Deanna Fernance - our water advisor

Everyone loves a cuppa at the National Trust, so we thought we’d make a regular feature out of interviewing people over a day’s worth of tea breaks. For this season’s ‘Tea time with...’ interviews, we sat down with our water advisor, and soon to be mum-of-two, Deanna Fernance.

    10.30am, cup of tea and a slice of fruit cake

    Tea time interview with Deanna Fernance

    Morning Deanna, tell us about your role.

    I’m the national water advisor. To put it simply, I make sure we’re taking as little as possible from the environment, and that when we put it back it’s clean.
    I use a consumption database (the Metering and Monitoring System) that shows where properties are using a lot of water and I then go on site to investigate why that might be.
    I also spend a lot of time with my head stuck down manhole covers looking at sewage and making sure we’re not causing pollution.

    What’s the best bit about mornings in your role?

    I have different types of mornings: I have the getting up and driving to the office mornings; working from my Bristol home and having a lie-in mornings; and my favourite kind of mornings which are getting up early and going to a property. I love getting out on an estate to help solve problems.

    12.30pm, cup of tea and 'leftover slowcook stew'

    A toilet at The Workhuose

    What have you been up to since we last met?

    Today I’m at Polesden Lacey and this morning I’ve been talking to the premises manager about high water consumption. We’ve been walking around the property and looking at the three problematic ‘Ts’ – taps, toilets and troughs. We’re also investigating pipe leaks.

    How did you get into this job?

    I’ve just had my six year anniversary at the Trust. I first got into water management from growing up in long-term drought in Australia. Every time it rained, my sister and I used to go out and play in the mud to celebrate.
    My first job in England was working in pollution prevention at the Environment Agency. Whilst working there I met a leading reed bed consultant and that’s when I really got into using nature to treat sewage. Reed beds use sand, gravel and reeds to clean sewage rather than electricity, plastic and tanks.

    What do you love about being a water advisor?

    Looking after the environment is what gets me up in the morning.

    I love solving problems. I like finding things that save the Trust money too and feel I’ve done my job well if the savings I find equate to my salary.
    A while back, I spotted that a property – which shall remain nameless – was using a lot of water and we weren’t sure why. I visited to take a look and while we walked around I spotted there was water running across a path. I asked the ranger where it was coming from and he said it was a spring that had appeared after heavy rainfall. After some investigation we worked out that it was actually a burst pipe and not a lovely spring after all.

    3.30pm, cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge

    A view over the garden towards the south front of the house designed by Philip Webb in the Arts & Crafts style in 1892-4 at Standen, East Grinstead, West Sussex

    What have you been working on this afternoon?

    This afternoon I’ve been looking at composting toilets – very glamorous. We’ve got a few different composting toilet systems and we’re having problems with some of them.
    At Standen, they have a compost toilet which is working well and the property staff are happy with it. But another system I saw recently was a disgusting cesspool which was pretty foul. The ranger stood with his fingers on his nose the whole time I inspected it. I guess my nose has hardened to the smell of sewage – I can tolerate it pretty well.

    What are the biggest challenges in your job?

    A challenge is trying to ensure something people can’t see is planned into new projects, such as visitor centres. These can really affect our water consumption and sewage discharges. It’s difficult for people to consider it as they can’t see what is in pipes under the ground.

    Some stats people might not know is that the Trust has:
    • 1,500 public mains water supplies
    • 300 private water supplies
    • 1,000 private sewage discharges (goes to a river or to the ground)
    • And spends around £1.3m on water and sewerage bills each year, and that will only increase

    Who would you choose to have tea time with Deanna?

    Before I go on maternity leave in April, I’d like to have a cup of tea with Dudmaston’s green champion and house steward, Kellie Channing. Her enthusiasm for making sure we’re being careful with water, waste and energy really helps us to achieve our goals.

    Fancy having a go at Deanna’s job while she’s on maternity leave? Take a look at our jobs website for more details on our ‘Water Resources Protection Advisor’ position.