I’m a biologist to trade, and after working in the pharmaceutical industry for 10 years writing and managing the publication of clinical trials I’ve moved back home.
I suppose I could say I’ve become a ‘pharmer’: I manage Brucefield Estate with a pharmaceutical background however I think we’re beyond that now, working with ecologists to understand the rich mosaic of diverse habitats here from mossy woodlands and meadows to pine martens and a whole host of pollinators. Juxtaposed with an historic doocot and a corn mill from the 1700s we have our work cut out, not forgetting our oats and cereal farming, pasture and woodland management. Soon we’ll be opening the estate gates to rural tourism too.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I was once told biology is what people studied when they didn’t know what else to do – I don’t know if that’s true but it’s certainly opened up a huge number of doors. Particularly with covid I think that’s even more true for today’s scientists. I always knew I’d come back and manage the Estate one day but I could never have imagined all the things we have done to date.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
‘Any’ is a polite way of phrasing that question! From distinguishing your tawny from your barn owl, from sourcing sustainable super cosy insulation for historic cottages, to establishing eco off-grid location accommodation: each area requires detangling (think very bad hair days!) to figure it out.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Establishing – and we are only at the beginning – a rural Scottish destination for those wishing to unplug from it all and relax with nature. We, or rather, the ecologists, have been up from dawn to dusk to understand the ecosystem here: where the pine martens like to hang out, and badgers too, and to establish a series of activities – for whatever pace required – for guests to immerse themselves in nature. At the same time, a picture of the heritage of rural Scotland has emerged with the conservation work to date: a corn mill built from a long forgotten medieval tower and an avenue of lime trees 300 years old now being rediscovered. We are striving to be a modern working Estate with many layers to discover.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Without a doubt the people I’ve come across who have been passionate about what they do: they’ve delved right in there and it’s utterly fascinating to listen, and take home that inspiration. It almost doesn’t matter the topic: the passion is infectious.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I had an unexpected mentor in an old friend of my father’s. He was rather firm, and said come back for coffee when I had a 5-year business plan, but I did and it started from there. We all need role models.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
It can only be education: being a scientist I’m a great fan of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) activities. These open up opportunities for work all over the globe, however I’d also need to add paternity leave so that mums can go back to work if they wish to. And of course, sufficiently funded maternity leave.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Get into something, doesn’t matter too much what it is (within reason!) but find something you can be passionate about and grow that topic. I know that’s easier said than done: sometimes when the choice is too big it can be daunting.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The estate will soon be launching a new self-catering cottage and bothies for rural tourism. There’s a lot do before the launch but we’re on track and excited to be sharing the historic estate with a new generation of visitors.