Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mike Pepler - 80% Technical Manager of the Ashden Awards - 20% Woodland Manager

How old are you?

What’s your occupation and who do you work for?
I work 80% full-time for the Ashden Awards for Sustainable energy as Technical Manager. The rest of the time my wife and I are busy managing our small woodland.

How long have been doing this?
I’ve been working for the Ashden Awards for about a year and a half now. I’ve only been doing woodland management for six months.

What is it about your job that makes it ethical?
My work with the Ashden Awards is ethical in two main ways. First, it is helping tackle climate change through promoting the use of sustainable energy. Second, and just as important, it is helping people, especially in developing countries, by promoting schemes that are raising their standard of living through the provision of energy services in a sustainable manner.

With regard to our woodland, the ethical side of that is providing sustainably produced construction materials and firewood, while encouraging biodiversity.

What’s the best bit about your job?
Meeting people from all around the world who have done amazing work to produce sustainable energy and lift people out of poverty.

What’s the worst thing?
The very busy periods leading up to our judging season and annual Awards ceremony.

What have the last 12 months been like for you?
A bit of a roller-coaster ride! I’ve learned the ropes at the Ashden Awards, and now I’ve gone through a full year cycle, I feel better prepared for the work ahead. But at the same time, I’ve bought a woodland, moved house to be near it, and started learning about how to manage it. That’s a lot of change for 12 months!

What were you doing before this?
I originally trained in electronic engineering, and used to manage a team of engineers in a silicon chip design company. But after hearing about the world’s impending energy shortage, I decided to retrain by studying renewable energy for a year at Reading, where a project I did led to my involvement with the Ashden Awards.

What was your very first full-time job?
Erm…. Not sure if I should own up to this… I did a year out and several summer breaks working in the nuclear industry. On the computing side fortunately, not in the “dirty” areas!

What advice would you give to someone wishing to embark on the same sort of work as you?
If you can afford to take a year off to study a course in renewable energy, environmental issues, etc. it is well worth it, and the contacts you make should help you get into a job afterwards.

Have you got any plans for the next 12 months you’d like to share with us?
Outside of my work with the Ashden Awards, the big thing is working in our wood. We hope to gain more experience in coppicing (through a baptism of fire this winter, I expect!), and start to build a network of people we can call on for help and advice, and also sell our products to.

What do you do to relax?
Often we go up to our wood to do some work, as it’s a big change from sitting at my desk (I usually work from home for the Ashden Awards). We also enjoy going to church, walking or cycling along the beach, watching films and having people round for dinner.

Who do you live with?
My wife Tracy, and two cockatiels, Pete and Tom, who fly round our house and try to steal our dinner!

Whereabouts do you live?
Rye, East Sussex.

If you were Prime Minister, what’s the very first thing you would do?
Break the news to the nation that global oil production is beginning to decline, and take urgent action to deal with it.

As cheap and easily available oil is expected to run out in the next couple of decades, what do you think will be the predominant form of transport in 2027?
I think cycling will come back in big way, and car trips of under a mile will cease to exist all together – people will not be able to afford the fuel, and will have to walk. It would be nice if public transport had also been built up a lot, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Have you got any guilty carbon secrets?
Not many, thankfully. I used to fly a lot in my old job, but haven’t been on a plane in nearly two years now. We still have one car between us, though that runs on veg oil as well as diesel, and although I run it on waste oil or rejected fresh oil, I still worry about the biofuel vs. food issue. The only other thing is the chainsaw we use in the wood, but I think the energy return is pretty good on that – one litre of petrol will enable you to produce an awful lot of firewood!

What have you done that you were most proud of?
Having the nerve to quit a lucrative job in the electronics industry without knowing where I’d end up at the end of it, and in a similar vein, buying a wood and learning how to look after it properly.

What single issue are you most concerned about in the world at large?
Peak Oil – the fact that the world has probably already passed the peak of oil production, which will now decline, leading to rising prices and eventually shortages, with all the economic implications that brings. That’s the biggest issue for me over the next 20-30 years – beyond that, climate change takes over as the biggest issue. Fortunately most of the tactics for mitigating the effects of Peak Oil and climate change are the same.

Which person in the public eye do you most admire and why?
My current inspiration is Ben Law, (who featured on Grand Designs on TV), who built his self-sufficient house in the wood that he owns and operates on a permaculture basis.

What’s your website address?

What are your three favourite other websites of the moment? UK-based campaign group I helped set up in 2004) (International Peak Oil news source) (our own blog, with info on our woodland and other stuff)


Mike Pepler said...

Our blog has moved: it is now at

Thanks, Mike

Anonymous said...

Fine, another example of an amateur taking up coppicing with no regard for conservation. The wood is being stripped of beautiful mature trees that are home to a wide range of animals -let's talk about them. Don't be fooled by this.

Mike Pepler said...

Hi, just wanted to note that my blog has moved since I did the interview for you, it's now at

Thanks, Mike

Mike Pepler said...

I'm afraid "Anonymous", who is actually a guy called Colin Culver, has a rather one-sided view of woodland management, which is solely thinking about biodiversity in his local bit of woodland, rather than thinking about how produce from a wood can displace the use of fossil fuels or energy-intensive building materials.

That's not to say biodiversity isn't important, just that we need to think about the big picture of climate change as well, and balance out the two.

The "mature trees" he refers to were oak in a part of the wood that was too densely packed with them, letting little light down to the ground. Light at ground level is important for biodiversity, which is why we thinned 15 out of 30 oaks in this part of the wood. The timber went to refurbish an old local barn, thereby avoiding the import of foreign timber, or use of more environmentally damaging artificial materials. The oak that remain are unlikely to be felled in our lifetime.