Dr. Emily Hesling
The alpine bearberry has a special place in the life and work of our ecologist, Emily.
This beautiful plant with edible berries and leaves which turn a spectacular shade of red in the autumn, is largely confined to the hilly moorland regions of Highland Scotland.
And it is one of the species that Emily helps to ensure will survive when contractors head to the hills to build essential wind turbines to maintain our power supplies.
Emily’s work with the Nevis team is more than just minimising the impact on the environment when big construction projects are under way. It’s also a support role to help those clients meet regulations and standards, a task that involves site surveys, monitoring, auditing and reporting.
The alpine bearberry – and the similarly precious dwarf birch and dwarf willow – were among the plants studied when Emily gained her PhD in Biology at the University of Aberdeen, specialising in vascular plant and fungal ecology, and the upland and alpine habitat ecology of Scotland. She had previously taken a BSc in Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.
The bearberry is the County Flower of Orkney; the dwarf birch is found only in the Highlands in Scotland, growing in areas with wet and cold climates, areas which are often eminently suitable for wind power to be harnessed. Deforestation, overgrazing and the burning of heather moorland mean that the plant is classified as being nationally scarce.
So it’s no surprise that Emily is known among her colleagues as ‘The Plant Person’. She has designed, implemented and reported habitat monitoring schemes, including National Vegetation Classification and Common Standards Monitoring methodologies for several large wind farms, including those in the Mona Liath mountains in the Highlands, and in the Moray area. Turbines going up today are bigger and much sleeker, and built quite differently from the early prototypes, and their construction is always balanced by any potential impact on the landscape at the planning stage.
Emily enjoys field work, being outside seeing wildlife on site and putting her botanical skills to good use. She also enjoys discussions with construction personnel, and seeing projects come together - particularly the successful reinstatement of vegetation, usually blanket bog and heathland.
It’s her chosen environment, too, for leisure, as she enjoys mountain biking and hill running. And in the evenings she can be found playing the Scots fiddle in her local village ceilidh band.