Finding conservation work experience

As I mentioned in my previous post, getting yourself some ‘in the field’ experience is invaluable for a career in conservation.  I regularly search for paid/voluntary opportunities, and in doing so I have been fortunate enough to partake in some really great projects, the latest of which is with Keystone Environmental.  Last month they advertised for a Freelance Ecological Surveyor, and I was quick to apply.  By securing this role I am called upon to assist with surveys that are based within my radius (and remit).

What’s more, I get paid for doing so!

The worrying feeling of “I’m gona be volunteering for the rest of my life” is not an unusual one, and I know it’s a feeling I share with all other conservation and wildlife students.  Therefore, this opportunity has hit me like a breath of fresh air; the chance to get paid for an ecological role.  Moreover this role will greatly enhance my portfolio and CV, not to mention introducing my name to some of the bigger dogs.


Keystone Bat Survey

The current project, and my debut, is in response to the announcement of an impending road development near Swindon.  The proposed road will bisect a large area including a number of fields.  Keystone are attempting to determine the distribution of bats within the area (particularly roosting and foraging sites), the species, and population sizes.  As all bat species in England are classed as protected species, including their breeding sites and resting places, Keystone will attempt to influence the road design should any substantial roosts be discovered.

Bat detector being used at the survey site.
The bat detector.

Finding the opportunities

I understand the difficulty in finding work experience.  As part of my degree I was expected to secure a placement, yet competition is rife.  However, I persevered and I’ve managed to gain work experience in the field of veterinary science, practical conservation, data collection/retention, and wildlife identification to name a few.  The people who protect our land and our wildlife never shun a helping hand, so don’t be afraid to enquire.  The following suggestions are just some of the ways that you can get ‘your foot in the door’.

  • Volunteer.  I know you’ve heard this a hundred times over, but it is a sure fire way to gain experience and demonstrate your commitment.
  • A really great tip (which resulted in my engagement with Keystone Environmental) is to check conservation job sites. Not only may you find a great position, but reading through job descriptions that interest you is the best way to take note of specifications.  I regularly check the following sites and keep a checklist of the qualifications and attributes they require:
  • Conservation.co.uk
  • Environmentjob.co.uk
  • Environmentjobs.co.uk (I promise you they’re different)
  • Become a member of your local wildlife and environment trusts (Somerset Wildlife Trust, Cambridge Conservation Forum (CFF), and even the RSPCA) as they often advertise volunteer roles. What’s more, speculative applications should never be underestimated. I became a member of CFF when a colleague at Durrell recommended I do so.  I receive newsletters and invites to events. They regularly advertise student research and paid roles, and provide links to recent news and articles.
  • This brings me to my final point.  Just stay in touch with current affairs.  Keep up to date with the news, get yourself on Twitter (even if you hate the idea, I know I did….do?).  There is so much research going on out there, there are new discoveries and developments every day!

Organisation logos


Not qualified in natural sciences?

Don’t worry if you didn’t studied natural sciences at college, you can still contribute.  Charities and conservation organisations are dependent on their marketing, accounting, and education departments.  Furthermore, the world of conservation is totally made by it’s volunteers.  Practical skills are fundamental on the ground – habitat restoration, construction of nature reserves etc are dependent on these individuals (plus, volunteer jobs could always lead to paid work).  If your heart is in the right place, and you’re commited then you will always be welcome in the industry!

View of Limpopo Province South Africa

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Kristina Middleton is an aspiring wildlife conservationist with big dreams. Based in Bath, she is currently researching the early social developments of the critically endangered Livingstone's Fruit Bat. She is a field data and publications volunteer for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and a freelance wildlife surveyor for Keystone Environmental. She has worked in the field in South Africa, and Madagascar, assisting important wildlife conservation initiatives, and is always seeking new opportunities to learn. Krissy is committed to a future in conservation and, by sharing her experiences, wishes to inspire others to get involved.

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