Meet Vicki Mordue: the northern power woman balancing business with biodiversity
The Newcastle local founded Biodiverse Consulting to ensure that every new construction project is also making a positive impact on nature.
We can remember our grandparents telling us that before our high school was built, the land was farmer’s fields.
Our parents still refer to bars by the names they had about 30 years ago, (‘that’s the old Tiffany’s, right?’). Even we’ve caught ourselves doing it; we can remember Newcastle’s Central Station before its transformation, we still call it ‘the new part of Eldon Sqaure’ where the restaurants are, and does anyone else remember Metroland?!
Our local villages, towns and cities are unrecognisable to what they were even 10 years ago. And that’s down to constant construction and development.
Hey, we get it; ‘the inexorable march of progress will lead us all to happiness’ and all that. It’s just devastating that that same grand march of progress – in the famous words of Canadian author Yann Martel – ‘apparently includes the unfortunate necessity of chopping down every obstacle in its way.’
But what if it didn’t have to be like that? What if new developments could actually help protect our environment?
That’s that dream Vicki Mordue is progressively turning into a reality through the work of her company Biodiverse Consulting.
Founded on a premise that our environment needs to be enhanced for both people and nature, this environmental consultancy firm – based in Newcastle upon Tyne – brings together a trusted network of ecological and construction specialists to deliver timely new infrastructure projects that also leave the natural world healthier, safer and more sustainable than when they found it.
Sounds like the answer to everyone’s prayers, right? We caught up with Vicki to find out how it all works…
What’s Biodiverse Consulting all about?
We work to ensure that wildlife is protected and their habitats are improved while development is still able to go ahead and progress can be made.
We specialise in Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG); a planning requirement set out in The Environment Act 2021. The Environment Act mandates that all development leaves the spaces where wildlife lives in a better state than before the development started by at least 10%.
It’s not an easy thing to achieve, but we offer robust and creative solutions for our clients that make healthier spaces for people and wildlife.
Development and conservation are usually seen to be at odds – how do you successfully bring them together at Biodiverse Consulting?
There’s a lot of negative press around development destroying wildlife and their habitats. However, with the right knowledge, experience and guidance, developers can – and do – create spaces where both people and wildlife want to live. Ultimately, that’s what Biodiverse Consulting is passionate about.
Our team delivers the essential survey and assessments required when planning a development. But, if you need a specialist in a particular area, our extensive network of trusted collaborators means that we always have an expert on hand to enable business and biodiversity to succeed.
What made you want to start the business?
A mid-life crisis! Most people buy a fancy car but I decided to set up my own company and take up ultra-marathon running instead. I’m much better at the business than I am at the running though!
In truth, I reached a point four years ago where I felt that if I didn’t take the plunge then I was never going to. Had I known a global pandemic was just around the corner, I don’t think I would have made the change, but I have no regrets now. It can be a bit of a rollercoaster at times, but being able to establish a company based on your values in a sector you’re passionate about is hugely rewarding.
Tell us about your career journey up to this point.
My dad was a keen, amateur wildlife photographer and so I spent many evenings as a child having to sit very still in prickly bushes waiting for a badger or fox to emerge! It didn’t feel much fun at the time, but I guess his enthusiasm for the natural world stuck.
After a couple of years of travelling, I returned to the UK to start an Environmental Management degree at Northumbria University, followed by a Masters degree at Sunderland University.
My first proper job was as a consultant for Northumbria University’s Northumbrian Environmental consultancy. I dabbled in some lecturing (which I was truly dreadful at), and then went on into a strategic access officer role with the Great North Forest.
Although passionate about wildlife, I’ve always been interested in business and completed diplomas in business management and marketing before being elected by the CBI as one of its Young Leaders, (now called Future Leaders).
More recently, I worked as Groundwork North East and Cumbria’s Business Development Manager and then the MD for EcoNorth, growing the team from four to more than 20 people and setting up the EcoEireann – a sister company in Ireland.
What are some of the most common obstacles for developers that a lot of business owners may still not be aware of?
I think the most pressing issue at the moment, especially across the North East, is nutrient neutrality.
It was recently advised by Natural England that planning consents should not be granted within a number of river catchment areas due to nutrient neutrality. This means ensuring that development does not add to existing nitrogen and/or phosphorus burdens to the surrounding water environment. This affects significant parts of the North East, as a lot of our coastline is highly protected.
To be granted permission, each catchment area must measure the nutrient load of a proposed development using a bespoke calculator; before anything can go ahead, this will need to be at zero.
We can help developers to achieve this by advising on a range of nature-based solutions such as reedbeds, SuDS, swales and woodland planting.
Many people will assume you work mainly with property developers. What other industries may benefit from working with Biodiverse Consulting?
We do work with a range of property developers, including Gleeson and Taylor Wimpey North Yorkshire, but we also work with construction companies, planners, local authorities and environmental charities, including The Wildlife Trusts and Plantlife.
We’ve also supported national BNG programmes, which involved us working closely with National Highways – who look after the nation’s roads and motorways. As well as this, we work with individuals who may wish to be looking to extend their house or build an annex, for example, and need to know whether they have any protected habitats on their land.
What’s next for Biodiverse Consulting?
We’re still growing at a rapid pace and have just hired a Principal Ecologist to help lighten the load. We still have plenty of roles to fill, so lots more recruitment in the near future. Looking back to 2019, I can’t believe we were only a team of two and now we’re at 12. The aim is to get the team to at least 20 in the coming year.
We’re also hoping to set up a sister office in the South East very soon, as we work with a lot of businesses in that location so it makes sense.
And what would you most like to achieve with the business in the future?
Environmental Net Gain is something I am personally very passionate about achieving and promoting.
Currently, there are several different calculators to help with offsetting carbon emissions, protecting wildlife and trees, as well as biodiversity net gain. Imagine if there could be one formula that covers all environmental needs? It would not only help streamline the ecology process and get development happening quicker, but it would also greatly benefit nature.
I think people are realising that businesses and the natural world don’t have to operate at odds, and that’s why we’re growing at such a speed and seeing amazing new talent come through our doors.
I want the business to remain on its current growth trajectory and for businesses to continue trying to incorporate the environment into their plans. There really is a place for environmentally conscious businesses, as I believe we’re all becoming more aware of the importance of species conservation and protection.