Pay day for conservationists

The disclosure of the salaries of some, not all, of the BBC’s ‘talent’ hit the headlines yesterday – we’re all interested in how underpaid we are and how overpaid ‘they’ are.

Before the news came out, I thought about it a little, and I was expecting John Humphrys’s salary to be somewhere between £200k and £300k, although I had neglected to factor in Mastermind so maybe I would have edged my guess up to low £300ks. Well, the actual figure is double that.  What does that tell us? Not much, except that I am out of touch with what people earn.  For context, Wayne Rooney was paid £300k per week at Man Utd.

How do the conservation charity sector ‘talent’ salaries compare?

I have used the most readily available trustees’ reports and accounts for the following wildlife charities to compile the following table which lists top salaries in bands.

Sources; RSPB, NT, BTO, WWT, WWF-UK, Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trusts (UK and England HQ).


 # staff earning >£60k per annum# staff earning >£100k per annum# staff earning >£150k per annumHighest salary band
National Trust98146£170-79k
Woodland Trust710£120-29k
Wildlife Trusts410£100-09k



  • different organisations use slightly different accounting years
  • if a staff member leaves during a FY then their salary for that FY only is included, I think (!), in the information provided by charities
  • these organisations differ in their overall budgets and the proportion of those budgets spent on staff salaries
  • it would be a matter of supposition to think that the CEO gets the highest salary – but it is quite likely to be true
  • I looked at other wildlife charities too – I failed to find the similar information on the GWCT website  (it may be there, but I didn’t find it)


  • the charity sector is required to be pretty open about salaries
  • only six staff, all working for the NT, would have got into the BBC list of staff earning over £150k per annum
  • top salaries are higher in the bigger and ‘richer’ charities
  • the NT, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF-UK currently have female CEOs


And here is another table which compares current ‘top salaries’ in these NGOs now with in the past.

National Trust£160-69k£160-69k£170-79k
Woodland Trust£90-99k£90-99k£120-29k
Wildlife Trusts£60-69k£60-69k£100-09k
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20 Replies to “Pay day for conservationists”

  1. The last pay cheque I got from the RSPB was for £12,000 minus tax etc. I looked after 12,000 acres of mixed upland habitat along with an extra 260 acres of woodland I had found to lease to the RSPB. I also looked after 24 job creation staff along with volunteers and later a summer warden. In winter I traveled on a 100+ mile radius giving talks for no money to advertise the reserve and the RSPB. I had a mortgagee and ran a car with a non working wife and 3 boys.

    I never complained because I enjoyed the job and worked long hours never looking at the clock. I was often given no increase in wage due to bad managers above me. It is quite clear these high salaries are for jobs that are not liked by the people doing them so they need the high wages to make up for them!

    1. John,

      without a year/era attached to your salary information, it is rather ambiguous.

  2. Mark writes on behalf of jbc who had difficulty in posting this comment: Wouldn't it be interesting to see a similar table of average and lowest permanent full time equivalent salaries? (ie excluding training roles and seasonal staff etc)

    It's no surprise to me that the NT has so many well paid people alongside the many very poorly paid staff. They have always appeared to me, looking in from the outside, to be the charitable arm of the Squirearchy.

    It would also be interesting, and fairer, to see the total turnover and the total fte staff number alongside salaries. Maybe NT has so many well paid staff simply because it's a much bigger organisation than the rest so there are more people with big responsibilities. Maybe WWF seems to have quite a lot of well paid staff because it handles a lot of cash (I would guess that it doesn't have many UK field staff because it isn't a direct delivery organisation here).

    As an aside, Mark - is the Wildlife Trusts data a collation from all 47 trusts plus the RSWT or just the RSWT central staff? As you know, the WTs are not a single outfit, more a herd of cats that RSWT tries to keep together

    1. jbc - the post does make the point that the sizes of the organisations differ - and anyone who thinks the BTO is the same size as the NT is clearly a newcomer to this blog. The post also says that the Wildlife Trust data come from the England and UK HQ (so it's just RSWT staff - I think!). The post also has a link to the data sources so that anyone can check.

      1. I was musing not criticising 🙂 But while I know NT is way bigger than BTO, I'm honestly not sure how eg NT and RSPB compare or indeed quite what WWF UK includes.

        I suppose my deeper point is that there's nothing uniquely worthless about charity (or public sector) work so in principle paying big money for big responsibilities is fine by me, provided the results are good.

        But the same logic applies throughout any organisation, and so people at the front line, esp in conservation where significant skills and experience are routinely required, should also be paid fairly. Maybe not "market rate" because we do work for love as well as money, but enough to live on anyway. Too many conservation charities pay poverty wages to the people who actually deliver the wildlife, and that sits badly alongside a very well paid CEO.

        It also makes us unrepresentative, if having a wealthy spouse or a private income is needed to be able to afford to do the job. No wonder its full of people like me, white and middle class. Sadly however I have neither private wealth nor a rich spouse, though I'm always open to offers...

  3. Of course, the hours expected to be worked per week would have to be factored in.
    I wonder if the CEO of the NT works a 40 Hour week?

    Or maybe the salaries are on a pro-rate basis? Do the accounts show that info?

  4. Thought provoking and very topical blog post Mark! Average wage in UK is £27k. Nature conservation is notoriously badly paid so I would guess average salary is more like £18k. Missing yesterday from BBC's disclosure was anyone connected with the BBC Natural History Unit. Presumably Sir David Attenborough was excluded because many of his programmes are made by the unit in co-operation with other international broadcasters/production companies and BBC Worldwide? Otherwise I'm sure he would have been in the top 5. It would be very interesting to know what the other regular presenters like Chris Packham, Steve Backshall, Liz Bonnin and Kate Humble are paid. I was surprised not to see any of them in the list so presume they don't feature for the same reason Sir David doesn't? I'm sure that many of us would think they are worth every penny but still it would be good to know what they are paid. Perhaps you or I could ask Chris when we see him at The Hen Harrier Days/London March?

    1. Helen - the discussion about BBC salaries talked a lot about the gender pay gap so i thought I'd just flag that. Nothing more.

  5. Yes most interesting. Says a lot about what's wrong with the NT. It would be interesting to know the incomes of the various charities is to compare them with the salaries.

  6. a good team of staff at the top, makes or breaks an organisation. I have seen too many wildlife charities struggle with poor management. That's not to say that any of the people listed are good managers, but I am big believer in the phrase 'pay peanuts get monkeys'.

    1. That's a fair point. However, in paying senior staff good salaries, there is often a knock-on effect further down the line.
      Certainly at the RSPB, it always seemed that reserves' staff and those in the regions were (very) poorly paid compared to their counterparts at Sandy. I'm writing as someone who experienced this from both ends of the spectrum.

  7. As a ranger working for the National Trust I know I get paid less than my colleagues in the local Wildlife Trust, RSPB and National Park Authority doing similar or equivalent jobs.

  8. And don't forget whilst these conservation roles are very much full time, the high BBC earners are often not. So the differentials are actually greater.

  9. It would be interesting to see how these salaries compare with other sectors - both within the wider charity/NGO sector and in the economy generally.

    1. Well, RSPB fundraisers are paid substantially less than fundraisers working for international development NGOs. RSPB Conservation Officers defending some of our best wildlife sites from damaging development are up against ecological consultants often earning twice as much as they do and, at public inquiries, such RSPB staff fight wildlife's corner against Partners in ecological consultancies on five or six times their salary. And the RSPB officer more often than not wins the case! Don't get me started on the pittance RSPB research staff are usually paid!

  10. The one thing the media (BBC) and conservation have in common, is that they are sectors where workers are driven by beliefs - for example, the desire to make a difference or save nature.

    Sadly, when it comes to the workforce, this is something management can rely upon as a buffer against low pay. We are, are we not, privileged to hold our jobs"? Comparing lowest salaries with top salaries would be very revealing.

    Equality is, I believe, integral to sustainability. We must find some way of making pay more equitable and valuing those who deliver rather than just those tagged as "talent". After all, the talent/management would be nothing without the army of staff supporting them as figureheads. Is that something the UK should work towards by.. say 2030?


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