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the GiGLer

The newsletter of Greenspace Information of Greater London CIC

Interview, Jo Heisse

GiGL’s Board of Directors are central to our work and our success. Their commitment and expertise helps guide GiGL and keeps us moving forward and developing. Directors are on the front line of biodiversity and open space work in the capital. They are GiGL service users and contribute information to our database, as well as serving as ambassadors for GiGL.

Jo joined GiGL’s Board in 2020. As well as her position of GiGL Director she is Women’s Network Lead at the Environment Agency.

Town or countryside?

Countryside, although urban nature is fascinating. Most of my career has been spent working in nature conservation in,and, more recently, around London and I’ve loved it. I really enjoy having that mix of town and countryside settings to work in.

Summer or winter?

Summer

Early bird or night owl?

Lark, but with plenty of coffee!

Outdoor or indoors?

Outdoors. But preferably when it is warm.

Plants or animals?

That’s an impossible choice, I refuse to make it!

What species is closest to your heart and why?

There are quite a few, but this week it’s the rain frog, after seeing them on BBC’s Perfect Planet. We watched the episode as a family and the rain frogs made us all laugh, something which we really needed after a cooped up, rainy, home-schooling lockdown day!

What is your favourite Greater London open space and why?

The River Thames. It’s the best river, full of hidden wildlife that can so easily be overlooked. It’s a fascinating habitat in its own right but as a corridor the river and the habitats next to it support a wonderfully diverse range of species – from fish that smell of cucumber (smelt), to seals, dolphins, sea horses, rare invertebrates with wonderful names (two lipped door snail, German hairy snail, bombardier beetle) to peregrine falcons and even the odd otter. I have loved working on it over the last 17 years and have witnessed how the river is both resilient and vulnerable to the immense pressures that it is under.

Who or what inspires you?

People who aren’t afraid to be themselves and challenge prejudice are inspiring. I currently work mainly in diversity and inclusion and get to meet and work with truly inspiring people who are doing just that. From championing transgender rights, to challenging our gender binary world, to better understanding living with disabilities or mental health conditions, to challenging racism or gender bias. They genuinely inspire me.

What might someone be surprised to learn about you?

That I’m part French, English, German, Swiss, Scottish and Irish

How did you first get involved with / hear about GiGL?

Years ago. I first got involved with GiGL working as a Biodiversity Officer, but I really got to know them better when we partnered with GiGL and other organisations in London to set up the London Invasive Species Initiative. I don’t think that the project would have been as successful as it was without the data, mapping and partnerships that we built around GiGL.

What past experiences will you draw upon in your work for the GiGL Board?

Most likely my entire career so far! Particularly the years spent working in biodiversity in London, with a wide range of partners and seeing how this has changed over time. I have worked for a large government organisation for a long time, so moving to support a Community Interest Company such as GiGL is a very different experience but I hope that I can bring a different and helpful perspective when needed.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities for biodiversity in Greater London? What future role do you see for GiGL and other Local Environmental Records Centres?

During lockdown, people have relied on nature and their local green and blue spaces more than ever. Nature provides moments of peace, helps with physical and mental wellbeing and people have hopefully now connected with it in irreversible ways during this time. This applies all the more in cities like London.

At the same time, we know that nature can be on the losing side during economic downturns and subsequent periods of recovery, so the challenge will be keeping biodiversity high on the agenda. I think this is where GiGL and other Local Environmental Record Centres come into their own, bridging the gaps and providing clarity where frankly a lot of biodiversity messages can be either too broad, impractical or too detailed. The challenge will also be to keep up the pace to ensure that biodiversity is well integrated into other initiatives across London. GiGL maintains a strong and positive network of partners that are unique, so it is well placed to help highlight the benefits that nature brings to cities, and illustrate this in informative ways in order to bring partners together.

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