RPS global exchange programme: Ecology on the other side of the world

06 Mar 2023

Over the last three months, Frances Morris – Senior Ecologist at RPS, took part in our global exchange programme working with our ecology team in Newcastle, Australia.

Sharing knowledge and gaining new experiences on the other side of the world, Frances arrived just in time for their spring survey season.

In her own words, hear Frances’ story.  


Varied work in Australia

I was able to head out to a site in the Blue Mountains to monitor the plant communities. We worked in some of the swamps on the Newnes Plateau and conducted annual transects which sampled the entire plant communities in the target swamps. We also conducted monitoring of Boronia deanei, a shrub species endemic to New South Wales, which is listed as vulnerable.

The working conditions are very different from those in the UK, with razor-sharp swamp vegetation taller than an average human and peaty wet underfoot conditions. You also needed to be aware of wildlife risks and take appropriate first aid equipment. Unfortunately, I ended up with ants in my pants, quite literally, and they were the venomous jack-jumper ants, one of the only species of ant dangerous to humans. They inject venom instead of biting which was an experience I’d rather not repeat.

Luckily the team were great, and I had a quick recovery. We also needed to take satellite phones so that we had external communication in case of emergencies. There are so many skills required to work in this type of habitat, including 4 x 4 driving skills on tricky terrain, bush walking, physical fitness, organisation, time management, communication, first aid, and of course strong botany skills. The team here are very impressive and their combined work skills are rare to find. It was a pleasure to watch them work and see how they all operate in Australian conditions.


New opportunities

I had the opportunity to join Shelomi Doyle (Senior Ecologist) who took me on an adventure across New South Wales in search of a rare lily. The aim was to collect samples for genetic testing and in the process, we collected some samples for the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens herbarium. The trip took us to a variety of different habitats including swamps, beaches, grasslands, bush, and rainforests full of cicadas so loud they were ear-piercing.

We also found an interesting katydid which is the only species found in Australia. We were successful in our mission, and managed to collect a variety of Caesia sp., leaf samples from multiple locations for genetic analysis and some whole plant samples for the herbarium.

One of the main reasons for my application to work with the Australian team was to meet Olivia Woosnam and Alex Dudkowski of OWAD Environment. They work with our Australia team to detect koalas with the help of their detection dog team. Following the development of our detection dog service in the UK with Kryus, I wanted to meet and learn from their huge success and ask them about the work they’re doing with koalas and orchids with their dog teams in Australia. I managed to catch up with them and meet the dogs, Taz and Missy, which was amazing.


Exchange program flexibility

The flexibility of the programme meant I was fortunate to be able to explore a large amount of Australia during my free time. We have family in Clare Valley who we stayed with for Christmas, and we also visited Melbourne, Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Adelaide, and Perth. We hired a campervan and drove from Adelaide to Perth across the Nullarbor desert which was an incredible experience. We managed to drive almost 5,000 km in ten days and visited friends along the west coast. During our travels in Australia, we saw some amazing wildlife including wild sea lions, humpback whales with their calves, koalas, bats, kangaroos, echidnas, snakes, lizards, and so many interesting invertebrates. We also saw some of the most interesting habitats on the planet including, of course, beautiful Australian beaches.

The exchange programme was a fantastic opportunity, showcasing the global nature of the company, with a huge number of skills across the world. The team in Australia made me feel very welcome, I’ve made some great new connections, and I’m sure we’ll all be able to work together moving forwards.

Thanks team Newcastle for having me along!

Boronia deanei monitoring Newnes Plateau with RPS staff Pippa, Tara and Fran

Boronia deanei monitoring Newnes Plateau - Pippa, Tara and Frances

Frances Morris, Senior Ecologist at RPS, with Australian colleagues stood in front of vehicle with two detection dogs.

OWAD Environment Koala Detection Dogs




Frances Morris

Frances Morris

Senior Ecologist T: +44 23 8254 0666 Email

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