Cassandra Dummett, MSc Conservation
Meet Cassandra, a graduate from our MSc Conservation course and a Researcher Fellow with us looking at protection of the Congo Basin peatlands.
7 March 2024
She tells us about how she learned the importance of keeping people at the heart of conservation efforts.
Why were you interested in studying an MSc in Conservation?
“Before doing my Masters in Conservation, I had worked in humanitarian response for many years, living in Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India and
“My work involved training civil society organisations after Congo’s civil war, organising a river convoy to take assistance to rebel-controlled areas in DRC, rebuilding houses after major floods in Bangladesh, and responding to a cyclone in India.
“I wanted to combine this experience in international development with an understanding of ecology and the environment.
“Too often human development means environmental degradation, and I wanted to understand how to reduce poverty and benefit biodiversity.
“I was taking part in strategic discussions about environmental restoration and recovery, but without any ecological or environmental expertise on the team.”
What was it that encouraged you to choose UCL?
“The UCL MSc Conservation has a brilliant reputation, world-class teaching and a stellar alumni network.
“The modules range from the scientific basis for conservation to statistics, and from the UK framework of conservation policies to the politics of climate change globally.
“It was a steep learning curve, as I had a humanities undergraduate degree and zero background in science. But I loved every aspect of the learning and was impressed with the quality of the teaching throughout.
“The professors really cared, and engaged with us all, not just as students with learning objectives, but as individuals with hopes and aspirations.”
What were the most interesting or engaging things you learned on the course?
“The course started with fieldwork in Norfolk and this was an excellent experience.
“It was an opportunity to learn about a landscape, to conduct surveys, to meet experts, to do lab work and to bond as a cohort.
“Later in the course I also really appreciated the opportunity to take and audit modules run by other departments, such as Social Anthropology.
“I learned that people are at the heart of conservation. People constantly interact with their environment, reshape it, and are shaped by it.
“With my experience in international development, I realised I could bring my participatory skills to conservation.
“The most vulnerable ecosystems are often lived in by people who are marginalised from political representation and decision making, and they need to have a voice and an active role in conservation projects and policies.”
Can you tell us about any particularly memorable experiences from your time as a Masters student with us?
“For my dissertation, I researched people’s use of the peat swamp forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, partly funded by a Royal Geographic Society grant.
“This was part of a wider research project with colleagues at UCL and from the universities of Edinburgh and Leeds.”
“I worked with very inspiring Congolese counterparts, without whom the research would have been impossible.”
What have you done since graduating and what do you hope to do in the future?
“I went on to campaign for the protection of the Congo Basin peatlands and then joined Global Witness as head of the forests campaign.
“Subsequently, I returned to UCL as a Research Fellow, in a role dedicated to developing a plan for the protection of the Congo Basin peatlands.
“None of this would have been possible without the MSc in Conservation.”