International Women’s Day: Dr Naomi Ewald, Director of Policy and Research
8th March 2023
What do you enjoy most about your role?
As one of the Senior Management Team at Freshwater Habitats Trust I’m fortunate in having the best of two worlds. I am still actively involved in research, which is the advantage of working for an organisation grounded in science. Collecting data in the field is a really important part of the process for me and means I really get a feel the small water ecosystems and freshwater species we study.
At this stage in my career, I’m also responsible for the management and support of two regional teams, as well as playing an active role in shaping the direction of Trust’s future. My teams are, by coincidence, all female, and I really enjoy working together with them, and supporting them to have the confidence to develop their own careers.
What inspired you to pursue your current career?
I left school with average grades, not even being aware that a job in conservation in the UK was a possibility, but a deep love for the natural world has been with me since my earliest memories.
My first life changing moment happened during a coffee break in the company where I worked as a school leaver. After rambling on about a wildflower I’d seen on the way in to work and complaining that I wished I could work outdoors a colleague, who had become like a mum to me at work, said simply “Why don’t you, you could do it?” That positive nudge encouraged me to reapply to university, to get a volunteering role at my local Wildlife Trust, and to push myself harder then I knew was possible to pursue a career in ecology and conservation.
My second left turn was when my path kept crossing with Professor Jeremy Biggs, CEO of Freshwater Habitats Trust. I’d seen him at various meetings and conferences through my role as Biodiversity Projects Officer at Hampshire Wildlife Trust. By then I was already becoming a bit obsessed with rare freshwater species and was chatting with Jeremy over coffee about the occurrence of Tadpole Shrimp and other very rare pond species in the New Forest. When I said how much I’d love to be able to really work out what was going on with them he said “Why don’t you, you could do it?”
I introduced myself to a friend of a friend who worked at the University of Sussex and what followed, was many happy years undertaking a PhD and then Post Doc under his supervision. Then Jeremy called and asked if I wanted to come and work for them … the rest is history.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is ‘Embrace Equity’. Why is this important in conservation?
I was a painfully shy child and have always fought against the inner voice which says I’m not good enough. It was the likes of Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Erin Brockovich and Rachel Carson who made me begin to believe I could be that person, because they were women who spoke about their battles and made it seem real to me. That need for connection and understanding hasn’t gone away. My first boss in conservation: the now CEO of Hampshire Wildlife Trust Debbie Tann and my joint supervisor at Sussex University, Professor Sue Hartley OBE, as well as science writers like Robin Wall Kimmerer and Lucy Cooke – and the countless other brilliant women who I work with – are my day-to-day inspiration. I wouldn’t have got to this place in my career without those female role models.
Increasing diversity from all walks of life, from all communities, including inclusivity for LGBTQ+ has to happen. There shouldn’t be barriers which prevent anyone from following their chosen career, and seeing your role models succeed is one way to break those barriers down. It worked for me.
What advice would you give to a woman who is just starting out in a similar role to yours?
Don’t doubt that you can do this.
Who or what inspires or drives you in your role?
Freshwater species and wetlands are declining faster than marine or terrestrial ecosystems, whilst at the same time being vital for many of the ecosystem services that sustain us.
We have many of the solutions to a biodiverse and equitable world right in front of us and our research is helping to provide the robust evidence that demonstrates how little change we need to make to turn things around. What better reason is there to go to work each day?
Dr Naomi Ewald is a freshwater ecologist with a particular interest in ponds, community interactions, rare freshwater species and the management of Important Freshwater Landscapes. Based in the New Forest, she manages Freshwater Habitats Trust’s New Forest Catchment Partnership team and Northern team.