Guest Blog – Top ten tips for getting a job in conservation by Nick Askew

nick askewNick Askew has 15 years’ experience working in wildlife conservation in the UK and internationally. He runs Conservation Careers which is a social enterprise helping job seekers and conservation organisations to form lasting relationships. His website lists careers advice and job vacancies from within the world of wildlife conservation, and provides an opportunity for job-seekers to promote themselves.

So you want to work in conservation? Great! With wildlife in crisis all around the world and numbers of threatened species at an all-time high, the natural world needs your help.

The good news is there are a growing number of jobs available in conservation – it’s become a professional industry requiring a diverse and growing range of skill sets. The bad news is it’s more competitive than ever before, with 92% of conservationists confirming that it’s become tougher to get a job in the last decade alone.

So how do you give yourself the best chance of success? Conservation Careers asked 146 professional conservationists from 50 countries to provide their careers advice. With a combined experience of 1,734 years in the sector, here’s what they had to say…

  1. You won’t get rich, so you’d better love it. Yes there are some well paid jobs in conservation, and no, you won’t be on the bread-line. However, the reality is most conservationists work long hours, in difficult conditions, and are paid less than many of their friends or family. The reason to work in conservation is because you genuinely want to dedicate yourself to helping wildlife. If you do, you’ll have one of the most rewarding careers of all; safe in the knowledge you’re helping to make the world a better place.
  2.  Get familiar with the jobs that are available. With the job market expanding all the time, knowing what type of role you’d like to do is one of the hardest steps to take. Start by familiarising yourself with the jobs which are available at sites such as Conservation Careers (or our friends at Stopdodo, EnvironmentJob and the Countryside Job Service).
  3.  Make things happen for yourself. Your career will only take off if you create opportunities for yourself and take control. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Here’s a few ideas which might help:  (i) Blog – write about nature, yourself, your experiences, and let people know you’re doing it; (ii) Say yes to things – attend events, meetings and workshops, go to the pub and talk about conservation. (iii) Ask people for introductions and for help – a lot of time they’ll say yes, and; (v) Be nice to people – it’s a small world, and your reputation is the only thing that counts. 
  4. Passion isn’t enough, you need experience. It’s not enough to say you love wildlife and are determined to work in conservation – you need your experiences and skills to support this. For many this means volunteering for organisations you’d like to work for, or in roles which are close to what you’d like to do. One of the best times to get voluntary experience is whilst studying: join your conservation volunteer group and get involved. Use your holidays to gather relevant and high-quality work experience. Although this is often unpaid work, if you’re serious about conservation, you should have the time of your life! You might even be lucky enough to get a paid internship.
  5. Get educated, and don’t stop learning. Conservationists are a clever bunch. When asked what their highest ranking qualification is, survey respondents stated: Doctorate (19%), Postgraduate (42%), Undergraduate (34%) and School level (6%). In reality, the type of qualification depends upon your chosen career path, with PhDs being especially useful for science and research for example. If you’re not sure what you’ll need, ask people working in your chosen field and read the educational requirements in job descriptions carefully (see number 2 above). It’s also important to keep abreast of the latest skills and knowledge by attending training courses, watching TEDTalks, and being active in your chosen profession.
  6. Be a professional. Often call soft or transferrable skills, these are invaluable in today’s job market. Be a good communicator, manage tasks effectively (read about GTD), accept criticism, be adaptable and reliable, have a good work ethic, get on well with your colleagues, and be presentable. They’re not looking for superman, but don’t want a Muppet either!
  7. Hone your applications to keep them out of the HR bin. The reality is most jobs have a lot of applications, so you need to do all you can to keep yours out of the reject pile. First of all focus on the content: always bespoke your CV/resume/cover letter to each job you apply for, and ensure you highlight the results of your work. Use facts and figures wherever you can, and provide clear evidence for each key aspect as outlined in the job description. Having got the content right, check, check and check again that your spelin and grandma are all korect. Many applications end up in the bin for the smallest of mistakes. Ask friends, family and your local careers service to help.
  8. Become great at interviews. So you got an interview – congratulations! You must be doing lots of things right. Now is your time to shine. And prepare. You must prepare for interviews and be ready to give confident answers to all the questions that might be coming your way. Use the STAR acronym (Situation, Task, Action, and Response) to help convey your experience. For example, I worked as a conservation volunteer for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (Situation). My job was to estimate the Barn Owl population in the Lower Derwent Valley (Task). I did this by visiting 120 farms in the study area and speaking with farmers about their local knowledge of the species (Action). As a result of this work I found the area to hold the highest density of this species in the UK (Response). If you’re prone to nerves, practice answering interview questions with your friends or family. Finally, don’t forget to sit confidently, breathe calmly and smile. You’ll feel better for it.
  9. Be familiar with different cultures and languages. If you’re planning to work internationally, being able to speak different languages and to work within different cultural settings will be an advantage. Languages such as French and Spanish will stand you in good stead.
  10. Stay focussed, the first job is the hardest to get. Once you secure that first job, you’re on the ladder and now have control. You decide when you want to move into a new role, and can wait until the right opportunity comes your way, safe in the knowledge that you’re being paid and building your experience.


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89 Replies to “Guest Blog – Top ten tips for getting a job in conservation by Nick Askew”

  1. I would add one further element under the heading 'professional'. Join a professional organisation like the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). If working in ecological consultancy for example, many clients require membership of CIEEM or other accredited professional bodies before they will consider you for work.

    1. This helped me get out of my anxious place that I find myself in from time to time! Thank you

    2. I'm not so certain about CIEEM, I'm not a member. I graduated about 4 years ago, and while I still think of myself as at the gaining experience stage, I think I've been quiet lucky. Since graduating I've gotten regular paid (often relatively well paid) employment. This seems to be because I have very strong botanical and habitat survey skills. Most of my field season work tends to be from big conservation charities or the public bodies (SNH and CEH in my case) and in the winter I get a regular contract from a botanic garden. Not once have any of these organisations expressed interest that I hold CIEEM membership. In fact, some of the more senior ecologists I work with have a very negative view CIEEM, and most reserves staff I've asked have never heard of it. I think in general, as it's quiet expensive to join many see it as a bit of a ponzi scheme. In my albeit, limited experience I would say spend the money instead on a pair of bins or a good hand lenses and start learning some ID skills instead. I've heard it said a fair few times in botanical circles “if a surveyor has those CIEEM letters written after their name their ID skills are probably rubbish”.

  2. Great advice. I would add that having and being able to demonstrate data handling skills can make a big difference for some jobs in nature conservation. This only suits certain people, but can be a great way into certain jobs. In the uk our school and university system lets us down here, not providing the right guidance to build the intermediate skills that are really useful in the modern workplace.

    1. Dave - what's the evidence that "our university system lets us down" with regard to quantitative data handling skills? In our environmental and geographical degree programmes at the University of Northampton we place a lot of emphasis on obtaining and developing these skills, and no one is going to graduate with one of our degrees who can't use Excel and has a grasp of inferential statistical analyses using SPSS, Minitab or R. The same is true of similar degrees at other universities that I'm familiar with. "Our university system lets us down" is one of those common cliches that's regularly trotted out without being challenged.



      1. Jeff.
        It's mainly personal experience of being involved in numerous recruitment exercises for data jobs in nature conservation. Often claimed Gis skills are superficial, and abilities to manage and transform lists of information are poor in tests we carry out. I know however that there are many pockets of excellent practice out there in many universities, bringing the best out of students. And in recruitment it's often a good job that one only needs one person with the right skills and mindset.
        Happy to discuss this further offline, and this may help us to improve our recruitment processes - maybe that's where our problem lies.

        1. That's a rather more balanced, nuanced statement than "our university system lets us down"! Clearly there's going to be differences amongst individuals, and people have a habit of bigging-up the skills on their CV. Which is what such recruitment tests are designed to assess. Sure, happy to talk off-thread - my email address is:

      2. Hi Jeff,

        Would you be keen to share your experiences for my website? As a uni lecturer (I'm guessing) I'd be keen to hear your view for our careers advice section.

        You can contact me through this page if you're interested:

      3. As a Northampton University conservation graduate myself, the only statistics I needed to know would of centred around the probability of gaining employment at the end of my degree!

  3. This is a particularly inappropriate comment from Mr Cosgrove today!
    Sad to say, the CEEM are taking the top UK and most respected bat ecologist to one of their Winchester "kangaroo courts". This as a result of a complaint from a junior member of CIEEM and on the staff of Torc Ecology.
    How disrespectful is that?
    Having initials after a name is no guarantee of anything other than a subscription has been paid!
    It really is time for a new body to be formed that only has responsible and ecologically experienced members who do have proper standards - and stick to them!

  4. What great advice from Nick, my daughters are keen to work in conservation, although some years off yet, but it's useful information to log.

  5. My first reaction to 'Different cultures and languages' wasn't foreign countries and learning French - it was farmers, foresters, planners, civil servants ! Knowing how to set up, negotiate and manage a land management contract is going to get more important as the scale of land managed for nature conservation grows and NGOs wake up to the realisation that efficiency can save scarce money.

  6. Hmm! My best advice would simply be DON'T STOP TRYING if it is really what you want to do but at the risk of discouraging people I think some balance is needed here.

    1. On the opening day lecture at Bangor University (then UCNW Bangor) a lecturer explained that most of us would never work in our degree discipline and that was in 1987. Back then only 10% of the population finished education to degree standard, now it is around 50%. Biology-related degrees remain popular even today but they have now been joined by specific conservation degrees. For the record, I know of only one of my student colleagues (out of more than 70 graduates) who is working in conservation today and he lives in Hawaii and that is just one year and one university.

    2. It can take time and it took me 12 years to get in but in trying to move on, I doubt if I will ever work in conservation again for all the reasons (and more...see later*) that stop graduates getting jobs in their chosen field. As Nick points out, opportunities are limited particularly if one does not want to emigrate to take up a post. The RSPB and Wildlife Trusts are the major conservation employers - not counting government agencies who are facing an uncertain future at the moment - yet they account for less than 3,000 paid employees and not all these posts will be available on an annual basis. As far as I am aware these figures include seasonal positions but I am happy to be corrected if anyone has any further information. However, the point is that few positions are available on an annual basis and compare that to my 70 co-graduates of 1990 (Leeds and Plymouth were offering similar degrees at the time and other universities had other Biology degrees on offer).

    3. Volunteering is fantastic and I really would encourage everyone who has an interest to try it. The RSPB has 15,000 voluntary position per year and it is worth noting that this can be a positive thing to do whilst claiming JSA. However, please be aware of the maths - even discounting volunteers who have no intention of taking up a paid role, it would be impossible to fit everyone in. To be fair, most conservation organisations have stopped advertising volunteer work as a potential entry point to paid positions but I am sure a lot of individuals still think it is the answer. The main thing I would advise to any students reading this is get involved during your breaks whilst still at university because it shows initiative and dedication. Yet there are no guarantees, I was once past over for an interview to a job I was actually still doing as a volunteer at the time. I am not sure if this shows that volunteers are accepted on lower credentials than paid staff or not but it certainly makes you think.*

    3. Internships - at the risk of upsetting my ex-colleagues, I do not agree with this idea because it has been widely criticised in public and private sector work. There is an underlying desire for charities to present a face that says they are saving money wherever possible and I fully understand and appreciate this. However, I would ask whether that is not just a little too convenient? I genuinely suspect that some internships are being created around roles that the executives would not vote to fund as paid positions but I am not sure that is particular fair as a plea. It is clear that there are instances of the internships system being abused and some companies using it to fill paid roles because of the subsidies on offer and is it really any different for conservation charities if we are honest? There are lots of pros and cons to this argument but I recall one lady telling me that I should work for free when I was working in a F/T role at a conservation organisation. This misses some fundamental points and at the end of it all, internships do not guarantee paid roles any more than volunteering does so my plea to all the charities offering this is please be honest about the opportunities.

    *4. Careers - this is another area that is a hot potato and may upset a lot of people but it has to be aired. Conservation careers have automatic biases in operation and try to deny it, as many will do, ageism is the worst example. This is important for mature students who wish to re-draw their careers because direction is the key. The sad fact is that face-to-face roles are unlikely (UNLIKELY, not NOT) to be offered to anyone over 35. As I said, this is an automatic situation and I do have some sympathy with the organisations for how it has developed. I was volunteering at an event where a lady very innocently said how nice it was to see young people involved in conservation, so it is very much a situation created by the audience, as it were. The problem created for HR is that each reserve, each region or each office will argue its case to take on that younger person rather than the token (sorry!) mature person demanded by law. It is is not the end of the line though because most organisations can demonstrate that their age profiling is OK given there are many office-based jobs on offer. The problem with this is that the office jobs are not available (for the most part) to younger people because they lack the experience and the active jobs (that most people want to do) are going to be unavailable through profiling issues. Again, it is worth being realistic rather than being totally discouraged.

    We need young people to keep opting for Biology and Conservation degrees instead of a degree in Disney films (yes, the punchline is - Mickey Mouse degrees really do dum tsss!) but this has to be balanced with over-egging expectations. Disappointment can cause bitterness and even though I am old enough to understand all the reasons, I cannot say that I do not feel it too. We have to remember that this is still a marketing situation and impressions count for a lot, particularly in encouraging future support for a given organisation. Today and more than ever before, I think it is important that conservation organisations do not use the 'well, we didn't promise you anything' line given how many students are out there.

    Jeff Ollerton - I fully agree, data management is a strong component of any Biology or Conservation degree. I think what Dave Chambers is alluding to the tendency for universities to offer debatable subjects that make some seem more like diploma mills. I understand the business plan and I am not expecting you to comment but one of my now late lecturers bemoaned early specialisation at degree level. I can see what he meant and even my Zoology degree was probably a step too far away from a general Biology degree when it is something we all could achieve at post-graduate level. As I said, I understand why colleges do it but I am not sure that makes it right because as with volunteering in conservation, it is creating unrealistic expectations.

    I expect Mark may be reluctant to publish this reply but I genuinely believe it is time to bring this subject out into wider discussion (be honest, I bet most of us have discussed some of these things in private).

    1. Ian - no reluctance at all. Some worthwhile points well deserving of airing. And you speak from experience.

    2. Thanks Ian for your insightful comments.

      Your comment about the Bangor lecturer reminded me that I'd heard it somewhere before. Paul Hotham (FFI's Eurasia Director) said this during an interview on my website:

      "I was 27 when I started my college education in Wales. On the first day the course leader said he didn’t know why we were there as there weren’t any jobs in conservation. I won’t say what I thought of that statement; I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go, but many of my younger classmates were struck dumb and wondering what they had done to sign up for a conservation course! The course leader was just trying to rattle our cages and make sure we were aware of how difficult it could be to get into the conservation field. Although it remains as competitive today, there are opportunities in conservation, and once you’re inside it is possible to move into other positions and organizations".

      Small world.

      1. A point that I would make is that there are plenty of jobs in conservation, but a degree in conservation will rarely help you get one. I employ 25 people in the WLT, but none of them actually need a Degree in conservation. The one thing most of them need is a knowledge of wildlife and conservation issues, and qualifications/experience in areas such as publishing, accountancy, fundraising etc. Some of the people employed do have conservation qualifications, but it is very rarely, if ever, the reason they got the job. It is invariably something else -- volunteering, membership of Natural History societies, experience on committees -- lots of things.

        1. You dont even realise how much relief reading this post gives me, as a 27 year old who is finally following her dream after people putting be off for the last 16 years of my life 🙂 THANK YOU

  7. I would also add that having a bit of experience of paid fund-raising/membership recruitment on behalf of conservation charities may also be a "way in" to a career in the more technical aspects conservation.

    1. Yes and no Jeremy. For every example where it has worked I personally know of several others where it has not. The problem with fundraising is that it is a bit too specific and whilst a successful fundraiser will attract attention from the marketing department, the same person is unlikely to make waves in being attractive to habitat management roles. In a sense, this makes the point better than my larger post because it illustrates the point that the paid opportunities are inevitably going to be more specialised than the experience provided by voluntary roles. There is no easy answer to this - picking a specific voluntary role is statistically not going to offer better potential because the equivalent paid role is likely to be only rarely available and arguably, very popular.

      1. I'd only add that good fundraisers are like gold-dust in conservation, but it's a skill that takes time to learn. Many move into it later in their careers once they've got to grips with the nuts and bolts of the work on the ground (so to speak). Thank for your comments Jeremy and Ian.

        1. Thanks Nick. To be honest, I have never seen myself as a Marketing person, which is a pity in so many ways. I know from experience that I could sell coal to Newcastle if I really set my mind to it because I know how to use language and charm. I also have the bottle to break through mental objections particularly by outwitting someone who accompanies the one I am trying to sell to. This was learned trying to gently sell memberships at events and as an information warden when I knew I was surrounded by cynical local birders/converted members/conscientious objectors [joke!] and any manner of other potential opponents to what I was doing. The problem is/was any enthusiasm I had or develop (I am not dead yet) is washed away by the realities I have mentioned on this thread. In theory, ageism does not exist. In theory, a potential line manager will be objective when choosing candidates for a new job. Be honest, the reality does not always follow the theory and it is human nature to have both subjective and objective biases when you think about it. Generally over a lifetime, you can conquer the obstacles by determination but in areas such as conservation where jobs are rare and popular even without a recession, it also takes far too much luck and as I have found out, it is all too easy to effectively run out of time.

          A fantastic topic and thank you again for bringing it to Mark's blog...oh and by the way, if you have any jobs seasonal contract at Asda ends on Saturday. 😉

          1. Thanks again Ian. Good luck with your job hunting. Do sign up for email alerts from my website to get all the latest jobs in your inbox each week (#shamelessplug!). Now is the time when lots of seasonal fundraising jobs are being advertised by the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts which might be of interest to you. Best, Nick


  8. I apologise for the negative thrust of this post, but at times I do wonder if nature conservation should carry a health warning. I sometimes envy those folks who know very little about the natural world, ignorance is bliss and all that.

    On Sunday afternoon I decided to brave the rain and left the front door and went for a in order to blow the cobwebs off. I rather wish I hadn't.

    Walking through a nearby semi-natural woodland, which under the stewardship of the National Trust has been allowed to become infested with non-native rhododendron, beech and sycamore, I felt my blood pressure rise at the ineptitude of the NT's woodland management. Leaving the woodland behind through a kissing gate into an adjacent area of historic parkland (again under the stewardship of the National Trust) my blood pressure rose even further to find that the park (usually a good place for hare spotting) had been poached and rasped to buggery by the cattle of the NT's grazing tenant. My mood didn't improve and further when I arrived at the lake (often a good spot for watching goosanders) to note that the margins on the western side of the lake had been totally overgrazed by cattle whilst the margins on the east and southern side had been fenced-off by rather ugly (and no doubt hugely expensive) cast iron railings, which will no doubt ensure that the most botanically diverse margins of the lake are set to become shaded out by willow scrub in the next decade...brilliant work. Not only that but thanks to the poached and compacted state of the the adjacent parkland a fair amount of soil wash could be seen entering the lake. To top things off, as I made my the edge of the park, I was delighted to note that the previously open margins of a woodland edge pond had been planted up with a hedgerow...WTF ?

    Needless to say I didn't arrive home in the best of moods, which was quite rightly given very short shrift by Mrs Moss. Over a restorative glass of Talisker, I couldn't help but reflect that perhaps if I hadn't spent the last 17 years learning about the management of woodland, grassland and pond habitats, I would have probably quite enjoyed my walk !

    1. I feel the same way Ernest - I can't go anywhere now without noting that that old tree there has amazing bat roost potential, that hedge need re-laying, or that woodland is in terrible condition.

      My college lecture told us in our first ever class in 2007:

      'You will never look at the countryside the same way after you have finished this course.'

      And she was right!

      1. T'up north but not so far north that I was accompanied on my walk by a whippet, although recently I have taken to sporting a rather natty cloth cap.

        My parents didn't name me Ernest anymore than yours named you Filbert, so like you I don't exist and therefore naming the said NT Estate on a public forum could blow my cover.

        I am in the process of writing to the NT with my concerns.

  9. I'd add be flexible about the jobs you'll do for the right organisation. Community engagement, or admin, or helping in the reserve shop might not be the dream breeding bird research/wardens job, but you meet people, get references and get in the loop for internal vacancies - and quite a few short-term contracts go to current volunteers/employees without even being advertised.

    Also be prepared to move every six months for a few years...

  10. Job Creation was my spring board into full employment. Having worked in forestry I had many out side skills which university folk had not at a time when most work on reserves was done internally. The proportion of ladies getting jobs over men has changed a lot since my days and many young men will have little chance of jobs in the future. Self employment is yet another way forward offering your skills when needed. One example of voluntary work _ Gateshead council were so overwhelmed with free labour on their reserves that they sacked all their full time staff!!

    1. 'One example of voluntary work _ Gateshead council were so overwhelmed with free labour on their reserves that they sacked all their full time staff!!'

      ...or put another way - conservation charities do not create paid positions because they are adequately supplied by volunteers. We understand the reasons why charities want and should do this but understanding a position does not necessarily make it right. Goodness knows, my ageism experiences are not unique and I discussed it with a fellow volunteer and it just underlines (very faintly) one of the obstacles that exist. I think it more by luck than good judgement that a conservation charity has not been taken to court for biased recruitment policies (as far as I am aware) but I also wonder how many people are influenced by their experiences not to support a given organisation. When you look at the demographics of support, could this be a part explanation for what is known to be happening? Probably not, but as I said in my earlier post it is a potential problem that is likely to grow rather than go away.

      Incidentally, I am currently trying to rebuild a career from ground up and I am not convinced it is working well. I should even have taken a previous employer to court for defamation (not a conservation employer BTW) and it shows how little value any of us really have individually in the present economic climate. Even if things continue to improve, it will be many years before we notice differences at grass roots level (as the saying goes). The challenge for all employers is not to alienate people and create a generation of bitterness.

  11. Well congratulations on a great blog and really special advice for anyone who wants a job in conservation but what a sad reflection on the world we live in that more or less unless you are one of the approx 95% that have intellectual qualifications you stand hardly any chance of getting into conservation.Whatever changed from when lots of great ordinary people with valuable skills but hardly able to read and write were in lots of cases better conservationists than some seem to be with their degrees.
    It seems just like all things we are training too many chiefs for the jobs that lesser trained people with lots of common sense could do.
    Hope no one sees this as anti intellectual as I have the greatest respect for many of them and am always impressed by the amount of their knowledge.

    1. Dennis - I think you are a bit cynical here, but I also have some sympathy for your view. I've seen plenty of draft job descriptions where the draft said that the successful applicant had to have a degree - and crossed it out. There were plenty of jobs where I expected that the successful applicant would have a degree but if someone came along who was even better and didn't have that piece of paper then why on earth would we turn them down!

    2. Dennis, Mark makes the response quite well but I think another important thing to consider is that sitting a degree is a reaction to the problems at hand too. Even when I graduated 20+ years ago (and as a mature student of 30yo I hasten to add) that was still the case and to say I was disappointed with a 2ii illustrates the fact that I already knew I was going to be out-gunned within a few years. The problem is that we have gone way too far down that road now and as alluded to in a separate post, there are too many pointless - OK, I'll be fair, non-vocational - degrees out there. Without experience, is it the case that a Biology degree is better than a Marketing degree? By reverse, experience without knowledge can mean someone is not up-to-date with current scientific information so there is no definitive position to have as either a potential employee or as an employer. Unfortunately and as I think you are trying to say, the numbers game makes it likely that the best people are NOT being employed to do the job in a lot of cases.

    3. Denis,

      There maybe some truth in what you say, I guess the competition for jobs in the conservation sector has resulted in some very talented folks who don't possess academic qualifications being overlooked, that is a shame.

      One of the most knowledgeable conservationists I know is an ex-Lincolnshire carrot grower and one of the best naturalists, an ex-army soldier. Neither possesses a degree.

  12. Good and familiar stuff. But I'd also add that it also pays to learn or experience the views of others we work with (or sometimes against), and to be an effective communicator. I've spent most of my 25 years' work in London - so it pays to understand where other disciplines come from - whether housing managers, landscape architects, community activists, planners, Councillors, developers - and the pressures they're under to do what they see as their jobs. It's too easy to be dismissed as a naive bunny-hugger if - whilst learning and 'being proferssional' - you don't take time to view the world from the eyes of others. Not everyone wants to deliberately harm wildlife - they often don't see it - and it's our job to communicate that effectively - but respecting from where others are standing.

  13. Several posters have observed that volunteering is by no means a passport into a job and that is no doubt fair comment. However, young people wanting a career in conservation should nevertheless seriously consider doing so. I have seen CVs of people leaving school and university who claim to be 'passionate' about nature conservation or the environment but who provide little evidence of this passion beyond having chosen to study biology or some related subject. If you are truly passionate you will do something to express that passion and if you can point to this in your application then recruiters will believe in your passion. It doesn't have to be volunteering in habitat management parties (though that is a good chance for many people to get involved in conservation) - it can be through campaigning, writing a blog, getting involved in wildlife recording and surveys, bird ringing etc - anything that shows you are passionate enough to be prepared to get off your backside. I have no idea what Findlay Wilde plans to do when he 'grows up' (well, I have a suspicion!) but there is no doubt that if he does wish to pursue a career in conservation his demonstrable interest and commitment to wildlife will greatly help his job applications stand out.

    1. I agree Jonathan except with a caveat. In my original response post I mentioned that most conservation organisations have stopped making false promises about volunteering experience. However, I also mentioned I was passed (corrected spelling this time - sorry!) over for a paid job that I was doing as a volunteer at the time. I am not going to name names because I consider several of those involved as good friends but it fully illustrates what in my opinion has become a bad situation. Now firstly, let me start by pointing out that I was turned down before interview not at the appointment stage so is it not natural that I would ask questions? I am realistic to know that it is easy to fluff an interview or simply lose to a better candidate on the day so I would have not been perturbed to be interviewed and then not get the job. However, it seemed to me to be a bit of a PR faux pas not to offer an interview even if I was just there as a make-weight (I have seen enough of these at other interviews and on one occasion, one candidate was successful). I asked for feedback and to be honest, it was a bit spurious because I felt I had covered the points that I was allegedly turned down for - OK, there could have been something about my personality that put my line manager off employing me but that is another story and I will get to that in a moment. I then went on to speak to the HR department and far from being encouraged, they pointed out that volunteer work held no guarantees (well duh!) without really offering a defence.

      Now if we step back for just one moment and think about how negative all that was and ask if I was a member, would I have expected to be (apparently) fobbed off in such a way? It so happens that the organisation in question was still carrying the advice that volunteering was a useful way into a paid career on their website. Now in this case, if a subjective judgement had been made on my suitability for the paid role and I am not discounting the possibility (I am far from perfect), why not look into the best way of addressing the PR position (letting me down easy, if you must)? Were they also saying I was not really what they were looking for as a volunteer but it did not matter because they weren't paying me for my contributions? As I said elsewhere, my experiences are not unique so I am still left wondering how widespread this actually is and how many are disillusioned but never speak up. I have got over my concerns now and I would volunteer again (and I have until recently) but now, I would do it for fun and not with any expectation.

      Jonathan, I really do understand the need for conservation charities to encourage volunteering but to do so without being totally honest may actually be more harmful than the HR department realises. It is also a little unfair to curse people with a 'damned if you do not' attitude even if there is a sound logical reason for this being true. If you re-word this it is pretty much like blackmail and I am sorry if that hurts a few feelings. To understand what I mean, put yourself in the shoes of a young student who experiences what I have experienced yet has not worked in conservation previously. Be honest, are they going to be so forgiving that they happily fork out a membership donation? The maths staggers me 15,000 into 3,000 is broader view although I would bet the proportions are more like 2,000-3,000 into 100 (or worse) on an annual basis. Is it a coincidence that the biggest hole in conservation membership is between 13 and 30 yo? To be fair, it probably is a coincidence but as I said earlier, 50% of the population is now educated to degree level and there is a potential alienation of some very high numbers. OK, there will always be enough quality to ensure standards are maintained on the workforce but I cannot help wondering where all those potential members are going.

      1. Apologies, unintended contradiction in my final sentence with my reply in response to Dennis. If you look at the precise wording it is clear that I was voicing a theoretical position in response to Dennis and being a bit more reflective here. Nevertheless, I should clear up what I mean.

  14. Great advice from Nick. A few additional thoughts: apply for jobs that you can do; keep applications honest, succinct and focused on real examples of your experience, and make sure you respond directly to the required list of competencies; and, think laterally about transferability of skills, e.g. project management is a universal skill, etc. In my experience, if early career conservationists have done paid internships this is often regarded more highly than voluntary work, especially if they have been out of home country, but having done either can make a real difference to success especially if they include positions of responsibility. Last thought, think very carefully about applying for a job you might be very over qualified to do - if in doubt don't hesitate to check with the employer on the experience level (grade) required.

    1. Thank you Helen - nice to see some familiar names in here!

      I totally agree with your comments, and would extend your final point that calling to speak with the post manager before applying will often stand people in good stead for many reasons. Few people do it, it shows you're keen and confident, which all means you're bound to stand out a little more from the crowd when the application sifting starts.

  15. Good for you Mark but think you may be in a minority in your attitude as in the survey a very poor 6% of conservationists had less than undergraduate qualifications,there are various biased attitudes in the workplace that have no bearing in my opinion on ability.Atypical example being there are few females in top jobs in the city or in our politicians,we all know that they are just as capable as us males.

  16. Ernest's comment about ignorance is bliss is true up to a point.
    It's the same for highly competent musicians hearing someone else perform in a concert. Their experience is clearly different, not necessarily worse, than someone in the audience with significantly less expertise.

  17. All,

    An excellent post and one that all students should read in my opinion.

    I would add that if you are thinking about a career in conservation that involves interacting with the environment, having a reasonably competent knowledge and ability to identify some of the British fauna and/ or flora (at least the common and widespread species) is essential.

    Joining the local Bat Conservation Trust group, BSBI, local Natural History Society, RSPB group or whatever taxonomic group takes your fancy (spiders are one of mine and you can read more here: will help, but also introduce you to the local experienced field naturalists and learn field craft, identification skills (not taught in schools/ universities anymore) and 'tricks of the trade'. Familiarise yourself with standard survey methodologies (Phase 1 habitat surveys, bird surveys etc). The Field Studies Council ( offer excellent courses; as does the Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management (CIEEM) ( but nothing beats working a local patch on a regular basis.


    1. Thank you Richard. Couldn't agree more. I wonder if it's worth specialising on taxa which are often overlooked? Ecological consultancies (and Government Depts) often struggle to get specialists in the things most of us (but not you by the looks of things!) overlook.

      1. There is a small amount of work for this stuff but its not a career. I've been paid to work on birds, plants and insects, mammals etc., but it's all temporary/sporadic and not actually viable to continue with if the truth be told. The pay is very poor also, so really only suits the retired enthusiast or part-timer. You'd be better off stacking shelves to be honest. Government departments obviously do employ taxonomists but I've never seen them advertised - all very much internal recruitment in recent years.

        I've been a grad member of IEEM and about 7 UK conservation orgs over the years. Never got me a job out of it. Another myth dispelled I'm afraid.

      2. Nick,

        Thanks for your reply. Having the ability to identify taxa, whatever the group, is an important skill; but one that is dying out, rapidly, as any local natural history society will tell you.

        I've worked within the consultancy sector for most of my professional career, and what is readily apparent, is the dire lack of taxonomic skills and ability in graduates coming through and wanting a career in ecology. Taxonomy is not taught in schools or, surprisingly, in undergraduate degrees (certainly not as a widespread subject). This is partly illustrated by various surveys of the general public (e.g. Woodland Trust: But the same is true, sadly, of those that want to specialise! Many consultancies, as part of the interview process run the 'dreaded' plant test: a whole load of specimens and supplemented by good quality photos for the candidates to identify. From memory, a typical candidate would be someone who approached 50-60% correctly identified.

        In direct answer to your question, yes, specialising in a group (be it birds, bees, bugs, beetles, mosses and liverworts, plants (or a specific family), or as in my case, spiders and harvestmen) is a very useful skill. But it is useful for a career to have the ability (and confidence) to identify common/ frequently encountered species in various groups AND have the confidence to take a field guide out and use a technical key to work out what is in front of you.

        I'd advocate joining a local natural history society, attend field meetings and find a local patch with a few different habitats in and around it and visit on a regular basis (say once a month minimum). Record the wildlife, complete a Phase 1 habitat survey (see, get in touch with the Wildlife Trust and of course submit your records to the local biological record centre. By doing this, you'll inevitably start to network, find out who is who and build up a portfolio of experience. In doing this, I think if you persevere, you'll find your niche (and perhaps your taxonomic group) and put yourself in a very good position of getting paid work in a meaningful job. You will of course need to develop and hone your writing skills for that application but this will be a whole lot easier if you've done the above (you'll have to leave some stuff out no doubt!).



  18. I think this is one of the best blogs I have seen for ages, although I was a little depressed by some of the comments. Perhaps I may add two further bits of advice to Nick's brilliant Top Ten?:

    1. Be sure that you understand whether you are really interested in nature conservation or animal welfare. The broadcast media are amongst the worst in mixing the two as if they are equivalent, but, sadly, I have seen lots of students and job applicants who don't seem to understand the difference between looking after sick animals in captivity and trying to manage habitats to benefit wild flora and fauna.

    2. Bearing in mind the quoted statistic that only a small proportion of graduates will get jobs in conservation - not least because some jobs are better done by those qualified by experience rather than by university learning - it might help to remember that it is possible to pursue an interest in nature as an amateur/ volunteer whilst having a paid job in a different field, but probably not vice versa. For instance, one can be a professional professor of physics and an amateur bird ringer but not the other way round; or a practising lawyer/ accountant/ teacher, etc can enjoy surveying flowers or butterflies in his/ her spare time, and perhaps then get the best of both worlds.

    1. I really like this one David and I would like to add:

      1. It is true there is a lot of confusion between conservation and animal welfare and I think some youngsters coming into conservation with idealistic views they have discussed with fellow students are a little shocked to see the writhing worms behind the conservation door. On the other hand and as one of my FB friends will attest, recruitment is not so different in animal welfare in that there are a lot of volunteers and few paid jobs.

      2. That is beautifully put and it would be interesting to know where the expectations arise from. I have to admit that I was a bit idealistic when I was at university and even in my mid 20s, I had a tendency to confuse animal welfare and conservation. It is quite sobering to think that I would probably still carry misapprehensions had I not worked in a paid conservation role. I am sure the fault lies in a combination of things - firstly, universities and colleges do not bother to tell their students that they are unlikely to get a job in their chosen field these days because it is not a good way to sell degree qualifications, secondly, conservation organisations are not honest enough about the maths (it hurts but we cannot ignore it) because it is not a good way to sell (in the abstract sense) volunteering*, and thirdly, students do not bother thinking about their futures until after they graduate and this means they have not done any early volunteering (to show initiative and gather information about what they want to do) or any simple research about what is on offer. I volunteered in both animal welfare (pre-qualification) and conservation (after graduation) before I got a paid role but I am not sure how either experience helped. More recently and even during my time in a paid role I volunteered for other duties that I am currently trying to make work for me outside conservation. Only time will tell whether it will work.

      * I know some contributors will think I am talking about one conservation organisation but I am not, I have some knowledge of two others and experience of a local animal welfare organisation. I am specifically talking about conservation opportunities but it is equally true of animal welfare opportunities.

  19. But say I want to get one of the very top governmental jobs in nature conservation, like boss of Natural England for example. Here are some of my tips if you are aiming high:

    1) Large donations to the Tory party. The sine qua non of getting on the short list.
    2) Experience. But only of running companies that have made similar donations to #1. Property Developers, out-of-town retail centres are ideal: any experience of coming into conflict with conservation is valuable.
    3) Ownership of a large country estate on which you can claim to have exercised conservation experience, like 'I planted some trees'.
    4) Growing up on a country estate is not essential but valuable, especially if you made a pet of a rescued wild animal (say one injured by a gamekeeper) like a Badger. That way you can claim to have had a love of wildlife from an early age.

    Other suggestions welcome?

    1. Jamie, your checklist stops at No. 1 - it is more than possible that Natural England will cease to exist if the Tories should win a second term (well, you know what I mean). At the risk of upsetting a few people I have to be fair and say to some extents the processes started under the Labour government but effectively Natural England has been progressively run down for years. Unfortunately, I suspect MPs tend to see the organisation much like one of the Quangos that it seems hip to try an eliminate at the moment. British Waterways managed to successfully make the transition to becoming a charitable trust - the Canal and River Trust - but I suspect that will be much harder for EN to achieve should it become necessary.

      To get back on the theme of this thread though - EN actually offered quite a good potential source of employment for conservationists and with the same variety of roles available from charitable organisations. Unfortunately, cut backs have meant they advertise fewer posts these days and there are no prospects they will be doing much more than advertising key replacement jobs rather than creating new ones for the foreseeable future. It does illustrate a very pertinent point in that government jobs have virtually disappeared in conservation, which says everything about political priorities.

  20. One of the most important but completely underrated areas in wildlife conservation is experience in agriculture. all practical conservation is going to involve some sort of work with farmers or agriculture. agriculture is the biggest use of our land and farmers some of the biggest owners of the countryside. go work on a farm for a summer, join the local young farmers club learn about the hardships and the benefits of farming and you will be almost guaranteed a job in conservation in the uk. It worked for me.

  21. Dear Sir or Madam.
    My name is Krishen Chauhan, and I am an undergraduate student studying Environmental Management with a keen interest in Habitat restoration.
    Based on this, I was wondering if you could offer me any potential work experience in the north-west, taking in to consideration the fact that I am totally blind?
    Your support would be greatly appreciated.
    I can be contacted at:
    Yours faithfully,
    Krishen Chauhan

    1. Hi Krishen.
      I'd suggest you monitor volunteer and internship opportunities which are posted on Conservation Careers ( plus the other websites mentioned in number two on the list. It's also worth doing a little online research about who you'd like to gain work experience with in the North West. You could them contact them directly and see if they have any opportunities available which might suit you. Many organisations don't advertise their volunteer / internships, so it's worth getting in touch direct with them. Finally, ask your lecturer / course leaders for advice (they should have contacts) and maybe consider TCV ( if you want some practical experience in habitat management.
      Good luck! Nick

      The very best of luck to you. Nick

  22. These tips are rather generic though and really only apply to those starting out or contemplating a career in conservation. For the thousands of us that graduated quite a few years ago and are still not employed, it’s of little use. The same advice has been echoed many times before on similar career websites. I get enraged by universities and the big, high profile conservation organisations telling ME what I need to do. How about what you can do for me for once. I’ve dedicated my entire adult life spending my free time volunteering for you and you haven’t so much as given me one opportunity of employment. Being overly optimistic in this industry is dangerous and I totally regret pursuing it as a career. I would place a bet that I have done more voluntary work than those that continue to preach ‘what I need to do’ for a career in conservation. I am confident to say there is not one aspect of my CV that can be improved upon which would make any difference to gaining a proper employment in conservation.
    In my experience a lot of people that have ‘made it’ in this so called industry have made it NOT because they were exceptionally good, qualified or had lots of volunteering experience, but because they benefitted from institutional nepotism within universities and the larger conservation organisations. That’s the real truth behind it.

    1. Thanks David. The truth is there's lots of people looking for jobs, and few available. Not everyone will make it and it's sad to read your story. Do you get many interviews with your applications? If not, I'd perhaps get your applications checked by an independent person (ideally a careers adviser) and also follow up with those people you applied to to get some feedback on why you didn't make the cut. Who you know (like any industry) is certainly important. Volunteering is also important (I ran a conservation volunteer group for many years...) but nothing guarantees a job. However, the work you've done has been of huge benefit to wildlife, hopefully enjoyable and appreciated by those you helped. Very best wishes, Nick

      1. Nick, sorry to be negative but feedback is a total waste of time because there is no guarantee that it will be truthful. Three examples:

        1. I went for a science technician job at a local sixth form college and as it happened I found out the background of the other two interviewees. Both were recently graduated students out of Manchester but had attended the college as sixth form students. Neither had any work experience but here is the bit that starts the mind working overtime, one of them was to be interviewed separately. As it happened, I played a blinder and won the interview with the entire science department wanting me onboard. It was not to be, HR overruled and awarded to the candidate who had a sister already working at the college. I know all this because a very close friend worked in a separate part of the college and found out what happened. I did not ask for feedback on that occasion for obvious reasons but I cannot imagine anyone would have told me the true reason why I was unsuccessful. Similarly, I could not object without threatening the position of my friend.

        2. Another science technician role, this time in a grammar school. Quite a number of candidates on this one and we all sat together at the beginning. I quite like those interviews because I can usually judge who is likely to provide the biggest challenge and on occasion, I have psyched a candidate out of the running (another story, I didn't get the job but it was immense fun because the person was acting over-confident around the other candidates). On this occasion, the person was taken off elsewhere and I noticed the interviewers did not seem particularly interested in me when it came to the individual interviews. After it was all over, we gathered outside and the person who won stated to everyone 'It is a pity we all could not have got the job'. Hmm! Suspicious wording. Sure enough I was turned down but I decided to play the game and told them who they had appointed and what was said outside. They told me the final choice had not been made at that point and was made four days later. Oh yeah? I let them squirm for a few days and then told them I would not take it any further.

        3. I have quite a few examples really but the final one is a secondary school (I have deliberately not chosen conservation examples but this should not be taken that it has not happened - I have already related enough negative stories from the world of conservation and at the risk of sending out an even more depressing message it goes on everywhere). The school actually requested references but I mysteriously never received an invite to interview. My own manager was not best pleased but fortunately not at me but at being asked for something that was never used. I asked for feedback on that one including why references were requested. The head teacher answered me (eventually) saying that it was routine to request references and make judgements on these before an interview. Erm, oh not it is not! He then went on to make two slightly contradictory claims about my application that pretty much proved it was he who had stepped in and stopped my application and probably appointed someone he knew. I thought long and hard about taking legal action but I ask, is it really worth it?

        In the end, I gave up asking for feedback because like a lot of people who will read this, I have encountered all kinds of prejudices some of which, defied logic. The one part of your advice that I would advocate with 50ft letters is get your CV checked and get your standard letters checked. If you have to have several versions in play then so be it. Carefully check standard letters each time you use one and do not save dated versions as a blueprint (rename anything you send out - it is good for your records and it makes you input dates and information instead of leaving mistakes, inattention makes it easy for your application to be filtered). Remember, a lot of CV and standard letter information can be cut and pasted onto application forms and vice versa. Another tip if you do this: cut and paste often disturbs the format of the form, do not be afraid of adjusting things so that it looks good visually. this will help the employers if they print a hard copy and shows a bit of initiative and ability.

        1. Ian,

          Your experiences are staggeringly similar to mine and just goes to show that these things are not isolated or can be put down to bad luck. The nature of this industry has an inherent nicety about it which is preventing injustices being resolved, fairness in recruitment and openness with employment opportunities. I've been wanting to air my views for quite a few years now on a larger platform, but realise that this could be the final nail in the career coffin if I do. Maybe one day I'll throw caution to the wind and start a campaign...

      2. Thanks Nick. I don't set out to be pessimistic but the relentless cold-shoulder treatment I've had from organisations over the years, that I once aspired and looked up to, has completely altered my views on them. I've had my CVs and applications looked at both by industry employees, industry career advisers and actual professional, independent career advice consultants offered to me via Government work programmes. They have been honed and tailored countless times. I've been interviewed and short-listed for PhDs in my time so am confident I can present and sell my self at a critical level. You also must remember that when you are placed on a Government work programme (whilst full time volunteering) you are sitting in a room with about a dozen career advisers/consultants all of which are educated to a lower level than the person they are just about to give advice on CV writing etc! It is embarrassing for both parties. If you can picture someone fresh from their A-levels giving a 30 year old with a masters advice on how to use a computer to look for work then you can appreciate the awkwardness. This brings me on the remark you made about earning money - very much the taboo subject in conservation. Yes, you easily can be on the breadline! - have been trying to work for one of the 'large conservation organisations' whilst claiming JSA - trying to pay off career Development Loans and other student fee depts.

        Like I say I spent enough time analysing where the fault lies and it certainly isn't my lack of hard work, self-sacrifice and endeavour. The blame in my valid opinion solely lies with the universities and the immoral lack of transparency with regards opportunities and factual student employment success rates, and with the major conservation orgs. for employing recruitment tactics that take advantage of graduates and volunteers and which filter and alienate highly experienced candidates who possess an industry desired and demonstrable skill sets along with a high level of education.

        Until these bodies acknowledge that its these fundamental industry problems that are caused and exacerbated by the systems and policies they operate then these types of discussions will be repeated year after year. A couple of years back my old college emailed me for some feedback on a new conservation MSc course they were developing and wanted some advice on its structure and module content based on my experience of ex-student there. I was happy to do so. However, whilst reading their opening pitch for the course advert "...this course will offer you a seamless transition into the conservation/ecology sector..." I quite rightly took umbrage by this highly unsubstantiated, misleading and potentially harmful use of marketing rhetoric and subsequently sent my disapproving views back to all the academic staff connected with it. When the finalised course advert came out the sentenced had been removed. Inconsequential you might say, but its a start, and its the first strep HE/FE institutions could begin with in promoting an up-front and transparent message on achievable and realistic career outcomes. I even offered to give their new undergrads a talk on what it's like out there five years down the line. They declined that bit.

    2. I have to agree. Constantly, I've been told I need to volunteer. I've been volunteering on an ongoing basis for various conservation organisations for 10 years now. I have postgrad in conservation. I was constantly told how great a job I did, but when it came to hiring...nope. I was once offered a part-time role with one of them for a minimum wage (not exaggerating, it was the legal min wage) - if I committed to this role I would not even be able to pay my rent. The same organisation pays over $100k to senior staff (and they seem to have quite a few) - surely they could afford to pay someone (even if entry-level staff) more than minimum wage. I constantly read online that I need to volunteer volunteer volunteer. How much of my time should I volunteer? Those volunteer coordinators also never seemed to have the time to be referees when I was applying for jobs, or they just disappeared off to other countries. In addition, a lot of the staff didn't seem to appreciate the roles they had, and were unwilling to even look at the volunteer, let alone appreciate them. Had I actually been hired after I graduated (by that time I had volunteered a fair bit of my time) I would be more knowledgeable too. Slowly, over time, I'm losing a lot of the knowledge and learning becomes a little more difficult than it used to.

      Anyway, perhaps I can improve the way in which I pursue this career (hence why I'm on this website). Hopefully we will have the career we'd like.

  23. Great Blog. I'd add an eleventh. Ignore all those careers advisers and teachers/lecturers who tell you. 'There are no jobs in conservation'.

  24. Personally speaking career advice at university was rubbish. There was too much emphasis on being different rather than making sure you had at least a basic understanding of for example the british flora and fauna. I think if you do want to work in conservation then volunteer. It gives you the reality of what conservation really is which many people don't realise.

    For an assistant warden job today there are around 100 applicants of which about 50 tick majority of the criteria. 25 would then have most of the tickets required and would all be worthy of an interview. But normally only 6 get interviewed and all could do the job. RReality is for this work you have to have 12 months solid experience, all the tickets but also to write a very good application. That is probably an issue for many people as once you have mastered the application interviews will come. Having read intern applications many failed to give detail and presentation was poor.

    You do need to be passionate and determined but if you are you will succeed. However I do feel for people. There are also too many part time jobs being offered. Notb very affordable

    1. It is a depressing statistic Lizzie but unfortunately the Job Centre is not interested in the absolute fact that anyone who becomes unemployed for whatever reason, is instantly into a numbers game. This means that some will be lucky early on but many more get left behind and after a while failure really does breed failure. My sister worked in a recruitment role and she told me that when received applications goes beyond 50-60, they will not necessarily read all the forms. This means that (as you said) if they read read down and find 6-8 suitable candidates for interview after 20 forms, they will not read any others. If one of these candidates is then successful at interview, the rest of the applications will probably be binned (possibly archived but importantly many will remain unread). Nevertheless, it is important to stress impact, neatness and thoroughness just in case your application is read.

      1. From experience with conservation NGOs all applications are read so every applicant has a chance.
        I am fortunate to have a permenant job with a Wildlife Trust but that took 2 years from leaving university. But that was my own fault for not knowing what I know now. I do think university courses need to change and spend more time on identification and British ecology. We did very little and with little support into what options were out there. This is probably why many graduates don't have the skills to go straight into certain jobs.

        1. I'm afraid not all applications are read based on first hand experience and by someone I know who works for one of the big flagship nature reserves on the east coast. At the height of the recession some nature jobs were having in excess of 300 applicants. Recruitment is expensive and time consuming at the best of times so they will only take a wedge off the top of the application pile for consideration. It is wrong but it is reality and near impossible stop.

          No university can properly teach a taxonomic group to good standard in the span of a degree course. Professional ID standards can only be achieved through thousands of hours spent in the field identifying, trapping and collecting. A good student should be doing this in their own time as a hobby before, during and after academic study to reach a professional level. This is where I've earned money in the last few years, but it's not a 'career' by any stretch of the imagination and I feel that some people are confusing the difference between doing short contracts for a few quid and a fully fledged permanent position with benefits of job progression and permanent contract security.

          We all know that it will 'never make you rich' but you still need to earn enough money to live a financially independent lifestyle that's not reliant on government hand-outs or family bailouts.

  25. Great blog post - and found just at the right time as I am giving a talk tomorrow on careers in my field of work - ecology and conservation, to current students at my old Uni.

    I graduated 2 years ago, worked as a freelance ecologist a week or so after exams, then landed my dream job a month or so later. No one else I finished with is working bar another mature student. When I left, I had years of voluntary experience, basic plant, tree and animal taxonomic skills - and was able to demonstrate this.

    I manage a team of volunteers now, and many are unemployed grads - but they all lack experience and practical knowledge in plant and habitat ID. They are only volunteering now, and I am glad I can help give them that chance. It does shock me to see that some grads can't even tell trees apart or recognise basic common plants!

  26. A better way to get a job in Conservation would be to know someone who will put in a good word for you.

  27. Here in New England, I would never advise anyone to seek an education in conservation if they want a job outside of a major city, and it breaks my heart to say it. Besides a masters degree in forestry and a masters degree in sustainability sciences with a concentration in water resource sustainability, I have nearly 15 years of professional experience. I've worked as a forester for a municipal parks department, I've written curriculum for training teens to be interpreters for a major conservation group in Brooklyn, NY, I've been a professional arborist, I have volunteered on a bat and humming bird pollination study in French Guyana, volunteered sorting aquatic insect samples, I was employed (for $12 an hour) to be responsible a riparian restoration project, I have given free nature walks, and have done a lot more volunteer work and have a lot more professional experience. But the cold reality is that in the past five years I have had 2 interviews. One was for the $12 an hour job I mentioned, and the other was for a $10 an hour job for USFWS that I knew I couldn't take and survive on, but I just wanted to interview so badly that I did.

    I have asked many people to look at my resume and give input and it is a very good resume. I've lived in rural Vermont on and of for about 7 years working on a farm and with a well known performance arts group. I have great people skills, love children and work well with teenagers, and have glowing letters of recommendation from former colleagues and past employers. In the past 3 years I have sent out nearly 200 resumes, which resulted in the 2 interviews.

    The thing is, I could have landed some these jobs if I could just get in front of the interviewer. And that is the most painful part. I am so dedicated to natural resource conservation and environmental justice but I just can't get a foot in the door these days. I could probably get a job with a commercial developer or a "green" group more interested in aesthetics and money than biodiversity and clean air and water. I have worked for those types of businesses and that kind of work is not 'green' except for the color of the ornamental plants they overcharge for the cash that is their main concern.
    It really is heartbreaking to have dedicated so much time, effort, and money to try to slow the destruction of this planet and to foster a healthy environment for people to thrive in only to be ignored by the scientists and conservationists I respect and am inspired by.

    If you want to work in conservation, make sure you have another source of income, volunteer on the weekends, and don't get your hopes up. I wish I had something better to say.

    1. Eddie - welcome and thank you for a wonderful, though depressing, comment. I wish you luck - maybe that job is just around the corner.

  28. I think it's a shame that the people who work in conservation (and in scientific fields too) are so undervalued.

    We want you to have a degree (preferably a Masters degree), we want you to have lots of experience and we want you to work very long hours in all weather conditions. And because we know you're doing this job for the love of nature, we're going to pay you peanuts.

    It's about time people in conservation were paid decent salaries. From my own observation of advertised posts, salaries rarely top £20,000 and are often well below this figure. I think many employers are taking advantage of people knowing that they do these jobs because they love it, but then give them very poor salaries.

    I know that many of these employers are charities and they may argue that their money would be better spent protecting species or habitats, but how about a bit of respect for the employees and give them a decent wage, especially considering the qualifications and experience that many of these posts ask for.

    This also applies to scientific fields (like NERC organisations like British Antarctic Survey) where even posts demanding that you have a PhD will not pay much more than £25k a year. It's a symptom of how undervalued scientists are in this country, especially when you compare salaries with lawyers and other professional fields.

  29. I haven't had the time to read all the comments -- much as I would like to. But I would like to point out that in a conservation organisation, look at who is employed? The World Land Trust employs around 25 people, a third of which are part time. However, only around 5 or 6 of these are employed as what would conventionally be described as conservationists, and of those, only three have conservation degrees. It should be obvious to anyone, that if you want to work in conservation, then being a really good accountant, office manager, science writer etc etc, but with a demonstrable interest in conservation (i.e spending spare time volunteering, bird-ringing etc) is likely to be a much more employable person. Another point I would make, I am amazed how little the younger generation read. Research is done on the internet, journals are scanned, but how many have read Julian Huxley, Max Nicolson, A R Wallace, David Lack or even Darwin? Getting a degree is one thing, an education is another.

  30. Hi Nick, I am 21 years old and I am about to start a course in Ecology and Wildlife conservation at the University of the West of England. Do you think that degrees such as this are worthwhile? I am very passionate about conservation but I am not that academic therefore I don’t think I would do a Masters or a PHD. Would this degree be enough to work in conservation? Also are there any other routes into the world of conservation other than university?

    Thanks, Toby

  31. Hello,

    Useful blog post and I hope some college graduates find it before naively parting with their cash!
    I have to share my experience of recruitment within the UK conservation sector, and honestly, it has not been a good one. I have worked in many areas of international conservation, from communications and education, to ecological consultancy and partnership conservation land management projects. I've also worked for a major UK conservation organisation and was shocked to witness first hand, the amount of nepotism and positive discrimination in their recruitment process. I feel really sorry for the hundreds of graduates who spend hours filling in application forms and attending job interviews (that probably cost a lot of money to get to!) only for the particular job already being promised to someone else. All their HR departments are doing is ticking boxes, and trying to meet the so-called 'fairness' requirements of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, which in my opinion has been one of the most illiberal pieces of legislation ever passed in recent times, brought in by the last Labour government!
    My advice is to not be afraid to apply for jobs abroad, international NGOs tend to have strict recruitment processes where a person is recruited based on their skills and aptitude for the job, and nepotism is strictly dealt with. Also, you will be paid fairly and chances of career progression are far more likely.
    I agree with David that 'Being overly optimistic in this industry is dangerous', however I would encourage those serious about protecting our natural environment to pursue their intended career. We need such people to meet the extremely difficult environmental challenges of the future, what we don't need is fake 'career conservationists' ruining our natural environment and wasting time and money.

  32. Hi Mark and others,
    I wanted to enquire about a recent mention of the CIEEM (chartered institute of ecology and environmental management). I am a research technician working on ecological projects for a university since graduating with a degree in environmental sciences 6 years ago. I have so much field, lab and computer/office experience within research project planning, doing and processing. However, I am now coming to the end of a particularly large project and find myself needing to find a new job elsewhere because of lack of funding. I see CIEEM membership alongside protected species licences as being pre requisites in jobs I am looking to apply to. As much as I am dedicated to carry on my career in ecology based conservation I do not know if I really need to become a member of such institutes?...especially as it is quite expensive?
    Any feedback on this would be great!?


  33. Hi everyone! I'm here for suggestion in taking this career of a conservationist. I'm 20 right now and will be graduate in electronics engineering next year. I'm thnking about doing a masters in wildlife biology and conservation. I'm also a left leg above knee amputee, I'm full of life and go on hiking and climbing expeditions. But a full time career in this field for me? Please tell me what do you think
    Thank you


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