Making a positive impact for animals and the environment

Frances Morris, Senior Ecologist, RPS Environment

Frances Morris headshot for International Women's Day

Frances is a Senior Ecologist at RPS where she surveys sites for protected species and has developed a Conservation Detection Dog service.

QWhat does your role involve? What does a typical week look like?

I spend a lot of time working outdoors surveying sites for protected species either on the ground or up trees (I am a qualified tree climber with aerial rescue). I also write reports and European Protected Species licences for our clients; helping them to minimise the impacts of their development on the natural world. I engage with our clients and help them to make the best decisions possible for their projects and the environment together. One element of my job that I really enjoy is the Conservation Detection Dog work which I have recently developed with RPS.

Quick Q&A

What job did you want when you were growing up?

I always wanted to work with animals and considered becoming a vet but I chose not to go down that route because I didn’t feel it had as big an impact on the future of the environment as being an ecologist. There is more scope to help a huge number of wild animals, either directly or indirectly, as an ecologist rather than working with pet animals. I was always outside climbing trees, playing in rivers and watching bugs without realising all these things were going to help me in my future career.

QWhat exciting projects are you working on?

I am working with a number of international music and entertainment production and events companies, along with our arboricultural department on a number of international festivals to ensure that their environmental impacts are reduced/avoided. These projects are particularly interesting due to their temporary nature and I feel very proud to be supporting the music industry to get back up and running after what has been a tough couple of years. Both nature and music are two of my passions and to be combining both is something I’m very excited to be part of.

QHow did you get into your industry?

Straight after A levels I managed a pub and gained a lot of business and people management experience over three years, but I had always planned to go to university and get a degree but I wanted to be sure about what I was going to study before I went. All of my A levels were in non-environmental subjects (sociology, psychology, health and social care and physical education). I studied Extended Science at the University of Plymouth which is an access course for people with little or no scientific background and that counted as year 0. The course was an intensive course covering chemistry, biology, physics, statistics, maths and geology to get me up to A level standard. I then progressed onto a degree in Conservation Biology (BSc Hons) for the next three years at the University of Plymouth.

QWhat has been your career highlight?

Without a doubt a highlight has been working with RPS and a number of other organisations to develop the use of conservation detection dogs in surveying for protected species! This is a new and exciting technique which is being developed in the UK and we are thrilled to be involved with it.

I started off with an audition for The Apprentice which I had a business proposal for and I almost made the cut but just missed it. I then came to RPS with the proposal and we have progressed it together. Thanks RPS, you’ve made the dream job come alive!

QWhat was the best/most useful thing you did to further your career?

The most useful thing that I did to further my career was gain experience in a number of sectors under the same umbrella. I have worked directly on the ground for a construction company, working alongside a number of professionals including engineers, traffic management teams, site managers, ground workers, tree surgeons, drainage and electrical specialists, quantity surveyors, planners, construction managers among many others. Having experience from the ground up has enabled me to make well informed decisions and also appreciate the challenges encountered from different perspectives to find practical, achievable solutions. I have also worked as a county ecologist in local government before moving into consultancy, and all of this previous experience helps me to have a balanced view.

QThis year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Break the bias’, aiming for women’s equality and celebrating inclusivity. However, there don’t seem to be barriers for women entering consulting, ecology and similar roles. Why is this – what is this industry getting right? (And what else could it do?)

As a woman entering into consultancy and into a scientific discipline, I have found that a lot of the historic gender barriers are much reduced. This shows that past and present employees and managers, of all genders, have worked hard and have been brave enough to overcome some historic gender barriers and supported each other to achieve this and for that I’m very grateful. We are very lucky to work in the times that we do in a supportive environment. I think as we progress, things will only become better and the workplace will become more inclusive for all genders, no matter what they are.