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Nature conservation officer

Job description

If you are passionate about the environment and want to encourage others to enjoy and protect it, this may be the job for you…

As a nature conservation officer you'll work to protect, manage and enhance the local environment. This can include grassland, woodland, forests, coastal areas, moorland, mountains and rivers. Depending on the region, you might also work in marine habitats.

Part of the role is to encourage people to use the countryside and promote awareness of, and understanding about, the natural environment. You'll develop policy which may have local and national impact. Job titles within this sector are varied and include:

  • sustainable development officers;
  • project officers or biodiversity officers;
  • conservation assistants and technicians.

Responsibilities

As a nature conservation officer you'll need to:

  • educate all sectors of the local community, including local schools and colleges, and raise awareness of environmental issues and nature conservation officers' work;
  • promote and implement local and national biodiversity action plans in partnership with local/national statutory and voluntary organisations;
  • contribute to planning and policy development for sustainable management, including input into environmental impact assessments;
  • provide advice to clients, employers, community groups, landowners, planners and developers;
  • prepare and implement annual management plans based on ecological surveys and scientific observation;
  • contribute to the selection of, and assist with casework for, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves (NNRs);
  • evaluate and monitor features of nature conservation interest in habitats and sites;
  • maintain and develop own knowledge and skills, especially with regard to knowledge of developments in policy, legislation, European and international regulations;
  • promote the concept of sustainability to the public, colleagues and fellow professionals through talks, tours, literature, displays and workshops;
  • organise, supervise and train supporting paid staff and volunteers;
  • maintain effective records using IT database systems;
  • prepare applications to get funding and grants;
  • assess applications for funding from other organisations;
  • liaise with the media to publicise organisation or conservation sites;
  • deal with enquiries from the public;
  • educate young people, and those considering entering the profession, through talks and seminars to local colleges and universities.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries generally range from £18,000 to £24,000.
  • Salaries at senior level/with experience (e.g. after 10 to 15 years in the role) are generally between £20,000 and £30,000.
  • Experienced managers may earn £30,000+.

Salaries are generally higher in the private/consultancy sector. Consultancy work (freelance or self-employment) has increased in recent years as developers will often call in environmental experts to assist with their planning applications.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Unsocial hours, such as early starts and evening meetings may typically be included in your working hours as a nature conservation officer. It may be necessary to work some weekends and public holidays.

What to expect

  • At entry-level in particular, the work can be rough and extremely demanding, often outdoors in all weathers.
  • The balance between field work and office-based work varies considerably, with more administration, statistical analysis and report writing associated with senior positions.
  • There may be a large amount of administration, normally requiring IT skills. Individual officers are often responsible for their own clerical work.
  • The work requires considerable contact with the public and, increasingly, with the media.
  • As environmental work is often developed from international policy or good practice, travel abroad to conferences and meetings may be common in some posts.

Qualifications

Entry with a relevant HND is possible with substantial experience, but this is a competitive area and graduates are usually preferred.

Relevant degree subjects include environmental, life and urban and land studies. These particular subjects may increase your chances:

  • earth science (physical);
  • ecology;
  • botany/plant science;
  • biology/bioscience;
  • surveying;
  • geography;
  • marine sciences/oceanography;
  • planning;
  • land/estate management;
  • sustainable development.

If you have a non-relevant degree, a relevant postgraduate qualification might help. Preferably this would be a course that balances the first degree, for example a management course to complement a science degree. Some employers see a Masters as the minimum qualification required and entry may be difficult without one.

Most advertised posts ask for experience and this should be your first priority. The importance of paid or voluntary experience cannot be over emphasised. To gain full-time employment (even on short-term contracts) you have to demonstrate that you have become involved and shown commitment. Many people working in this sector started in voluntary work, building up contacts and experience.

For more details about available qualifications, search postgraduate conservation courses.

Skills

You will need to:

  • have good administrative and IT skills;
  • communicate effectively through talks and presentations;
  • produce literature such as leaflets;
  • be confident in leading walks;
  • have some knowledge of Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Work experience

Becoming a student member of a professional institute or a member of a relevant organisation such as The Wildlife Trusts is an excellent way to network. Environmental consultancies may be prepared to offer work experience if you have completed your degree. Some Masters courses offer project placements at organisations such as the Environment Agency (EA) and this may be a good way in.

Any experience in conservation, management, education or planning will be invaluable. National and international working holidays are great opportunities to develop valuable experience.

Short residential camps, where tuition in a wide range of skills is provided alongside experience in practical conservation are all provided by organisations such as:

The chance to volunteer on a range of projects in countries around the world, assisting with local conservation schemes is offered by the UNA Exchange . The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) also offers structured training as a volunteer officer, with responsibility for a specific area of work (depending on the location).

For more ideas and tips, see work experience and internships.

Nature conservation employers

Local authorities, government departments, utilities companies, consultancies, nature reserves, national or country parks, private estates, engineering companies (particularly those concerned with road building) and housing developers are all likely to employ nature conservation officers. Particular employers include:

  • Countryside Council for Wales (CCW);
  • Environment Agency (EA);
  • Field Studies Council (FSC);
  • Natural England;
  • National Trust;
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA);
  • Scottish Natural Heritage;
  • The Conservation Volunteers (TCV);
  • The Wildlife Trusts.

Job vacancies

Recruitment agencies

Get more tips on how to find job vacancies.

Professional training

You will be expected to have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills on taking up the post. A number of training opportunities will then be open to you once in post.

On-the-job training may include short, in-service courses. For a vast array of opportunities, see Countryside Jobs Service - Training Directory . A range of courses that will enhance the skills of anyone working, or aspiring to work, in this sector are offered by the Field Studies Council (FSC) .

Training for a range of environmental qualifications for employees, students, professionals or people with a personal interest in this area of work can be arranged through The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) . Depending on budgets, the local authority or employer that you work for may contribute or fully pay for you to complete work-related courses, as well as NVQs or SVQs.

Employers may support you while you undertake other types of continuing professional development (CPD), such as studying for a Masters, or pay for membership of professional bodies, such as the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM)

Career prospects

In many organisations there is no established career hierarchy, although in some environmental consultancies there may be a path from ecologist to senior ecologist and then on to principal ecologist.

There is considerable competition at all levels for jobs in conservation work and applicants have to be able to demonstrate an enthusiasm and passion for the issues. A good way to do this is by participating in other activities, which will add to experience and enhance a CV.

To further career development you might consider volunteering to sit on the local biodiversity steering group or undertaking work for a local office of The Conservation Volunteers (TCV). You could also participate in schemes run through:

By getting involved in organisations such as these you will be able to meet key players in this community, which should create more opportunities for future development.

Promotion often means moving organisation and/or location and usually taking an increasingly office-based role, often moving from a 'hands-on' job to an advisory or managerial role. Senior posts are likely to mean greater involvement with planning, budgets, people management, and the administrative aspects of environmental management, while less time is spent in the field. To gain experience and promotion, it is normally necessary to move between the public, voluntary and private sector. 

 
 
 
AGCAS
Updated by AGCAS editors
Date: 
July 2014

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