Environment, People Spotlight, Sustainability, United Kingdom

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting an associate director from our Environment business line in the United Kingdom and providing an insight into her inspiration and work.

Helen Barber is a leading light on blue-green infrastructure in the UK’s large and diverse ecology team. Having worked across public and private sectors, along with academia, she embraces the importance of collaboration to drive change. She has been involved in some of the largest and most complex developments, projects and policy agendas in the region and internationally. She is a steering committee member of the UK Business and Biodiversity Forum which supports businesses in integrating nature in their value chains and decision making.

What inspired you to join the industry?

My background is in landscape architecture, town planning, catchment delivery, and ecology, with an applied doctorate in biodiversity obstacles and solutions. There is so much happening both in academia and industry to address the global twin tracked environmental crises of the climate emergency and now, increasingly the biodiversity emergency. Joining AECOM offered a wealth of diverse opportunities in both strategy development and practical implementation with clients to drive real change on these two issues, which was really appealing.

What is your favourite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

This is tricky to answer, as I’m all about diversity of experience and multi-disciplinary collaboration. I hugely enjoyed working on the Warwickshire Sustainable Futures Strategy, which involved lots of discussions, detangling, and prioritising of important objectives and actions to provide the County Council with a framework for achieving a biodiverse and sustainable vision, and actions for 2050.

Developing policy and thought positions also provide a real buzz for me, so leading the organisational response to the government consultation on Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), collaborating with Sheffield Hallam University on Green Finance, and joining the UK Business and Biodiversity Forum (UKBBF) steering committee are also really rewarding. The UKBBF is helping organisations understand and embed the value of biodiversity and nature into their decision-making processes – a collaborative effort which can drive real change.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community

I enjoy communicating with large landowners on shared visions for biodiversity and bringing nature into proposed strategies. A good example of this was investigating the off-site added biodiversity gains surrounding the proposed A27 Arundel bypass in England. The project incorporated a site meeting at Knepp Estate to discuss the ‘weald to waves’ biodiversity network vision which involves landowners with a passion to care for nature and encourage the enhancement of biodiversity on their properties.

This was a fabulous experience for the team, especially to witness the unusual sight of storks flying about their gigantic nests. The intention here is that our client will purchase additional habitat units (on top of the soon to be mandatory 10 percent on site) and restore some agricultural land into a more biodiverse habitat, which will also provide greater connectivity for species in the surrounding area.

Share a piece of career advice

The best career advice I can give based on my own trajectory, is to try anything and push your boundaries outside your own discipline by working with others. Effective collaboration (which involves a lot of listening and understanding the agendas and needs of others) is how to make a real difference. Often many new opportunities are organic and can’t be too planned, so grasp them with enthusiasm when they present themselves.

Originally published Dec 14, 2022

Author: Helen Barber