My background is in laboratory research, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, I had a lot of time to re-examine my career.
I found myself wanting to pursue a new field which got me out of the laboratories more often but kept me close to a scientific foundation. I had some recent experience travelling through conservation projects in New Zealand, and I was inspired by the locals’ amazing sense of respect and stewardship towards nature.
Conversations with ecologists in a remote bat research station in Central Otago led me to ecology, and that in turn led me to begin looking for ecology jobs back in the UK.
I began an ecology master’s and joined several graduate ecologist groups, in which job adverts were frequently posted.
One of the ones that caught my attention was an advert for bat research assistants from Arbtech, which offered an opportunity to dip my toes into ecology with a part-time job while I finished my master’s.
Although I made the mistake of submitting my CV on April fool’s day (which almost led Rob to ignore my application), I made it through to an interview and Rob made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a full-time ecology job but with as much time off as I needed to finish my master’s.
In many ways, my reasons for applying to Arbtech were arbitrary – most graduates would likely take the first ecology job they are offered – but my reasons for staying have been anything but.
Arbtech provides an amazing number of tools and support to help us get to where we want to be as people.
We have an unlimited CPD budget for professional training, but also a range of benefits that help us to grow outside of work: gym memberships, a bounty list of overtime rewards for reading books on psychology, mindfulness and productivity, and amazing socials to meet up and pursue interesting activities.
In addition to that, several aspects of the day-to-day job are particularly excellent. I love the freedom to manage my own schedule, and the mix of working from home and site visits out in the countryside.
I also love the sheer variety of work; one day, I might be helping plan how to maximise a solar farm’s benefit to pollinators, and the next, I could be mapping a badger set in the grounds of an old medieval manor house.
When not working for Arbtech, I live a tranquil life on the banks of the River Thames in Oxford, where I enjoy wandering the city and hiking or kayaking down the waterways.
Oxfordshire has managed to retain some gorgeous ancient woodlands and floodplain meadows, and I love rambling through them while attempting to brush up on my botany.
On occasion, I can be tempted into social events with varying degrees of debauchery, where I indulge my twin passions for glitter and making a fool of myself.
I like to think that I have a way with words in that words often get away from me, and I spend a fair amount of time writing stories offline or in the hallowed halls of internet fan fiction sites.
I dabble in a wide variety of terribly nerdy hobbies, including computer gaming, Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, and a broad range of board games.
I’ll take a different tack.
Take more time to appreciate what you achieve. There is little point in climbing a mountain if you don’t rest at the top to take in the view.
We live in a world designed to make you dissatisfied so that you will purchase products.
There will always be someone prettier, faster or richer, and this fact is blasted at you so that you will buy makeup and gym memberships.
We measure our success, wealth and happiness relative to those around us; even the super-wealthy compete over who has the biggest yacht or space programme, yet studies suggest that they are no happier than the rest of us, and often considerably unhappier.
Today, we eat food richer and more varied than the most opulent medieval king.
100 years ago, the Wright brothers rejoiced at a 12-second flight. Today, a two-hour flight to Europe is a necessary chore that we distract ourselves from with magazines and Spotify playlists.
Too often, a loved one leaves our lives and only then do we realise how much we valued them.
Happiness, wealth, achievement – all of these things are situational and relative. Stop every now and then to appreciate the good in your life that you take for granted.
All of this is not to say that you should tolerate mediocrity or allow yourself to stagnate – both things that I have been guilty of in the past.
All of this is to say that we too often let achievement be defined relative to others, and once we have achieved something, we too quickly forget about it and look to the next thing.
Learn to recognise this, become your own yardstick for success, and you will get the most out of your achievements.
My favourite social with Arbtech was definitely our residential training course in Abergavenny in winter 2021.
Myself and a group of 10 other graduate ecologists from Arbtech were put up in a beautiful old farmhouse on the outskirts of Abergavenny – a Welsh market town where Arbtech’s principal ecologist lived.
This trip not only provided an intensive week of ecological training – enabling me to solidify my skills as an ecologist – but it also proved to be an amazing crucible for forging a sense of team spirit and unity amongst the new graduates at Arbtech, as we are typically widely dispersed throughout the country.
I will fondly remember my colleague Georgia’s face as she discovered that I had left a bowl of halloumi uncovered in the fridge for a few days, even if her own memories of the incident are not quite as appreciative.
By coincidence, Abergavenny is also the town where my father grew up, so the trip had an added dimension for me in terms of reconnecting with my Welsh roots.
An honourable mention should also go to our amazing Brazilian jiu-jitsu and skiing trip to Austria in early 2023, which was an incredible and intense experience in equal measure.
I would love to revisit Japan and New Zealand – both countries which I have travelled to in the past but never had enough time to fully explore.
Japan is a fascinating country with a rich and unique culture, and a startling mix of frenetic futuristic urbanism and ancient pastoral landscapes.
New Zealand, by contrast, is one of the only countries I could see myself living in permanently outside of the UK. It is an amazing and welcoming place, with some of the most striking natural scenery in the world. Moreover, it is a bastion of nature and a place where much more of the pre-human natural world still exists to be saved.
In five years’ time, I would like to have become a senior ecologist and obtained several more protected species licences.
I can see myself still living in the south of England, but I would like to have moved on from my bachelor pad and have found a serious partner to share my life with, and perhaps a dog or four.
Failing that, I will perhaps consider a distinguished career as a crazy cat gentleman.
Although I have many roots in the UK, I would love to have spent at least a year living and working abroad to broaden my horizons; New Zealand is perhaps my first choice for such a thing.
Professionally, I would love to get involved in at least one larger-scale rewilding or conservation project, and there are several in both the UK and New Zealand that would be an absolute dream to be involved with.
I have always wanted to write a full-length book, but after two years of doing very little during the pandemic, I have somewhat run out of excuses for not writing it. I think I will have to lower my sights to a novella.
A second goal I have is a long-cherished dream to tackle one or more great walks: the Appalachian Trail, the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage, or the Te Araroa Trail down the length of New Zealand.
I grew up reading books like ‘A Walk in the Woods’ by Bill Bryson, where he roams the Appalachian Trail, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed shorter week-long hikes along the Thames Path or the Routeburn.
One of these trails would be a fascinating test of fitness and determination, and it would be great to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of modern life for a bit. As a first step, I hope to save up a large chunk of annual leave and do one or more sections of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage route from France and into Spain, and there are even some British sections of the route I could explore beforehand.
James joined Arbtech in May 2021.
Meet the other members of our leading ecology and arboriculture team.