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Career stories: from stakeholder to marine consultant

Chris and Charlotte are both experienced marine project managers, but relatively recent entrants into consultancy. We caught up with them to find out why they made the leap, and how their previous roles shaped the knowledge they bring to RPS.

06 June 2024 | 6 min read
ON THIS PAGE

Meet Chris and Charlotte

Chris  Eastham and Charlotte Kipreos-Clarke work in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) coordination within our Marine Consenting & Environment team (MC&E).

Chris joined RPS in 2022, after 17 years at NatureScot, a statutory* consultee and nature conservation body advising the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government. (*This means that they must be consulted on offshore development applications by law.)

Charlotte joined in October 2023, after 8 years in the Civil Service at CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), an executive agency of DEFRA, as a scientific advisor to government bodies on marine licence applications in England and Wales.

Both have advised on numerous offshore wind projects in their past and current roles. Chris also has previous experience of wave and tidal energy projects.

Offshore Wind Turbine in a Wind farm under construction off the England coast at sunset.jpeg

What do you do in your current roles?

Chris: “As Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) coordinators, we’re the bridge between clients and our RPS in-house and external subject matter experts (SMEs). We liaise with technical specialists on a range of different topics, such as underwater noise or marine mammals.”

The role includes reviewing and contributing to reports and documents drafted by the SMEs, and managing the process required when undertaking EIAs as well as Habitats Regulations Appraisals (HRA). There are also regular technical and client meetings/calls, and involvement in activities such as stakeholder workshops. RPS EIA coordinators usually work on one project, but may use their skills and experience to help on other projects too.

Charlotte: “There’s a lot of reading and reviewing, getting an overview [of an entire technical report or EIA/HRA chapter], and making sure it all comes together and is up to our standards.”

How would you say your previous roles feed into your work as a consultant?

Charlotte: “CEFAS [and similar agencies] advise on whether  project licence applications meet legislative requirements. They also provide feedback on aspects where they need changes or improvements. As a consultant, you’re seeing ‘the other side of the coin’, submitting those application reports for review.”

Chris: “In offshore wind, there are lots of different technical topics and project phases. The coordination and project management experience we have is really important for the job that we do now, as is our knowledge of marine industries. There are lots of moving parts, changing all the time. There’s new guidance coming out, new tools and methodologies, so my previous work has stood me in good stead.”

Charlotte: “Having experience reviewing different disciplines and that broad view of what agencies will approve is very useful now, because I can spot things that are missing or won’t be relevant. It’s also useful to understand the wider legislative framework. Since joining RPS, I’ve been learning about the differences between Scotland and England; I’ve really enjoyed that.

“There’s also a communication aspect – sitting between technical and non-technical, being able to communicate the science-policy interface or to the public. I gained a lot of experience in that kind of communication, including outreach in schools and universities. [Stakeholders and agencies] are very busy and they want the simple facts, so you need to be able to make technical information easily readable.”

Pembrokeshire Coast

You were both looking for new challenges when you switched to consultancy roles. Tell us about what you’ve experienced.

Chris: “It’s been good fun getting to grips with project management in a consultancy, which is completely different. It’s a lot faster-paced. There's a lot more of the financial and legal side – the contracts, agreements with subcontractors, negotiations, terms and conditions.”

Charlotte: “I’d worked as a lone project manager, which wouldn’t work here due to the size of the projects! I’d never been part of a project management team before, and it’s been interesting to see how that works.

“I wasn’t actively looking for a move to consultancy. It just found me and I'm very glad it did. I’m involved in offshore wind at a time when it’s rapidly developing. And I’ve always been intrigued by how changes in legislation and government focus impact the developer and consultancy side.”

What led you to RPS?

Chris: “I was already aware of different environmental consultancies, particularly the quality of work and reputation. I knew that RPS was well-respected, and I knew about their work on projects like Berwick Bank, one of the largest proposed  offshore wind farm projects in the world. A senior RPS colleague had also worked at NatureScot, and she talked me through consultancy and how it differed from the job I was doing, which helped to persuade me!”

Charlotte: “I’d heard consultancy described as being like the ‘dark side’ – money-focussed, high-stress, and not caring about employees – but it’s not like that at all. A former colleague had recently joined RPS and she was telling me, ‘You have to speak to them, you have to come, you’ll love it!’ After a few months, she still felt the same and I finally took the plunge.

“It's RPS that made me move – it’s the company and its culture, which was apparent from our very first conversations. Everyone I spoke to was so honest about what it was like, not trying to paint things as absolutely perfect. For example, they were clear about how sometimes you might  end up working later, but there are systems to avoid that. I was treated like a person, not a number.

“Since starting, I’ve appreciated the lack of ‘hierarchy’ and ‘formality’ compared to other environments. It's almost the opposite of what I had expected consultancy to be like, because the whole organisation feels like a team. I really like the level of support and emphasis on things like good mental health, and just that sense of accomplishment and pride in the company. It’s a great place to work.”

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