I have always been fascinated by the natural world and this led me to pursue a degree in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Kent. For my final year project I carried out an investigation into wildlife gardening and the value such activities could have for biodiversity. As part of this study, I used psychological techniques to understand which aspects of gardens were important to householders, as well as ecological survey methods to determine the resources available for species. My findings showed that the use of gardens promoted relaxation and good mental health. It was at this point that I realised how wildlife exposure could positively influence human wellbeing and made a conscious decision to continue developing expertise in this research area. With this in mind, I went on to complete my MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London, where I had the opportunity to work with the Institute of Zoology and the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) to examine what motivated people to engage in citizen science conservation projects, using conceptual frameworks and methods from psychology.
Wanting to follow a career that used interdisciplinary research techniques I was keen to develop skills in a field outside of traditional conservation or environmental psychology. Consequently, in my PhD I decided to jump into the lab and explore the role of environmental exposures on the epigenome and how this then increases disease risk in people. This gave me the opportunity to gain an understanding of techniques used in biomedical research, complementing my previous experience in conservation biology and psychology.
I joined WWT as the Principal Health and Wellbeing Research Officer in 2018, where I get to apply my previous experience to furthering our understanding of the relationships between wetlands and people.
I am currently working to understand the relationship between wetland habitats and human health and wellbeing. There is already a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that spending time in nature can help improve physical and mental health, however we currently do not know the role of wetlands specifically. I am using a wide range of techniques from disciplines such as environmental psychology and medical research to explore this connection further. I am also involved in developing structured social prescribing activities, termed ‘Blue Prescriptions’, at our wetland centres for individuals who may have low mental or physical health. My aim is to not only understand the value of wetlands to people, but find out how we can maximise this value in the future, both to support people’s wellbeing and wetland conservation.