Claire studied for an MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health at the University of Edinburgh. She now works an assistant site manager for the Woodland Trust
How did you get your job?
I graduated from university in 2007 with a degree in archaeology and art history, and then completed a postgraduate qualification in history, theory and display (museum studies).
I forged a career in education, eventually specialising in behavior management and working with teenagers who were disengaged from the mainstream school system. I found that there was great value in enabling and supporting these students to access nature and wildlife as a therapeutic tool to aid their re-engagement with learning. This sparked a personal interest, and with a developing passion for conservation and environmental work, I began to view it as a sector that I wanted to work in.
I signed up for a range of volunteering opportunities with local organisations, which not only confirmed the rewarding nature of this work, but also helped me to define the particular areas I was interested in. Following many positive experiences, I made the decision to pursue a career in the conservation field, and decided that it would be beneficial to go back to university. I returned to the University of Edinburgh to study for my MSc. The course helped to confirm my interest in habitat management so I looked for jobs in this area, predominantly checking websites such as environmentjob.co.uk, greenjobs.co.uk and countryside-jobs.com, alongside national conservation charity sites.
I found the assistant site manager job with the Woodland Trust almost as soon as it was listed and was fortunate enough to be invited for an interview. The Woodland Trust saw great value in my background in education, and the transferable skills I could bring to the role. They were also interested in the range of volunteering opportunities I had undertaken.
What's a typical day like?
Tasks include undertaking site visits to assess the condition and development of the woodland, inspecting work undertaken by contractors, meeting with volunteers and writing task outlines, tree safety surveying and monitoring of health risks to trees, checking and updating public access infrastructure and signage, supporting outreach and public engagement events, even checking on grazing cattle.
Although I aim to be on site as much as possible, there are times when I need to be at my desk in order to complete related administration tasks and paperwork.
What are the challenges?
I am home-based rather than office-based, so some could find this challenging in terms of missing daily interaction with colleagues, but I haven't found this to be an issue. However, you do need to be good at managing your time and prioritising work tasks.
As with most jobs that involve contact with the public, certain issues and circumstances may crop up that require effective diplomacy skills and a calm yet assertive approach. One example could be dealing with the issue of people camping and making fires on site. Conversely, the woodland itself may present you with a safety issue, which requires timely decision making, especially if it could impact on public safety through access and use of the woodland.
In what way is your degree relevant?
In the first year of my MSc we covered mandatory modules in the history of evolution and biodiversity, environmental governance, conservation ethics and general ecosystem health and sustainability. Elective modules in the second year included communication and public engagement of conservation, climate change policy, GIS and spatial data analysis and connecting environment and society, which have all been relevant to my current role.
The beauty of the degree is that you have the freedom to tailor it to your interests and area of employment through your assignments and final year dissertation. The course also gives general scientific grounding, which I found valuable given that my background was in a different area.
What are your career ambitions?
I'm still relatively new to the job. However, I've already learned so much through bespoke training sessions, working on site and shadowing other members of staff. I hope to continue to progress in the role and enhance my forestry skills and knowledge.
I would also love to pursue a part time PhD in the future, as I relish the opportunity to study and research, and I think this could really compliment my working practice if I were able to focus my studies on an area directly related to my job.
How do I get into woodland management?
- My top tip is to volunteer. Practical experience is vital and there are a range of opportunities that can enhance your CV, while helping you to gain a better understanding of the areas of environmental work that you are most interested in. Over the last few years, I have volunteered for a number of local wildlife and conservation charities and have dabbled in everything from bat and great crested newt surveying to supporting wardens with reserve management, all of which has been incredibly useful for my current role.
- Try and join national or local environmental and ecological groups in order to enhance your learning and training opportunities. As soon as I embarked upon my postgraduate course, I signed up as a student member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. This not only meant I could access discounted, certified training courses, but also that I kept on top of environmental news and relevant changes to government policy though regular conferences and newsletter updates.
- Seize every opportunity to develop your knowledge and strive to continue your personal learning. I'm lucky that my colleagues have a wealth of experience and have taken the time to support me in my first few weeks. When you are out and about and the opportunity arises, don't be afraid to ask questions and make a mental note or take a photo of things that you might need to research further. I always keep reference books handy to look up information on species that may be more challenging to identify, and I still meet regularly with local volunteer surveyors who are more than happy to impart their species-specific knowledge, their passion is inspirational.