ANIMAL ATTRACTION For as long as he can remember, Simon Stringer has been passionate about animals. As a child he was fascinated by wildlife, exploring the Lickey Hills with the family dog, as a teenager he was interested in ethical issues relating to animal welfare but as an adult he had to put his passion to one side and get out into the world of work.
to do a day’s hairdressing to fund his studies. “When I finished my degree I studied for an MRes at Harper Adams University, funded by the Woodland Trust,” he says. “What was becoming clear though was that I wanted to work with wild animals and was determined to learn from the best. When I heard about the Primate Behaviour and Conservation masters at LJMU I knew it was the course for me.”
By his late 20s Simon had a successful career working for Toni & Guy and Nicky Clarke as a colour technician. Very much at the top of his game, Simon had studied the science of hair colouring, training with all of the big names and earning himself a great reputation. One thing was missing though: happiness!
Drawn to the expertise of Professor Serge Wich and colleagues, Simon loved every minute of his masters at LJMU. “On the first day of my course I asked staff how soon I could apply for a PhD,” he laughs. “They must have thought I was a little over keen!”
“I can’t begin to tell you how stressful hairdressing was,” smiles Simon. “After 10 years in the industry I wasn’t enjoying myself, so one day I quit!”
Graduating in style with 94% in his dissertation module, Simon was successful in his PhD application and is about to travel to the Soutpansberg Mountains, South Africa for 18 months, studying the relative role of sympatric primates on seed dispersion and species composition. “I’ll be carrying out behavioural studies on the primates, collecting faecal samples and then sourcing seeds from the samples,” he explains. “I want to find out if the passage of the seeds through an animal’s gut makes them more or less viable for germination.”
Simon went to the Job Centre to ask about careers working with animals and realised that, if he wanted to follow his dream, he would have to go back to school. “Whilst visiting the Birmingham Nature Centre one day I saw a poster for a course at Pershore College leading to a National Award in Animal Behaviour,” he explains. “I knew I had to do it.”
So, looking back on his career to date, how does Simon feel knowing that his lifelong passion has taken him from the luxurious surroundings of a top end hair salon to the wilds of South Africa collecting primate droppings? “My happiness levels are through the roof!” he laughs. “Further education has changed my life. My future will be working with the animals I love and that’s simply because I followed my dream.”
A model student, Simon won the ‘Student of the Year’ award and went on to gain an HND. “It was at that point I had to decide whether to go back into work or continue my education,” he explains. “I decided to keep following my dream.” Simon took a degree in Conservation Biology at Plymouth University, travelling home to Birmingham every three weeks