David MacArthur

What is it you do? Describe your job and the ways it links to STEM.

I am the co-owner and Director of an Environmental Consultancy called MacArthur Green.

MacArthur Green employs around a team of 30 and is a carbon negative business which provides environmental consultancy services to primarily renewable energy and grid-connection projects.  Our areas of specialism cover ecology, ornithology and hydrology.  We work with both government agencies (e.g. Scottish Government, UK Government, NatureScot) and with renewable energy developers (e.g. ScottishPower Renewables, Scottish and Southern Energy, Baywa re. EDF Renewables).  We work on projects UK wide – and some further afield such as California!  Our work takes us to some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and the UK where we undertake survey work for a range of wildlife  such as - otters, water vole pine marten, badgers, bats, great crested newts, fisheries, birds and habitats.

My job as Director is to ensure the company runs well. This involves ensuring our service is high quality and developing and implementing the company’s strategy to ensure we work focus on the right sectors, clients and jobs – and maintain a profitable business.

My job and company links to STEM as we largely work in the field of renewable energy (offshore and onshore) where technology is continually advancing at a fast pace.  We provide scientific advice to our clients and so we are a team of scientists with expertise in the fields of Ecology, Zoology, Hydrology, and Environmental Science.

How did you get to this job? Talk us through your route to this role, in terms of education and career?

I was never that academic at School! My preference was to be participating in sports – particularly Athletics.  My other big passion growing up was the countryside and wildlife – how can it not be your passion when you live in the countryside in Argyll?!  It was fairly late on in School (secondary 6) when I discovered I could potentially go to University to pursue my interest in the environment and perhaps even get a job working in an area that excited me. 

I managed to get accepted into Ecological Science at the University of Edinburgh where I graduated with Honours in Wildlife and Fisheries Management.  Before I went to University, and all through University (1994-1998), I was very lucky to work with Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) as a reserve worker at Taynish and Moine Mhor Nature Reserves.  The practical experience that I gained, and the folk that I met, from working with SNH during my time at University was so important to allowing my career to take off fairly quickly.

After graduating I worked with an ecological consultancy for a brief period where my job involved counting deer dung in forests!! The purpose of this was to help estimate the deer population to then derive cull targets for the Forestry Commission.  It wasn’t as terrible as it sounds – it involved being outside all winter and walking the hills to survey transects for deer dung.

I then returned to work with SNH in Lochgilphead and Oban for around two years. My jobs involved helping to designate protected sites throughout Argyll and the Islands and promoting a corncrake scheme in Tiree and Coll.  I also worked as an Area Officer in Kintyre providing natural heritage advice on development projects such as fish farms and wind farms. 

During this time at SNH I became very interested in the potential for conflict between economic development and the natural heritage – this led to be study a Diploma in Economics through the Open University and then a Masters in Economics at Strathclyde University whilst at ScottishPower Renewables (SPR).

An opportunity then came up in 2003 to work with SPR in Glasgow as their ecologist.  Although I love Argyll, the opportunity was too exciting to turndown.  My job with SPR involved helping to successfully develop industry leading renewable energy projects to high environmental standards.  I am still very proud to have been part of the team to develop Whitelee and Blacklaw Wind Farms which were the largest onshore wind farms in Europe at the time.  My job specifically involved leading on advice on technical and policy related ecological issues, working with stakeholders to  ensure projects were developed sensitively and managing habitat management plans on their operational sites for species such as golden eagle and hen harrier.    

My interest in ecology, economics and business led me set up my own environmental consultancy after a very enjoyable and rewarding six years with SPR.

I have now been running my own business since 2009 and my wife (Kirsty MacArthur), who is an environmental lawyer, joined in 2011 to help grow the business.

How relevant is your degree/highest qualification?

My degree in Ecological Science is essential to running the business.  Ultimately our advice is based on scientific evidence and much of the scientific principles that are learnt through University.

My Economics degrees isn’t essential to running the business or the ecological advice that we provide.  However they have certainly been useful in helping to understand how to set up and grow a business well.

What or who inspired you to study and work in a STEM role?

My father was a key inspiration who ultimately got me interested in the environment and the potential for having a rewarding career in this area.  Seeing my older brother heading off to University to study science was also another big motivational factor.

What is a typical working day like for you and what skills do you use?

My typical working day has changed over the last 10 years as the company has grown from just me to a team of around 30.

In the early days of the company my normal day may have involved:

  • Undertaking survey work;
  • Writing reports for clients;
  • Developing new business – meeting up with clients;
  • Writing tenders and pricing new jobs.

As the team grew my job changed to more management and business direction:

  • Managing the team;
  • Setting business strategy – the growth targets, target business, target clients;
  • Monitoring business strategy;
  • Developing and delivering our plans to become carbon negative;
  • Managing technical processes and resource levels to ensure a high quality service is always provided.
What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working with clients that care about the environment and helping to deliver some amazing projects to deliver considerable environmental benefits – helping to mitigate climate change being a key one!!!

Do you face any STEM related challenges in your job?

The biggest STEM challenge I face in my job is often uncertainty over novel impacts potentially arising from Renewable Energy projects.  This challenge is a key part of what makes the job interesting though as you need to use your skills as a scientist to evaluate how important and probable the impact is.  For example, uncertainty often surrounds the impact of a project on populations of bats, eagles, golden plover, black grouse, fulmar, kittiwakes, auks and blanket bog.  There is often no clear answer, and so a good understanding of the  proposed development and  the ecology of the species or habitat is key to finding a solution.

What advice can you give young people looking to work in a similar role or STEM more generally?

I would give the following advice:

  • Develop your practical experience of wildlife and the countryside.  This involves working on your ID skills of birds, mammals, vegetation and habitats.  I receive a lot of applications from students with fantastic degrees but very little practical experience/knowledge of UK wildlife and habitats.  Those with good practical experience definitely have an advantage.  Living in Argyll definitely gives you a head start in this department!
  • If you go to University to study ecology or zoology, try and focus your projects on issues relevant to Scotland/UK.  This helps you develop a good applied understanding that is directly applicable to consultancy work.
  • Don’t shy away from the mathematics and statistics side of ecology.  I was never great at maths at School but through perseverance it eventually clicked.  Ecologists who have a good grounding in maths and statistics tend to be more in demand.
  • Try and gain work experience with NatureScot, SEPA or join voluntary groups or clubs in the area (Argyll Bird Club for example).
What do you love about living and working in Argyll?

I still spend a lot of time in Argyll due to family connections and also work but live in Glasgow at the moment.  It’s the countryside that I love most in Argyll and opportunities for outdoor sports such as fishing, sailing, mountain biking, walking and even outdoor swimming!


A couple of challenges to chose from:

Challenge 1:

I initially became interested in trees, plants and flowers through a book a family friend gave me on the historic uses of them.  For example, certain species of Sphagnum moss that are common across Argyll have natural antiseptic properties and can absorb 20 times their weight in fluid.  Due to these properties they were used heavily in the First world war to treat badly wounded soldiers.   Another example is Meadowsweet -   a common plant found in damp grasslands and flowers in July – its roots contain salicylic acid from which aspirin is derived and use to be used historically to treat complaints ranging from indigestion to liver disorders.

The STEM challenge is to go a walk and find three different plants or trees, take a photo of them and research their biology and historic uses.  Give a 5-10 min presentation on this subject.

Challenge 2:

Go a walk along a shore near you and collect two different types of shell. Take them home (check there is no animal still living inside the shell first!) and identify what species they belong to. Then:

  • Find the Latin name and establish what the Latin means.
  • Research the life-history of the animal: gestation; birth; maturation, feeding; reproduction.
  • Find out an interesting fact on the species (perhaps what value they are to people or what other animals eat them)
  • Give a 5-10 min presentation on your findings.
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