I am part of the environmental leadership team at WSP. Specifically, I lead our UK ecology team and our environmental team in India. Over recent weeks it has become common to hear reference to ‘unprecedent events’ and ‘challenging times’. Absolutely, the past few weeks have been some of the most challenging in my 20 years working in environmental consultancy. We have had to take stock and fundamentally re-adjust our approach to team leadership, team communications, client relationships and project delivery. All in a very short space of time, and moreover, in constantly and rapidly evolving circumstances. All of us, in the UK and India, are now working from home. Often alongside partners, children, family members and/or housemates. There has been a lot of potential confusion around what we can and cannot continue to do and a significantly increased requirement for leadership and guidance in troubled times.

At WSP we have instigated a Fieldwork Go/No Go process, whereby we consider whether or not it is appropriate and/or safe to continue with fieldwork. Each ‘application’ for a fieldwork event is considered individually. Each case is different, presenting different challenges. And each team member is different, with different personal circumstances and concerns. Of course, we are mindful of the need to comply with guidance such as that provided by the UK Government and Public Health England. We can only proceed where it is possible to comply with social distancing guidance. Further, as with any health and safety matter, team members must have a clear and unequivocal right not to proceed (or to withdraw) if they do not feel safe.

Some of our work is classed as Key (Essential) Work, for example where we are carrying out Ecological Clerk of Works on Scottish offshore islands to carry out emergency repairs to electricity supplies. We are also supervising emergency works on roadside trees and on bridges. In these instances, we are able to access hotel accommodation. Outside of these circumstances, we are having to resource projects locally, on a daytrip basis, where safe to do so. We must not replace Covid-19 risks with risks due to driving long distances or working excessive hours for example.

Despite all of these challenges, we are able to continue in many cases. Guidance from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Defra and Natural England has proved helpful in communicating to colleagues and clients that it is appropriate to continue with our field work where safe to do so. Where it isn’t, we have been employing alternative approaches, such as our system for habitat pre-classification using remote sensing data. As a colleague said to me the other day, now is a great time to innovate.

For colleagues working from home, we are making use of team calls, video calls, morning virtual coffee breaks, after work evening drinks and other ways to keep talking to each other. We all have a major challenge to look after our staff and their wellbeing during a prolonged period of home working during lockdown. All of that said, I have been so impressed with our team spirit and sense of togetherness. Not only at WSP, but also across the industry where CIEEM have shown strong leadership and where the general atmosphere has been supportive and less competitive. Anyway, I’m off to another Microsoft Teams video call…

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated

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About the Author

Mark is a Chartered Ecologist and Chartered Environmentalist with over 24 years postdoctoral experience in applied ecology, including 6 years as a university lecturer and 18 years in ecological consultancy. Mark is currently a Director at WSP where he is deputy lead for Environmental Services, encompassing ecology, archaeology & heritage, landscape & urban design, and arboriculture & forestry. Mark leads the UK Ecology team and chairs WSP’s Global Ecology Forum, which includes active members from Canada, the USA, the UK, Sweden, India, Australia and New Zealand