our proposals and having meetings with MPs and government officials to make sure our voice is heard.
In these times of dramatic political change and in the face of significant on-going declines in biodiversity, what do you say to those that suggest CIEEM is too passive and that the ‘Chartership’ status restricts the ability to ‘rock the boat’ when necessary?
This is a really important point. We are a professional body, and not a campaigning organisation. However, as the leading membership body for professional ecologists and environmental managers we have a large body of evidence-based skills and experience to bring to this debate. I think we have a public duty to use that knowledge, to explain the facts and to propose the best way forward. It’s not about “rocking the boat” or criticising policy – it’s about coming up with the right solutions.
One of your stated aims as President of CIEEM is to raise standards in the industry and promote best practice – how have you been implementing this?
This is an area that’s very important to me. Some of the things we have been working on are: Principles for Net Gain (jointly with CIRIA and IEMA); Effectiveness of Bat Mitigation; and a database of best practice methodologies for survey and mitigation. I’m also championing a big project to develop standards and training for Site Ecologists (Ecological Clerks of Works) that we are developing with CITB and others. This will really help decisions taken “at the sharp end” of consultancy and will help to up-skill that important role.
What are your thoughts on Natural England’s licensing changes around European protected species?
Natural England (NE) has suffered some extremely large budget cuts in recent years and I sympathise with the way they are trying to do more with less, but I think we all agree that the current system isn’t working as well as it could. Both District Licensing and Earned Recognition approaches like the Bat Low Impact Class Licences have the potential to be effective in some instances, though both need more development. I’m really pleased that CIEEM, together with ALGE [Association of Local Government Ecologists] and BCT [Bat Conservation Trust], is working closely with NE to develop better alternatives. Ideally, we all want a licensing system that diverts the effort and spend of all parties into delivering better conservation outcomes, rather than complex systems and lots of paperwork.
What project or accomplishment do you consider to be the most significant in your career to date?
Well I was very proud to be awarded the Mammal Society medal in 2011, relating to guidance on surveying and mitigation of impacts on bats, badgers, and dormice; but I do worry that makes me one of the “grey beards” of the profession now.
Outside of CIEEM, what else are you currently involved in?
I have a couple of non-executive director roles for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] which I really enjoy, I do some strategy consulting, and if I ever get any spare time I’m working on a book.
Further Information: Stephanie Wray has worked as an environmental consultant in the UK construction industry for over 20 years as an ecologist, EIA practitioner and sustainability consultant. She co-founded the leading ecological consultancy, Cresswell Associates, managing the firm for 10 years until negotiating its sale to the Hyder Consulting Group. Stephanie then joined the Hyder board and ran their successful environment division, leaving in 2010 to take up a contract with National Grid advising on the consenting of major capital projects. During this time, she completed an MBA at the University of Bath and developed diverse research interests in lean construction, organisational culture, change management, and strategy. Since then Stephanie has held partnerships at ERM and PBA, and joined the board of Biocensus as non-executive chairman in 2011. She became President of CIEEM in 2015.