Alumni Profile: Kate Harris (née Adam)

Alumnus Kate Harris (MSc Forestry, 1994) is a writer, photographer, tree-lover, gyotaku fish-printer, and brilliant wife and parent.

Kate HarrisMy clearest memories of life at Green College revolve around racing up and down the Radcliffe Observatory stairs, hoisting Cherwell punts over the rollers at Parson’s Pleasure, and badger-watching at dawn in Wytham Woods. Our house in Bradmore Road was always full of laughter.

My forestry career peaked early. My first overseas job was with the Commonwealth Development Corporation – an idyllic year spent working with invasive species and forest regeneration in the East Usambara mountains of Tanzania. Two years later I was attached to an agroforestry research project in Sri Lanka, prodding elephant dung and pulling leeches off my legs with the (then) Overseas Development Administration.

I worked for several happy years at the Oxford Forestry Institute in South Parks Road, under the auspices of the wonderful Professor Jeff Burley – my primary roles being the administrator for OFI’s short course summer programme, and the editor of various forest genetic journals and conference proceedings.  I was also involved in the initial setup of the UK Tropical Forest Forum (the highlights of which were always lunches at the Natural History Museum, or tea at Kew Gardens).

I married my husband Richard in 1995, having first met as undergrads at Wye College (University of London). His subsequent career in renewable energy took him frequently abroad, and so while he was travelling throughout Central and South America, I began the privileged task of bringing up three toddlers in Gloucestershire. Motherhood was my focus and my forte.

The cover of Kate Harris' book 'Trees of Belize'In 2006, we moved out to a sugar plantation in Orange Walk, Belize. And while Richard oversaw the project development and final construction of a 32.5MW bagasse-fuelled power station, I settled into home-schooling our young children. In between days spent scrambling over Mayan temples, chasing leaf-cutter ants through jungle, and snorkelling off the cayes, we managed to survive our fair share of hurricanes, and tarantulas in the kitchen sink. I freelanced with the Belize Audubon Society (creating trail maps for Guanacaste National Park) and volunteered at the wonderful Belize Zoo (feeding tapirs and scarlet macaws). My legacy, however, was undoubtedly the writing of a blockbuster called Trees of Belize, a photo-illustrated guidebook that is still found in local bookshops today. It remains a bestseller (owing to absolutely no competition).

Eventually we returned home to settle in the Cotswolds where, for four years Richard and I were joint senior pastors of our local church (a huge adventure of faith in itself). More recently, we moved up to Yorkshire and straight into lockdown, where we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a fabulous virtual Punting Regatta (253 guests on 77 homemade boats). This past year has certainly taught us the value of family, of laughter, and of gratitude.

With a glimpse of empty-nest freedom on the horizon, my focus is increasingly on freelance copywriting/editing and with another book on the horizon. We’ve raised three terrific kids, now aged 24, 21 and 18. Our son has just completed his A levels COVID-style, and our younger daughter is ending her final year at Exeter University. Meanwhile our eldest is on the threshold of joining Green Templeton College herself (Geography PGCert in Education). It will be lovely to have an excuse to wander the gardens of GTC once again! She is the fourth-generation Oxford student in the family, and we are ridiculously proud.

If you would like to feature in a future Alumni Profile please contact alumni@gtc.ox.ac.uk.


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