Counting seal pups, wrangling snakes and a big passion for geography

The cold store room at the Millennium Seed Bank – the most bio-diverse place on earth!

Geography alumna Ellie Wilding tells us about her studies and career so far ahead of starting a masters degree at Cambridge…

“When I was 16 years old, I spent more time stood outside a Geography lesson being reprimanded for bad behaviour than I spent inside learning. Now, I am 25 years old and I have recently been awarded the Hong Leong Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship to fully fund my Masters in Geography at the University of Cambridge.

The time spent working for my degree in BSc Geography at Brighton was pivotal.

When I first arrived at Brighton, I was a nervous and reluctant student looking to get a degree as quickly as possible so I could go and teach at my old secondary school. Within the first few months, I was out in Greece with my cohort standing on rocks counting notches in sea cliffs and surveying plants on the side of a mountain. This trip was a turning point for me.

The fieldwork was something I really engaged with. Trying my best wasn’t an effort because I enjoyed what I was doing. The lecturers pushed us and asked us questions, encouraging us to think outside of the box. Much to my own surprise, I came back excited for the rest of my course.

During my degree, I was introduced to the wonderful world of wetlands – a subject that has and still does totally encapsulate me. I was supported, pushed and challenged by my dissertation supervisor, Professor Chris Joyce and was given opportunities to work further on wetlands after my degree by Dr. Ray Ward. The

De-tangling grass snakes from eel traps.

level of support that the Geography staff at Brighton gave me in pursuing my interests, whilst also keeping me afloat in the sometimes-overwhelming stress of undergraduate life, was second to none.

Since graduating, I have had three jobs. All of which have provided me with adventures (sometimes slightly obscure) that make me grateful for choosing Geography.

From flying in a tiny plane counting seal pups, standing knee deep in thick River Thames mud identifying bivalves, measuring thousands of eels in the River Lea and wrangling snakes out of eel

traps on the River Roding, to banking seeds in the -20oC vault at the Millennium Seed Bank and scouring hectares of wildflower meadows for a flea sedge (a grass species which really is as small as it sounds!).

Netting thousands of baby flounder to count and measure. This was one of the largest!

I have worked as an intern twice. Once for the High Weald AONB Partnership and the other for the Zoological Society of London Estuaries and Wetlands Conservation Programme. During these internships, I worked 4 days a week and designated the 5th day to volunteering my time to the things I was interested in. This primarily meant working in the labs with Ray on wetland cores or researching giraffes for the IUCN Species Specialist Group.

In January 2019, I left the world of wildlife and jumped ship to plant conservation. I am currently working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change Project, until October when I will leave to return to University.

My greatest advice to students studying at Brighton is not to stress. Take up every opportunity because it will help you to fine tune your interests. If you find there is something specific that interests you, tell people about it! You never know what opportunities people may know of, and they won’t think to share them with you if they don’t know you’re interested.

Be committed, be persistent, and don’t let rejection hold you back. I was rejected multiple times and sent dozens of emails (often to the same people over and over) expressing my interests. All it takes is one person to reply and the ball is rolling.”

 

 

Read more about Ellie and follow her on social media:

Kew Profile: https://www.kew.org/science/our-science/people/ellie-wilding

Kew Project Page: https://www.cwrdiversity.org

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wildling_ellie

 

Do you have a story to tell? We’d love to hear it! Get in touch at alumni@brighton.ac.uk.

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