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The vole truth

I was disturbed to read Richard Thompson's article 'Water engineers on vole virus alert' (NCE last week) which presented inaccurate and misleading information as fact.

Thompson's condemnation of the rare, riparian water vole is based wholly on a Swedish study of a completely different species - the common terrestrial bank vole. There is no evidence to connect water voles with the illness suffered by water engineer Nigel Openshaw. With large numbers of staff and contractors working directly with water, British Waterways takes a responsible attitude to exposure to waterborne diseases and welcomes any informed scientific research. I should add that Salford City Council's new guidelines, to which you refer, have been standard practice with both British Waterways and the Environment Agency for many years.

Finally, water vole habitats have declined by 90% over recent years and, since April 1998, have been legally protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981). To imply that the pioneering water vole conservation works of British Waterways, the Environment Agency, Wildlife Trusts and other leading national conservation bodies may be a health issue, is both wrong and another threat to their survival.

Jonathon Briggs, ecological conservation manager, British Waterways, Llanthony Warehouse, Gloucester Docks, Gloucester GL1 2FJ.

Editor's note: Unpublished research carried out by the Swedish academic quoted last week suggests links between the virus and other species of vole.

Deja vu

Former members of county engineer and surveyor's departments will have given a wry smile when they read Barry Ward's comments about the importance of road builders communicating with the local people (NCE, 19 November).

'It makes an amazing difference,' he said. Many of us were aware of this long ago, before DBFO, PFI and 'outsourcing' were heard of. It is a shame that after all the upheavals in municipal engineering it has been necessary to reinvent the wheel.

OJ Oliver (M), 9 Campion Close, Aylesbury, Bucks HP20 1QG.

Women's realm

Role call

With reference to LG Edgar's letter last week, I am a female engineer with a two month old daughter. At one stage in my pregnancy, I was seen by a male midwife. He exhibited the same high standards and professionalism as his female colleagues.

Engineering and midwifery are professions which require a range of technical and communication skills and can offer fulfilling careers to both men and women. Civil engineering is not an 'inanimate profession' as even the best technical design is useless if it has not been achieved by communication with the client and implemented by communication on site.

I was never pressurised into choosing an engineering career and I am looking forward to returning to work next year.

Fiona Norman (G), Flat 1, 12 Oakfield Grove, Clifton, Bristol BS8 2BN.

Girls on top

LG Edgar expresses his concern as to women entering engineering as an 'imposition' that has been damaging to society and the country's well being.

He has only to turn to page 38 of the issue to see the shortlist of the National Graduate Awards and the names of the 'brightest young civil engineers'.

'Compromising' the country's well being are five women out of a shortlist of seven.

Sam Watson, consultant, Beresford Blake Thomas, Cavendish House, 39 Waterloo Street, Birmingham B2 5PP.

Grateful dread

I write to convey my thanks to NCE for printing the response from LG Edgar to the articles covering women in engineering.

Mr Edgar's opinions were quite obviously based on personal experience and were heartfelt, and he can feel assured that there are others in the engineering industry who share his thoughts enthusiastically.

I feel therefore that I must gratefully share with him the conclusions I have come to after the enlightenment of his letter. First, I now have no doubt in my mind that I am a true red-blooded female chauvinist, as are the vast majority of my colleagues, and secondly that the role of females in this profession can only be strengthened in the face of such archaic and prejudiced opinions.

Mr Edgar, your views are sincere but you are so, so wrong. You and your like-minded colleagues are doing more for the 'feminist' cause than you could ever fear and you can be certain that this engineer will carry your words with her for a long time, and will recall them when, in a moment of self-doubt, she wonders why she didn not become a nurse.

K Miezitis (G), 8 Bruce Avenue, Inverness IV3 5HA.

Heavy duty

The points made regarding the small number of women in civil engineering were fairly accurate. Yes, most people do not know what we do and are therefore put off civil engineering as a career.

However, I suggest there are other reasons for not joining the industry which are particularly relevant to women: low pay, long hours, low status and the requirement to be completely peripatetic.

I have the misfortune to be working in Peterborough at present, due to there being no work available in my field nearer to my home in

Devon. This involves a round trip of 800km every week, which is environmentally unfriendly as well as extremely tiring. Then when I get home for the weekend I have to prepare a week's food for my husband and children, do a whole week's worth of washing and ironing and turn a deaf ear to the complaints regarding the things that do not get done because I am not there.

My friends who are in other professions think my working life is one of those facts which are stranger than fiction, and indeed I cannot think of another industry which treats its professionals in such a cavalier manner, expecting a more than full-time commitment for a less than 50% pay rate.

Incidentally, I have found that a commitment to my family has seriously impeded the progress of my career; at the age of 45, I am still at the bottom of the chartered engineer ladder.

Diane Rotherham (M), 23 Feniton Gardens, Feniton, Honiton, Devon EX14 0DG.

A woman of substance

In July 1997 I wrote to the ICE informing it that I had recently been called to the Bar, and was a dual qualified chartered civil engineer and barrister. I said I would be interested to know if I was the only female engineer to be able to make this claim (though hopefully not the last). I never received a reply.

Your article states: 'The message is that engineers and scientists are friendly, even trendy...' Forget years of study - all I needed to succeed as an ICE role model was a photo of myself wearing my best clubbing gear inside a trendy bar with all my friends!

Susan Francombe (M), 103 Redwood Close, South Oxhey, Watford, Herts WD1 6ST.


I didn't choose engineering because I was mad for concrete and steel, I chose it because I get a kick out of seeing something I designed being built. I also enjoy the buzz you get from looking around a large project and thinking: 'I helped build this.'

The item 'Face value' struck the most realistic cord, although I'm afraid I was probably more guilty of publicly humiliating people via the radio than any of my colleagues. I managed to change one of our site foreman's call signs from 'Irontracks' to 'Fluffy' just because he kept calling me 'love'.

Sexist comments in the office are easily handled by overtly keeping a record in your diary 'for the tribunal'; unfortunately, I'm afraid that the majority of the comments are mine.

When I was considering engineering as a profession, the most daunting part of it was the compulsory practical work on site in the summer holidays. In fact I ended up enjoying this far more than the academic side and it made the course work far more relevant.

However, if you want to encourage more women into engineering, take them around a few large projects. I know I was hooked after a visit to a major hyrdo scheme in the heart of New Zealand's South Island.

Joanna Saywell (M),

Slipped up

Can one really expect a young woman with the motivation, intelligence and ability to become a civil engineer to be encouraged to do so by being compared to a 1930's paper doll (NCE 19 November)?

If a girl wants to be an engineer, let us open wide the gates and give her every help and encouragement possible. Let her have all the information and job prospects and then let her make up her own mind. It is belittling both to the young lady and ourselves to coax, cajole and perhaps lead away from a more suitable profession. Are we being as wise as we think?

PS. The cover may, perhaps, make a modest pin up for the site office but it is technically flawed. To the best of my memory one cannot get an underslip into trousers.

Kenneth Rowe (F), 27 Lenham Avenue, Brighton BN2 8AE.

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