What are you up to now?
I've been Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Link for over 20 years. It is an “umbrella body” for all organizations interested in environmental matters here. As a networking and policy voluntary organization (non-profit) it aims to bring a strong, independent voice for the environment to policy making at both political and practical levels. I came over to Northern Ireland to do post-doc research just after leaving Minnesota, and never left, moving into the environmental NGO sector after a couple years in research.
What do you like best about your work?
Probably the best part of the job is when you see the changes we've been working towards actually making their way into government policy. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen as often or as quickly as we'd like, but there have been notable changes in attitudes towards the environment and the speed of those changes seems to be increasing. Of course, that's largely because the severity of the problems is now so apparent that action is essential.
What are some important milestones since leaving CBS?
Deciding to stay in Northern Ireland and move from academia into the voluntary sector was certainly a major step, but I've never regretted it. It was during the height of the “Troubles” here, and watching, and participating to a very small degree, in the political changes as Northern Ireland develops its own government continues to be fascinating, but also frustrating.
In the early 2000’s I did some research and education work on Soqotra, a Yemeni island off the Horn of Africa, which culminated in producing a book in Arabic on the ecology of the island and how to care for its unique biodiversity in the face of many challenges. It was distributed to every child on the island, but unfortunately it was not possible to follow up on this work as had been hoped. However, scientific and development work continues on the island, including some done by the Friends of Soqotra, a charity I helped to found.
I was named a Visiting Professor in ecology at the University of Ulster in 2003 and was awarded an OBE (a British government honor presented by the Queen) in 2008 for 'Services to the Environment'. I've been involved in the National Ecosystem Assessment for the UK, and was lead author of the NI chapter in 2011.
I've been very active in promoting climate change action, both mitigation and adaptation, for many years and am currently managing an intersectoral project promoting local action. I'm also active in promoting efficient resource management, deliver a major grant program to voluntary and community groups to carry out environmental projects and promote coordinated approaches to environmental education and archaeology.
What is your favorite memory of CBS?
I remember floating in a canoe on Lake Itasca in the middle of the night listening for frogs and watching the northern lights - that was pretty special. More generally the companionship and intellectual interplay with fellow grad students and professors was excellent. I was there during an exciting time in the field of behavioral ecology - selfish genes and sociobiology were new concepts - and helping to adapt these concepts into practical research was very satisfying.
What advice do you have for current CBS students?
Decide what you want to do, but if life throws up different opportunities and challenges, don't be afraid to change your direction. Be positive - look for what you CAN do, and how to work around obstacles to accomplish what you need to do. The world is a pretty worrying place at present, but the only way to solve problems is for everyone to do their bit as part of the wider need to change the way we live to be more resource efficient and to understand and care for the natural systems that support us all. Be positive and make a difference in whatever you choose to do.