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Margaret McCormack: balancing development and the environment

Margaret McCormack, Environmental Consultant

Protecting the black cockatoo species’ breeding habitat is just one of the many challenges environmental consultants like Margaret face when helping clients through environmental permitting, reporting and approval processes for their operations and developments.

Q What do you like most about being an environmental consultant and what motivates you at work?

I really enjoy projects where I can learn more about the environment and assess how a project can proceed with minimal impact, while also delivering the infrastructure or commodity that the community needs.  

Each project is a bit different, although you do bring your knowledge from previous jobs. It’s challenging and rewarding to tackle new projects and see how we can deliver a solution. 

Q What are some of the challenges you encounter and solutions you’ve come up with?

We did an assessment of trees at a school site in Perth, WA where they were planning to build a new sports hall and other infrastructure.  

At the last minute, we were informed of a tree that had been missed and that might end up being removed. We got there the next day to investigate and worked out it might be protected under Commonwealth legislation as a potential nesting tree for the three WA threatened black cockatoo species.  

We provided an update to our clients about the approval process to remove the tree and the environmental impact. In the end, the location of the structure could be shifted to allow the potential nesting tree to stay.

Quick Q&A

What did you want to be growing up?

A doctor. Drawn with a big cross on their chest because that’s what I thought doctors looked like as a kid! Essentially, I wanted to help people. 

Are you realising that now?

In some ways  I’m helping clients deliver projects, which can go on to help the broader community and I’m helping to protect the environment too.  

What are some of the projects you’re working on now?

I’m working on a compliance assessment report for a quarry site, an environment assessment report for a future residential development, and I’m going to be assisting with a flora and vegetation survey for a job in the South West, WA.  

Q You studied the environment and engineering, with a major in mining – you like a challenge then?

It can seem like the two don’t co-exist easily – but in practical terms they must. I was initially wanting to study environmental science, then wanted to add in engineering and my university offered that packaged up with mining. 

Initially I was a duck out of water but as I went along, I discovered more about mining and the ecological side of things and how they kind of meet in the middle.

Q Can development and the environment get along?

I think it can be tricky because they often present competing interests. The way I view it is to ensure we’re putting our best effort forward for environment protection and conservation. There are obviously regulatory approvals that stipulate and guide developments. So, just making sure we’re absolutely meeting the requirements and working with clients to navigate that – and going beyond where possible.

RPS Environmental Consultant, Margaret McCormack smiles at the camera - standing in green grassy field with trees

Q As an environmental consultant what kind of challenges can you face on site?

An example of site challenges playing out is from my work at a mine site. We were working on a rehabilitation program overseeing the seeding of new native vegetation, but had to deal with wild goats who just loved eating all the new plants. Totally understandable and they were very cute...but definitely an added challenge for the rehabilitation of the area!

Another unexpected challenge when working on site is getting bogged. On one site visit, my colleague and I managed to get bogged twice, in one day! 

Q What’s coming up for you project wise?

It’s along the lines of my first example of preserving potential breeding habitat for black cockatoos.  

Certain tree species are likely to take up to 200 years or longer to develop suitable nest hollows for breeding black cockatoos. It must have the right dimensions and there’s competition for nests with other species, such as feral bees and native birds. Protecting the three black cockatoo species and their ability to breed is important – and that type of reality is repeated throughout the environment. 

The challenge comes as we need to continue to clear native vegetation to build homes, hospitals, schools, roads, trains and so on. It is going to be increasingly tricky to ensure flora and fauna losses are adequately compensated as land becomes even more restricted. 

There is going to be more constraints and more creative solutions needed to protect the environment in the long term. 

Boats moored off the beach at sunset, Rottnest Island, Western Australia