Within a few weeks I learned that environmental consultants in engineering consultancies can have a very broad variety of responsibilities, but their overarching aim is to ensure that engineering projects are developed as sustainably as possible and not damaging the environment. Environmental assessments encompass many different things. We assess the impacts of projects on all sorts of different receptors such as: ecology and protected species, protected areas, the water environment, the visual landscape, cultural heritage, contaminated land, noise pollution, air quality… and undoubtedly many more I haven’t come across yet! I quickly realised that a part of the environment team enabled me to integrate with lots of different disciplines (both engineering and non-engineering), giving me the chance to interact with all sorts of different people across the company.
During my early days at Mott MacDonald, I assisted the environment team with a broad range of ‘general’ environment assessments, considering the potential impacts projects would have on the receptors listed above. One particular project was an environmental report for a large flood risk management scheme in Devon; I was solely responsible for authoring an assessment on ‘human beings, recreation and public access’. I was also given the opportunity to get out on site, assisting on ecology surveys which involved visiting the location during the night using a batlogger to detect echolocation ultrasound signals from bats.
Towards the end of my internship I was given the opportunity to become a permanent member of the team as a graduate environmental consultant. In my new graduate role, I was given the opportunity to get involved with some more specialised water based environmental assessments - known as Water Framework Directive assessments - for a flood risk management appraisal package covering many river, estuary and coastal sites in the South West. I had to build up my knowledge of the complex legislation associated with the EU Water Framework Directive, and the different ecological, hydrological and water quality components that are considered as part of waterbody ‘status’. I was really enthusiastic to get involved with this type of work as it was linked with some research interests I had at university on the topic of hydrology, sparked by modules I studied during my final year on catchment science and water quality in the UK.
Around six months into my role I was introduced to my new line manager, a fluvial geomorphologist with whom I now work very closely on a range of different water based projects. I had always been interested in studying rivers and geomorphology at school and university, so was really excited by the opportunity to develop my knowledge and expertise in these areas through my role as an environmental consultant. Fluvial geomorphology comprises an important aspect of Water Framework Directive assessments; therefore, learning more about applied fluvial geomorphology would enable me to gain the confidence and ability to complete the assessments myself, and help make sure that our projects consider river processes in a sustainable way.
One particularly interesting project I got involved with was a geomorphological assessment (also known as a ‘fluvial audit’) of a river in Republic of Ireland, which was being re-engineered to reduce flood risk in the area. Working on this project involved a two day site visit where I surveyed the river and its floodplain using a range of different techniques. I also got to meet and discuss issues like sediment traps, ground investigation results and environmental constraints with the onsite engineer and project manager from our office in Cork. Since going to Ireland I have also been involved with other geomorphological assessments in England, Scotland and Wales.
Recently, my work has become even more diverse, as I have been given the opportunity to get involved with water and drainage assessments for highways schemes. I produced a post-construction water quality report for a road scheme that has already been built on the South Coast. In my assessment, I had to look at the water quality samples taken before and after construction, to analyse the impact the road has had on the surrounding water environment. This ended up being quite a technical report on water chemistry that I really enjoyed writing.
Alongside my project based work, I have also been involved in other activities at Mott MacDonald. I trained to become a STEM ambassador, which inspired me to become the joint lead for schools in the Bristol office as part of our Inspired Professional Excellence network. This role involves liaising with local schools and education centres with the aim of providing mentoring, work experience and information sessions on engineering. We hope to try and engage children and young people with the idea of civil engineering and other consultancy roles at an early stage.
Looking back over the past year, it is interesting to reflect on the evolution of my career at Mott MacDonald. I have discovered a particular interest in water quality and fluvial geomorphology, areas which suit both my interests and the skill sets I developed at university. I’ve also been involved in a range of different activities alongside my work which has been a very rewarding and informative experience so far. To sum up, I have really enjoyed my journey with Mott MacDonald so far, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next!