"I believe that you should follow your own path, enjoy what you do, and not be afraid to be unconventional."
I’m Kathy Hughes, and I work as a Fisheries Officer with the Environment Agency.
I was inspired by David Attenborough, and always wanted to do a job to help wildlife. This role is a blend of fisheries and conservation work, and involves a mix of being office-based and doing hands-on stuff out in the field. I have a lot of contact with angling groups and fisheries. I also respond to, and deal with the consequences of, river pollution incidents.
Although qualifications have been important in getting me where I am now, it was doing voluntary work that gave me the skills I needed - and good contacts for getting jobs.
What I love most about my role is being able to survey rivers and lakes for fish - you never know quite what you will get! I also enjoy working with the public and meeting people from all areas of the community. Sometimes it can be challenging persuading less environmentally-minded people to take on a more sustainable outlook but, if I manage to reach them in some way, it’s also very rewarding.
I don’t think I’ve ever actually felt like I was working; I just do things that I like to do!
Tell us about your job – where do you work and what do you do?I work within the Environment Agency's technical Fisheries Team, carrying out a variety of fisheries and conservation work. Each day is different, and can involve a mix of field and office tasks.
My role includes providing general fisheries management advice, carrying out surveys to assess fish stocks and population trends, and designing projects that look at river restoration and fish passage on rivers. I also respond to a variety of consultations - including planning applications, discharges to rivers, and works in rivers - to ensure that fish populations are not negatively affected.
I work closely with local fisheries and angling groups, to promote sustainable fisheries and improve angling participation. I also respond to pollution incidents and rescue fish that are in distress, and I organise the restocking of rivers that have lost fish due to pollution.
What inspired you to do what you do? How did you get into it, did you have a plan?I was inspired by the wildlife documentaries of Sir David Attenborough, and decided I wanted to do a job that helps wildlife. A degree in Zoology seemed like the obvious start. I loved my degree, so decided to do a Masters in Ecology. After that, I worked as an Education Officer at Chester Zoo, and on conservation projects in Madagascar, the Philippines, Costa Rica and Australia, as well as being at the Environment Agency for 4 years.
This probably sounds as though I didn’t have a plan which, to be honest, I probably never did! I just always worked hard to ensure that I was doing things I loved doing. I believe that if you work hard and want something enough then things will work out.
Why is your job meaningful? Both to you personally, and in how it benefits the wider world in terms of climate change and other environmental challenges.I do my job because I believe I can make a real improvement to the environment. It can be challenging, because I have to balance things like funding, health and safety, development and industry. I enjoy this aspect, however, as I like to try to understand the needs of others. This means I can aim to get results that cause minimum conflict but bring maximum benefit for everyone.
The effects of climate change can be difficult to predict, but the work that I'm involved with enables wildlife and fish to adjust to a changing environment. For example, we can create refuges for fish fry (hatched fish) so that, when rivers flood, they do not get washed away. These areas also provide storage for flood water, which can protect people’s homes.
Another effect of climate change is the introduction of non-native species into the UK. As our waters get warmer, conditions can become less favourable for native fish - which have evolved to live in cooler waters - but can become favourable for non-native fish (such as those from eastern Europe or Asia) that out-compete our native species. This is something that we are monitoring and controlling - for example, it's illegal to introduce non-native fish into any of our river systems.
Many jobs in this sector are very new, how long has your job existed?Fisheries Officers have existed in some form for centuries; for example, large estates and landowners have employed river keepers for hundreds of years, and their role has basically been to ensure healthy fish stocks. More recently, with the increase of legislation to protect fish and the environment, the role of Fisheries Officers has become more established. This can be at the Environment Agency in a scientific role, such as my job, or in a regulatory role. Fisheries Officers are also employed by private companies and large angling organisations.
What personal qualities do you think have got you where you are today?I've always been highly enthusiastic about wildlife conservation and the environment. I never imagined myself doing a job that did not contribute in some way to wildlife conservation.
I think it's also important to be persistent and flexible, as you may have to side-step into your career, move to a new town, or take another job whilst volunteering in your desired role.
What are the essential skills for your job?There are many skills that are important to this role. You must be a good communicator and a good team worker. You must be flexible, as sometimes you have to work out of hours - for example, when there are pollution incidents. You must be organised, as the workload can be varied and busy. You must be practical, as the job includes carrying out fish surveys, driving off-road and boat handling. Finally, you must have a real passion for fish!
What qualifications do you have? Are these typical for people in your role?I have A-levels in Biology, Geology and Art & Design; a BSc (Hons) in Zoology; and an MSc in Ecology. I also studied for my Art Foundation Certificate.
My BSc was joint honours in Philosophy until my final year, and included a 1 year work placement at Chester Zoo. I've also worked on lots of voluntary projects, which I think is just as important as having qualifications. Some of the organisations I've volunteered for include the Wildlife Trust, my local Bat Group, the Darwin Initiative and Coral Cay Conservation.
My qualifications are not typical among Fisheries Officers - most of my colleagues have a BSc in Fisheries Management – but, as long as you have the skills and knowledge to carry out the job, there are no rules. I believe that you should follow your own path, enjoy what you do, and not be afraid to be unconventional.
What do you think most helped you get where you are now?Going to university and studying formed the basis of getting to where I am now, but carrying out voluntary work gave me the skills I needed, and good contacts for getting jobs. So, I think it's a combination of all those things, but overall I don’t think I ever actually felt like I was working; I just did things I liked to do!
Please describe a typical working dayI do not have a typical day; each is quite different. I could be in the office responding to consultations, deciding on project ideas, or writing a health and safety risk assessment. Alternatively, I could be in the field carrying out advisory visits or fish surveys, or responding to pollution incidents and carrying out fish rescues.
Generally, I spend half my time in the office and half my time in the field - but this changes with the seasons, and according to what projects and advisory work are going on.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?On a day-to-day basis I'm able to get involved in work and projects that really improve the environment for both people and wildlife, so I feel that I am making a difference.
I mainly enjoy the hands-on fieldwork; I love being able to survey rivers and lakes for fish - you never know quite what you will get, and it's usually fairly exciting! I also enjoy working with the public, and meeting people from all parts of the community - it makes my job interesting and also puts life into perspective.
There's nothing that I really do not enjoy. It can be a challenge persuading less environmentally-minded people to take on a more sustainable outlook, but it can also be rewarding if I reach them in some way.
What kind of people do you meet through your work or do you work alone?I spend most of my time with colleagues in the Environment Agency who come from a variety of backgrounds, but I also spend a lot of time with people from other government bodies, conservation organisations, and angling clubs, as well as contractors and developers.
My job has allowed me to meet people from a diversity of backgrounds, and all areas of the community, that I would never have encountered outside my job.