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New Biodiversity Manager Ian Armstrong’s vision for sustainability

A sustainable future Highlights      
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We’re dedicated to maintaining our estate, which features high-quality woodland, grassland, and wetland habitats. These environments provide a home for a rich diversity of wildlife such as roe deer, badgers, otters and over 100 bird species.

To ensure our flora and fauna continue to flourish, we recently appointed ecologist Ian Armstrong to lead on implementing our Biodiversity Strategy.

Ian first joined Durham in 1990 helping to maintain our estate. In 1995 he left to study countryside management and after almost 30 years we welcome Ian back to Durham.

Dialogue caught up with Ian and here is what he told us.

Ian Armstrong
Ian Armstrong

Tell us about your role in implementing our Biodiversity Strategy…

My role as Biodiversity Manager is to implement the University Biodiversity Strategy and by doing so enhance the estate and its wildlife. The strategy has a 10-year vision and the aim is to undertake management to maintain, and where possible enhance, biodiversity across the estate so that by 2032, we have an estate that is not just one of the best educational resources in the world, but it is also one of the most biodiverse university estates in the world. From a personal perspective, I want to make us number one and I find the role to be an exciting and fantastic opportunity to make a real difference.

What got you interested in wildlife?

I was born in the former Durham mining village of Quarrington Hill, and my father was a keen naturalist. From a very early age, I virtually lived in the local countryside and it has been an important part of my life. The countryside was both my playground and classroom, and I am extremely passionate about nature and wildlife.

I recall as a seven-year-old boy, going home with an injured crow and I kept it in my bedroom until my dad heard the noise and discovered the mess when I was at school! I was very lucky too that I had a great teacher at Cassop Primary School in Mr Jim McManners. Jim was way ahead of his time and was a very keen naturalist. He introduced environmental education in the 1970s wherever he could as part of our everyday learning. This was way before such educational teaching became a regular occurrence in schools.

There’s a saying that from little acorns, grow mighty oaks and this is a good analogy of my dad’s and Jims’s influence on me in my love for nature and wildlife and how I have made a very successful career in nature conservation.

What do you hope to achieve in the next six months?

I can’t believe that I have already been in post for eight weeks! Time flies when you’re enjoying yourself and I have loved every moment I have been here. My passion for the natural world really is a part of who I am, and that passion means I like to throw myself wholeheartedly into delivering as much as I can, when I can. However, as the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and with such a large vision, things take time. In the next six months, I plan to assess the University estate for potential biodiversity enhancement projects, both for quick wins and long-term biodiversity gain. I plan to investigate potential new funding streams and ensure the building blocks are put in place for future projects. I have some exciting ideas so watch this space!

Tell us how colleagues can get involved…

Probably the most important aspect of nature conservation is knowing what species and habitats you have. The thinking being, you need to know what you have so that you know how you can manage it. Colleagues can be a huge help in reporting the wildlife that they see. We need as much information as we can as all sightings no matter how common or rare can give us an idea of how rich our estate is for wildlife. Logging sightings on Durham University iNaturalist site on the internet is a huge help and a really satisfying way of contributing to our Biodiversity Strategy.

I am also planning to set up a volunteer group that will allow colleagues and students an opportunity to get hands on, practical experience of implementing nature conservation projects. This may involve tree planting, collecting wildflower seeds or erecting and monitoring bird boxes. Watch this space!

Pond near the Mountjoy Centre
Pond near the Mountjoy Centre

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love the great outdoors and love long walks and enjoying nature. However, I am also an avid football fan and when I left school, I almost joined Sunderland as a professional footballer. A bit strange considering I’m a mad Newcastle fan and regularly go to matches both home and away. I’m also a good pool player and play for a team in Coxhoe. If anyone fancies their chances, let me know. I love where I live and love my community and am a Parish Councillor for the village of Quarrington Hill.

Where has been your best holiday?

I’m lucky in that I have been to lots of places from New York at Christmas to the heat of Egypt in mid-summer. However, I have a soft spot for the Greek isles. Perhaps the best holiday I have had was on safari in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Seeing large wild animals in a true wilderness setting is an amazing experience.



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