Celebrating women at CIWEM: meet the branch chairs

CIWEM wants to represent women equally, across its UK and international branches. We cannot be what we cannot see – so here are five amazing women already leading CIWEM’s national, local and sector-based branches.

The CIWEM branch chair role is voluntary, but high-profile one – members of branch committees become the institution’s public face nationally, locally and across the urban drainage and rivers and coastal management sectors.

CIWEM is committed to diversity and inclusion and would love more women to lead its branches. So here’s some inspiration. Here, five of our fabulous branch chairs explain how this leadership role has raised their profile, boosted their professional visibility and shaped their work and perspectives.


APEM senior environmental appraisal consultant Anya Fisher

I’m based in Salisbury in Wiltshire and work as an environmental consultant with a specialism in water, delivering flood risk, drainage, and environmental services across the planning, water and energy sectors. I’ve worked in Southampton, Basingstoke, Reading and Bristol, but now work remotely.

I specialise in delivering hydrology, flood-risk and water-resources chapters of environmental impact assessments (EIA), for residential and mixed-use schemes, hydropower schemes, water treatment plants and linear infrastructure projects including rail and road.

I am qualified with the Association for Project Management (APM) and have managed £200,000 budgets for water companies and local authorities. Earlier in my career, I worked for WSP and Stantec. My role at APEM allows me to broaden my experience co-ordinating and managing environmental projects.

What are your catchment’s main challenges?

The biggest challenge for CSB is its geographical size, which makes it very hard to choose a location for in-person events. However the transition to digital has been extremely successful for the branch. Some of our webinars attract ten times more people than can attend our in-person events.

Tell us about your work with CIWEM

CIWEM has shaped my career since I was a student. I attended my first annual Flood and Coast conference as a student member, volunteering as a conference assistant. There, I made connections that secured my first graduate role at WSP.

While working there, a colleague invited me to join the Central Southern branch committee. It was an opportunity to network and better understand the industry, so I joined as an ordinary member in 2017. I became vice-chair in 2019-20 and was branch chair in 2020-2022. I remain on the committee as past chair.

I have arranged and hosted numerous events, including the well-attended branch annual seminar in 2021, a three-part digital series focussed on Property Flood Resilience. I supported CIWEM in their transition to digital, by successfully steering the committee through the pandemic.

What’s been your personal highlight?

CIWEM named CSB as the most active branch in 2021. We achieved this despite the challenges in making a transition to digital and having a smaller committee than in previous years. That makes me extremely proud.


Mott MacDonald associate principal geomorphologist Joanne Barlow

I have a career background in river geomorphology and chair CIWEM’s Rivers and Coastal Group (RCG) committee. I joined CIWEM as a graduate member, and was first involved with the North West and North Wales branch. I enjoyed broadening my professional network, arranging events and learning about different sectors.

What are your catchment’s main challenges?

We need to inspire and include the next generation, to understand and address skills gaps. We need to show people the value and appeal of careers in our sector, highlighting the digital and data skills we need, alongside more traditional knowledge.

The climate and ecological emergencies are particularly pertinent to river catchments, estuaries and coasts worldwide. We must integrate engineered and nature-based solutions and take ever bolder steps to address the wicked problems we face. It will be essential to adapt and develop resilient approaches to long-term planning.

RCG matters – to address these challenges. It helps CIWEM to respond to policy developments. We need our committee to become more representative, geographically and in terms of diversity and support CIWEM initiatives on equality, diversity and inclusion.

Tell us about your work with CIWEM

I became chartered in 2014 and joined the RCG in 2016, becoming branch secretary. I was daunted at first, as the least experienced committee member. I soon realised that did not matter; the group is inclusive and open.

It has been great to work with CIWEM on events, conferences, policy and consultations. Through CIWEM, I’ve addressed Chinese government officials on river restoration and water quality joined a Defra round table on the 25-Year Environment Plan.

What’s been your personal highlight?

RCG visited Florida in 2018. We got to see different approaches to surface-water flooding, coastal adaptation and ecosystem monitoring to respond to climate-change risk.


RPS Consulting UK and Ireland senior civil engineer Aisling McGilloway

I divide my time between Belfast and Edinburgh, developing hydrologic and hydraulic models to assess flood risk and, as a civil engineer, develop options through to design and construction stage.

I love the variety of flood-risk management work; every catchment and river is different. Successful schemes demand technical skills, contract and programme management and contact with stakeholders and the public. And I enjoy how we contribute to communities.

What are your catchment’s main challenges?

Scottish members are concentrated in the central belt, which made it a challenge to access events, pre-Covid. Transitioning to online meetings has opened access to events for everyone.

The challenge is to develop a hybrid approach; networking is essential, for innovation and inspiration. But we must maintain a good offering for people further afield.

Tell us about your work with CIWEM

I joined the branch in 2019, becoming programme secretary in 2020 and chair in 2021. I wanted us to create a community in Scotland to bridge the gap between public sector and consultants. I have loved showcasing the exciting work happening here.

What’s been your personal highlight?

The autumn 2019 symposium was Scotland’s first large-scale branch event in a while. I organised the venue and booked speakers and we launched the Women in Flood Risk Scottish group there. It was a lot to fit in around the day job, but it was fantastic to gather our community to hear from and network with so many forward-thinking professionals.


Natural Resources Wales project executive, programme and projects delivery Melissa Mahavar-Snow

I’m a Cardiff-based project executive in NRW’s programme and projects-delivery team. I oversee fisheries programmes and habitat-creation projects within the Welsh government-funded nature and climate emergencies capital programme.

What are your catchment’s main challenges?

Impacts from climate change, pressures on water resources, flooding and coastal erosion, air quality, wildfires and possible species extinction.

Tell us about your work with CIWEM

I wanted to join a global community that shared my interests and to keep on learning. I joined the Welsh branch’s New Members Group (NMG), which arranged a study weekend to North Wales. We visited Electric Mountain, Llanberis and Anglesey. It was a wonderful trip and opportunity to meet new people.

I was heavily pregnant when I applied for chartership 15 years ago. I had to ask the professional review interview panel to turn off the lights as they were making me dizzy. But at least I didn’t give birth.

I’m so fortunate to have had Angela Gray as my mentor. A former trustee and past president, she inspired me to become a CIWEM assessor and a reviewer. As a reviewer, you get to meet amazing people from all over the world. It is enthralling to hear what they are working on.

The Welsh branch has a long history of being very active. It has organised many events, thanks to its volunteers’ long-standing dedication. I joined the committee to continue this legacy. Not everyone realise how vital volunteers are to CIWEM’s events calendar. Could you become a volunteer? Ask yourself one question: if not me, then who?

What’s been your personal highlight?

An annual dinner in the Royal Hotel’s impressive Captain Scott room. It’s where Robert Falcon Scott and crew held a last dinner before their fateful trip to the Antarctic.


Binnies regional delivery director Midlands and CIWEM board trustee Hannah Coogan

I manage the Binnies Birmingham office and our Flood, Coast and Maritime Midlands Hub. I am chair of the RSK women’s network and immediate past chairperson of CIWEM West Midlands branch. I’ve volunteered for CIWEM since 2005 and am a past chair of the Rivers and Coastal Group (RCG).

What are your catchment’s main challenges?

The West Midlands’ industrial legacy has left a range of environmental challenges. These include air pollution, from major routes such as the A38, M5 and M6 that pass through residential areas, and contaminated land from past coal-fired production of steel, bricks, iron, pottery and other commodities.

The West Midlands has many unique, valuable habitats including Cannock Chase, the River Tame Valley, Shropshire Hills and Sutton Park. There’s a significant opportunity to reduce historic biodiversity decline, restore and connect up habitats and green our urban environment to benefit people and wildlife.

There’s an opportunity to restore and reconnect West Midlands’ rivers, too; many are heavily modified and culverted. Not many people realise that the River Sherbourne runs beneath Coventry city centre.

Climate change presents challenges from increased flooding and urban heating. CIWEM must provide a platform for people across the environmental sector to work together to find solutions.

Tell us about your work with CIWEM

I was branch chair in 2018-2021 and faced a unique challenge when the pandemic hit in 2020. As chairperson I felt a responsibility to keep our members safe while supporting their continuous professional development and offering a positive focus during in a time of great uncertainty.

What’s been your personal highlight?

The branch committee pulled together and quickly adapted to provide online events. I am particularly proud of our summer 2020 discussion sessions on chartership. These are still online on CIWEM’s YouTube channel, providing a great resource for the chartership journey.

To join a CIWEM branch groups or networks visit: https://www.ciwem.org/communities

This article is free from The Environment's Women's Takeover issue in March. Read more free articles from the magazine here: https://www.ciwem.org/the-environment/

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