Friday, 13 September 2019

Interview with Sarah Pierce, the new BSBI Ireland Officer

Sarah at her PhD study site at Silwood Park
Image courtesy of S. Pierce
BSBI welcomed a new Ireland Officer earlier this year, after Maria Long – who had been in post since 2012 – left us for a full-time post with Ireland’s National Parks & Wildlife Service. 

Sarah Pierce has taken over in the role and now that she’s had a couple of months to settle in to her new position, I thought I’d take the opportunity to interview her:

LM: So Sarah, welcome to BSBI! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing before you joined us?

Sarah surveying pines
in central Mexico
Image: Markus Eichhorn
SP: Where to start? I’m an American who lived in England for 12 years and moved to Ireland last year. I’ve always been a nature-lover and have been fortunate enough to do field work in lots of different habitats around the world, looking at reptiles, birds, and mammals as well as plants. 

My interest in botany was sparked during my undergraduate studies in the US, but my botanical skills really improved when I did a PhD focusing on the effects of climate change on a grassland study system at Imperial College’s Silwood Park campus...

LM: Ooh sorry to interrupt but… Silwood Park? Did you study under Prof. Mick Crawley, the co-author (with Clive Stace) of the New Naturalist ‘Aliens’ book, the man behind the Daffodil Key, the Snowdrop Key…  ?

SP: Mick wasn't my supervisor, but I definitely asked for help with grass ID on more than one occasion! It was great to have someone so knowledgeable and approachable on hand.

Sarah leading an OPAL water survey
Image courtesy of Nature in Mind
LM: I’ll bet it was! And your PhD sounds really interesting too. So what did you do after that?

SP: Following my PhD, I worked as a Community Scientist on the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) citizen science project at the University of Nottingham. That gave me the chance to help thousands of people get more engaged with nature and introduce them to simple methods of ecological recording. 

Then, last summer my son was born and my family moved to Ireland. I’ve spent the last year settling in and getting to know my new home.

LM: So you have experience of botanising in England and are now getting to know Ireland! 

I understand you’ll be splitting your time as Ireland Officer between Dublin and Cork? That will give you a chance to see lots of different plants!

Sarah on an Aquatic
Plant Project training day
Image: Edwina Cole
SP: That’s right. I’ll mostly be working from home in Cork but will be based at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin a couple of days per month. 

I’ll also be travelling around Ireland when I can to join recording trips and other events. I’ve managed a few recording days in the south and midlands so far but will be looking to join events in other regions soon.

LM: So now you are BSBI’s Ireland Officer and I guess you’ve been thrown in at the deep end – if you’ll forgive the pun – as the Aquatic Plant Project is now well underway! I know Paul Green is at the helm but I imagine there’s quite a lot of work for you to do there?

SP:  Paul has done a great job getting the project off the ground in a really short amount of time! I’ve been helping on the administrative side of things, which has taken a fair amount of time, but I’m just excited to see that it’s been such a success!

Sarah at Cronohill with members of
the Cork local recording group
Image: Finbarr Wallace
LM: Are you finding time to get out in the field or is it office work all the way?

SP: It has been mostly office work so far, but I am trying to get out when I can. 

I managed to join the field meeting in Youghal in July, which was a lot of fun. In August, I met up with the Cork local group for a recording day at Cronohil and I had the chance to survey a beautiful site in Kerry for Hammarbya paludosa (Bog Orchid), which was a first for me. 

I also joined a couple of the Aquatic Plant Project days in the Midlands. 

It was wonderful to get involved after spending so much time on the organising side, and Nick Stewart is a great teacher!

LM: So what else is in your work programme for the next few months?

Sarah and recorders on 
an Aquatic Plant Project
training day
Image: Edwina Cole
SP: The next big thing is the Irish Autumn Meeting, scheduled for 21 September, which should be a really fantastic day and I’m hoping will give me a chance to meet a lot more of our Irish members and County Recorders

I’ll be doing what I can to support our County Recorders in the final push for Atlas 2020, and sorting out a few rare plant surveys too. I’m also looking to revamp the BSBI Ireland webpage, and of course keep on top of our social media accounts. There’s plenty to keep me busy!

LM: And people will be able to follow you on social media, whether on Twitter or on the BSBI Ireland Facebook pages.

SP: That’s right! I’m tweeting from @BSBI_Ireland, and the BSBI Ireland Facebook page, @IrishSectionBSBI, is updated by number of amazing volunteers as well as me.

LM: Well good luck, keep us posted on how you’re getting on and once again – welcome to the BSBI!

SP: Thank you very much! I’m very happy to be here!

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