Meet the Team: Technical Director

24th March 2015

Here’s the second of a new series of posts where you can meet the Freshwater Habitats Trust team.  Meet our Technical Director and co-founder

Tell me your name…

Penny Williams

And your job title?

Technical Director

What does that involve?

My job’s quite varied – I help to develop our organisation’s strategy, and work up the content of funding proposals to ensure they’ll deliver our conservation objectives. Once projects are up and running, I‘ll provide technical advice.  For example, I’m currently producing the information for our new People, Ponds and Water project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. I’ve always been involved in the design of our science research methodologies, including our long-term biodiversity surveys for Water friendly Farming.  When it’s possible I get out and do the fieldwork for this research too.

maesygrug_site_visit_040907_01What’s so important about the fieldwork?

Fieldwork is where you learn.  One of our organisational strengths is that four out of five of our Senior Management Team are ecologists, and three of us are still regularly out in the field. That’s important – there is so much we don’t yet understand about freshwaters – and with climate change it’s a moving target. Being out on the ground is motivating and keeps you focused on what the real problems are and how they might be solved.

What is your favourite part of your job?

The most exciting is the discovering things; having new ideas:  whether its understanding something about a rare species that may help protect it, or seeing first-hand the effect of conservation work on the ground.  Ultimately though, there’s no point in just knowing – the satisfaction comes from using that information to make a difference.

And least favourite?

Personally, my least favourite thing is standing up and speaking in front of people.  I’d rather be writing than talking. Even more personally, it’s the  impossibility of ever getting a work-life balance, not just  for me but also many of my colleagues. We all believe in what we do, and work long hours to achieve it, but it’s often at some personal cost.

Why do you do it?  What do you get out of it, and what keeps you going through the hard days?

summer picnic 2014I do it to make a difference.  When you go to wonderful places:  marshes, pools, rivers in semi-natural landscapes their beauty and richness make your heart sing: you feel relaxed, uplifted, joyous.  The stark contrast with freshwaters in much of the countryside upsets me. It’s worst when you see beautiful places being lost, or their special species disappearing.  It feels like a personal degradation and I want to do what I can.

What keeps me going is the people around me.  We are a very happy, friendly, supportive organisation.  All of the staff are great, and it’s a very comfortable organisation to work in.

What does freshwater wildlife mean to you?

It means a deep inner sense of rightness.  I think it is inherent in most of us to feel a great affinity with nature. Sitting by a pond looking into water, I feel the wonder of it.  It’s the same as sitting on a sea cliff with crashing waves, or top of a mountain after a long walk.  It brings me peace, relaxation and joy.

What’s your favourite freshwater habitat?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s got to be a quiet, very shallow and sunlit pool where you can see right to the bottom: crystal-clear water filled with submerged plants and busy with animal life. The sort of dappled, glinting pool you find hidden away in scrub in the New Forest, or in a quiet glen in Scotland, or sometimes even on an afternoon walk in the countryside.

What got you interested in freshwater habitats?

Although I originally trained as a geologist, I’ve always been a bit of a water baby. As a caver, I loved very wet caves, and walking in the mountains I still climb uphill in a stream if possible.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve worn wellies rather than walking boots in the mountains for last 30 years. More than that, I love the inherent hiddenness of underwater worlds, they are something you have to uncover, not everything is on show.