Phil is a Wildlife Skills Trainee with Somerset Wildlife Trust. We asked for his thoughts on starting your future in conservation. Here’s what he told us …

A potentially daunting & competitive industry

The world of conservation can be a daunting thing to tackle. It’s an industry that many people are keen to work in. This makes it competitive, but that’s not to say it’s an industry to be afraid of. Here’s how I started…

How did I get into conservation? – (1) I didn’t to start with

As a Trainee with Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT), I’m on the first stepping stone of my conservation career. And it’s a stepping stone I took a long time to get to. I’m 30 now, and the reason this has taken me so long is because as a teenager, I didn’t know what to do with my life and, when it came to it, I started out as an engineer instead.

How did I get into conservation? – (2) I read the statistics

The State of Nature report sadly makes for grim reading. It shows that 56% of UK species have declined in numbers since the 1970s. Not only that, but 15% of them are threatened with imminent extinction! If we don’t take serious action, we could lose the hedgehog in the next 10 years!

I’ve been interested in the natural world all my life. However, when I read these sort of statistics, I realised that I needed to take responsibility.

How did I get into conservation? – (3) I changed careers in my twenties

There’s a phrase: ‘Be the change you want to see’. I realised that if I wanted the things I cared about to survive, I needed to take action. I needed to change my life to go and help. So with a burning desire to make the natural world my life’s work I have now secured a place on a wildlife training scheme.

So how can you get noticed?

In my experience, there are three things absolutely vital to successfully pursuing a conservation career. These are: Enthusiasm, Dedication and Experience. All, of course, play a part in building any career, but in conservation, they are absolutely critical.

Enthusiasm

Anyone thinking of a career in conservation will already have an enthusiasm for the natural world. It’s what you can feel inside driving you. It’s why you find the natural world so interesting. And it’s really important not to let go of that. Then you can build on this core enthusiasm by learning new things, constantly questioning what you see, and really tapping into that desire to learn.

Start by getting out and enjoying nature. Spend time observing plants and animals. Ask yourself why they are doing what they’re doing. And then go and find the answers.

It’s also a good thing to keep up to date with what’s happening in the world of conservation. A great way to do this is through social media. Follow conservation groups like the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB on Facebook and Twitter. And keep an eye on what they’re talking about. You’ll soon find links to all sorts of fascinating articles and to other conservation groups.

All this will help you broaden your knowledge and pinpoint what really fascinates you.

Dedication

This is where things get serious because you need to prove you are taking and applying your knowledge. And one of the best ways to do this is through general volunteer work.

If you can show that you care enough about nature to give up your free time to help look after it, others will be really impressed. You’ll likely also meet some of the people who can help you further, which is no bad thing.

Loads of conservation groups offer volunteering. Have a look to see what’s on offer. And why not start with SWT? They’ve got loads of opportunities all over Somerset: https://www.careersnearhere.com/experience/?gv_search=PlantsSector&filter_58=&mode=all

Experience

This is an extension of dedication, but with one crucial difference; it shows you what to expect in your chosen area.

Conservation is a huge subject, and there are so many jobs involved in making a conservation group run smoothly. By volunteering, you can decide which aspect suits you best.

My role, for example, is about practical habitat management on nature reserves. This may be cutting down patches of bramble, coppicing trees, or simply cutting access routes. You can gain experience of this by attending practical work parties.

Maybe species monitoring is more your thing? If so, you could volunteer on surveys, looking at birds, butterflies, otters, dormice, flowers, all sorts of things.

Maybe you’re interested in helping by raising awareness of the issues wildlife faces? In this case you could volunteer at fundraising events.

I’ve dabbled in all of these as it’s only by doing this that you realise what you truly want to do.

In conclusion

If you’re looking to build a career in conservation, remember to incubate that enthusiasm for the subject and always look to learn new skills, meet new people, and gain more wildlife experiences. All of this adds up to evidence. And in the end, that’s what’s important.

There will come a time, daunting as it seems, when you will be sat in front of an interview panel, telling them why you are the best person for their vacancy. And if you can say to that panel ‘I have experience in X, Y and Z’, that’s how you demonstrate to them that you are.

The more time you invest in nature and the greater your drive to help preserve what you love, the more of an investment you’ll become.

And it is through the actions of people like you that we can ensure the next generation see what we can see today. If we ever find ourselves living in a country where we can’t find an unexpected hedgehog, or where the Turtle Dove only exists in a Christmas song, and where 15% of today’s species no longer exist, that will be a sad day indeed. I’m really glad to hear you’re keen to help us stop that day arriving.

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