What skills does a modern conservationist need?

 
Wildlife conservationist

By John Burton, WLT Founder CEO

At World Land Trust (WLT), we regularly get enquiries from job seekers. Often highly qualified, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in conservation, from top level universities such as UEA or Imperial College.  Often with lots of voluntary fieldwork experience. They nearly all think they are perfectly qualified to work for an organisation like the WLT.

Looking at these fantastic resumes, the depressing truth is that we employ hardly any professional conservationists or researchers.  Our project fieldwork is carried out by our in-country NGO partners, who have outstanding local insight as well as fluency in local languages, and very different skills are needed within the WLT office in Suffolk.

Due to the relationships we have with our programme partners, we are primarily a fundraising organisation: we need accountants, bookkeepers, receptionists, graphic designers, web managers, copy writers, editors, videographers and many other skills.  A look at our website and its staff pages will give an indication of the range of skills needed.

I was fortunate as I grew up not only in the days when there was no such thing as a conservation degree, but also when it was not even considered an essential to have a degree, and as a consequence got my first job with six  O Levels. This is no longer a realistic expectation (that same job now requires a degree). But it is also worrying that universities, in their hunger for more and more students, encourage young people to get degrees in subjects like conservation, where the real demand far outstrips the supply. There are numerous jobs in environmental consultancies, but this is often not what a dedicated conservationist or wildlife enthusiast dreams of as a conservation job.

So my advice to the committed conservationist is to get a qualification or develop skills in something that has a practical value to a conservation organisation.  Meanwhile, build up lots of volunteer experience in wildlife conservation and natural history.  As long as you don’t get side-tracked into a more lucrative job in business, and are prepared to work for a slightly lower salary, the rewards of working for a charity are there waiting for you. Think about it: how do the RSPBWWFFriends of the EarthMarine Conservation SocietyBat Conservation TrustWhale and Dolphin ConservationPlantlifeBuglife, or any of the numerous Wildlife Trusts function? They all need administrators, database managers, IT managers, writers and editors. Some need sales managers. Others need fundraisers.

From time to time, young conservationists ask me how I got to be in my job. That question is difficult to answer, because the world now is very different from when I started out over 50 years ago. But, looking back on my career one thing is certain: a degree in conservation would have been of very little help to me at any stage in my career. It is a combination of all the other things I have done, experiences I have had and different skills I have developed, which enabled me to be one of the creators of WLT.

So, in conclusion, we are definitely not short of opportunities in the world of wildlife conservation, but it is worth developing a range of skills which are valuable for fundraising and the day-to-day running of a conservation charity if you are committed to contributing to this valuable cause. I am keen to advise and help budding conservationists as far as I can- please post any further questions in the comments below.

 

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