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the GiGLer

The newsletter of Greenspace Information of Greater London CIC

Interview, Richard Smith

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 to our data banks, as well as serving as ambassadors for GiGL.

Until recently Richard held the position of Group Head of Environmental Sustainability at VINCI PLC. He joined GiGL’s Board in October 2018.

Town or countryside?Richard Smith


Summer or winter?


Early bird or night owl?

Early bird

Outdoor or indoors?


Plants or animals?


What species is closest to your heart and why?

Oak leaves and acorns (c) Mike Waite

Oak leaves and acorns (c) Mike Waite

The majestic English oak (Quercus robur) because for me it defines the countryside I love; I admire the slow pace at which it lives its long life and enjoy watching it through the seasons.

What is your favourite Greater London open space and why?

I’m not a London resident, so would say that I don’t currently have a favourite. I look forward to getting to know some of the city’s spaces better as I work closely with my new GiGL colleagues and they demonstrate the diversity London has to offer.

Who or what inspires you?

My three-year-old son, Barnaby; his thirst for knowledge is energising and he absolutely loves the great outdoors!

What might someone be surprised to learn about you?

I have a smiley face tattooed on my right big toe.

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

I was first introduced to GiGL, and it’s CEO Mandy, in 2013 through an industry-wide study (led by eCountability on behalf of DEFRA) to scope biodiversity offsetting in the context of development. Working for a major contractor, I was a consultee to the study.

Interestingly, this meeting of various parties led us to initiate our own project, scoping ways to facilitate improved data sharing by ecological consultants with the aim of liberating their survey data. Our primary recommendation to share data in GIS-ready format was widely accepted as preferable and subsequently featured in the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’s In Practice journal to promote its adoption. Whilst there is still a long way to go in this area, we raised awareness of the need for greater data sharing and I look forward to building on this work in my new role with GiGL.

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

For the past 17 years I have worked in the construction industry, so I have a solid understanding of how development activity interacts with flora and fauna; and, as a sustainability professional, I have worked to reduce the impacts of this activity and where possible derive positive benefits for biodiversity. I have worked at a strategic level within a commercially-focused private sector organisation and have experience of increasing profitability sustainably, which will benefit the CIC in giving back to the community and environment it was established to serve.

I have managed teams and really enjoy seeing others develop in confidence, as their professional capacity grows as a result of mentoring and coaching. I have also volunteered many hours as a wildlife recorder and trained others to survey for protected species. This included coordinating a Milton Keynes-wide reptile survey with an army of volunteers, so I appreciate the integral role this community plays in making GiGL’s service offering possible.

I am looking forward to getting to know the GiGL team and acting on their behalf to convey the passion and enthusiasm they feel for their work in order to increase the reach and benefit of the CIC.

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?

Personally, I am excited about digital advancements such as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) i.e. Blockchain and how this can be used to transfer data between trusted parties in a rapid and uninterrupted way. Automated data transfer between parties in this way does not have to be feared if the rules of engagement are clearly established and agreed from the outset. I believe there is a huge opportunity for GiGL in the very near future to trial the use of DLT with partner organisations to effectively increase the speed and volume of data shared. This will help to reduce the risk to biodiversity by enabling better mapping of species and habitats across the capital, which in turn will lead to better development decisions being made. The key is to ensure that GiGL is well positioned to effectively influence its stakeholders, and importantly, the key decision makers.

Furthermore, there is a growing awareness in the private sector of the need to undertake total capital accounting practices in order to assess the whole impact of a business, both positive and negative. Of particular relevance to GiGL, as well as other Local Environmental Records Centres, will be the need for data in calculating natural capital gains and losses. This will present opportunities for partnering with third parties as part of a wider service offering to the private sector.

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