Biomedical Sciences

Peter Grencis: Changing career from the NHS to conservation

Peter returned to education in his fifties, leaving his NHS career behind to pursue a career in conservation.

What is your background? 

Prior to the MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Health I worked in healthcare (NHS) as manager of a clinical photography department for over 30 years. I don’t come from an ecological or conservation background, and I decided late on to take a change of direction with a course of study that really interested me.

What advice would you give to students coming to the programme from a different background? 

I would say please try not to be too daunted at the prospect of joining the course, especially if you feel that others on the course may be far more experienced than you. I came to the course as someone in my fifties having following one single career path (which was not ecology or wildlife based) for my entire working life. However once I’d settled into the course I found that actually I could interact with the other students and could take part in meaningful discussions about topics that were relatively new to me. 

I can honestly say that my confidence grew steadily through the three years of the course, culminating with me passing the masters with a good final grade.

What have you been able to do since completing the MSc that you didn’t envisage you’d have been able to do before starting?

My dissertation was going to be a field study looking at the effects of human disturbance on arctic tern productivity on the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast in the UK.  I even applied, and was successful, at getting funding for this project from the Natural History Society of Northumbria. Although this had to be cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid restrictions, it is hoped that I can complete this research during summer 2022. 

The research will involve creating nesting plots on the islands and counting number of eggs, chicks and fledglings, plus assessment of chick fitness by measuring body weight correlated with head length. Before I started the course I would never have believed that I could be carrying out such a hands-on research study working directly with seabirds.

What advice would you give to students looking to get experience in conservation but aren’t quite sure where to start?

In terms of getting experience in conservation I would say that there are a few possible routes worth exploring. Many ecological consultancy services advertise for seasonal assistant bat and great crested newt surveyors. Training is usually minimal and you will most likely always be accompanied by a professional ecologist. 

I also now do seasonal ecological surveying (mainly bat surveys and great crested newt trapping) which complements my studying and gets me out into nature. This type of work demands working at crazy hours (before sunrise and after sunset.) However, I find that there’s something quite special about being outside at those times just looking and listening to nature all around you. 

Another option would be to contact local wildlife or woodland trusts who are usually always keen to take on volunteers.

Good luck with the course, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did!