I didn’t always know exactly what I wanted to do for a career, spending my 20s working in events and hospitality with a little bit of travelling. I have always had a keen interest in nature and the outdoors though.
It was not until I reached 30 that I decided I wanted to work in the environment sector. Which, as I’m sure you are aware, has many avenues you can take. Knowing where to start or exactly what it is you want to do can be daunting. I began my journey into conservation with an Open University degree in Environmental Science. I felt this was a broad enough subject to allow me to discover what I wanted to focus on. Residential stays at a Field Studies Centre were part of my degree. Here, I learned about vegetation classification surveys. Being out in the field learning about plants and nature and realising you can get paid for it was enlightening. From then I was hooked on conservation.
Shortly afterward, having talked to Field Studies Council tutors and other students, I was led to Somerset Wildlife Trust where I started volunteering as much as I could. I eventually quit my job and volunteered full-time for a few months. I then applied for a paid traineeship called Wild Paths which is run by the Wildlife Trusts. Having already shown a keen interest with my involvement in volunteering, I was lucky enough to get offered a place on the training program.
During my traineeship, I worked alongside the Nature Reserve Wardens at Somerset Wildlife Trust. Meeting people in the industry meant I could move on to work with a Nature Reserve Contracting company after my traineeship ended which I did for a couple of years. I then worked for Devon Wildlife Trust as a Nature Reserve Assistant. 5 years later from the start of this journey I now work as a Ranger for the National Trust in East Devon where I have been for the past 7 months.
Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to start your journey. I wouldn’t have made it into conservation without volunteering. It will get you known in your local conservation circle and provide you with opportunities to learn from people who have been working in conservation for years and love helping people.
Study: You don’t always need a degree, but you do need knowledge. There are a lot of college level courses available now that are specifically about wildlife conservation aimed squarely at Ranger type roles, as well as a wealth of information freely available on the internet. Field Study Council courses are also great for specific subjects and relatively inexpensive.
Traineeships: Consider paid, or unpaid if you can support yourself, traineeships, or full-time volunteer posts. They will give you a wealth of experience and knowledge and some pay for industry certificates like chainsaws. Crucially, they have a great success rate in getting people into paid roles.
Be flexible: The early days of a lot of practical conservation careers will largely be made up of short-term seasonal contracts. Love or hate them, it is very common. Don’t dismiss them, as they are key to building up your paid experience to lead you to that first permanent role. They provide an opportunity to try different roles to help home in on your key interests. They range from sea bird surveying, visitor management to winter habitat works.