I want to work in conservation, but I’m not sure where to start..? I’ve been in marketing for the past 10 years, are there any jobs suitable for me in conservation? What should I study to get a job in conservation? What do conservationists even do all day?

These are the kinds of questions I get a lot by email or through my Facebook page. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog – not so much to provide brilliant answers – but just to help people share their experiences and discover their interests. The last question is mainly from friends, who still don’t get how I while away so many hours in front of a computer, and seem to go on ‘holidays’ that don’t seem very fun or relaxing.

So I thought I’d rack my brains and lay out as many career paths as I can think of, in an effort to make aspiring conservationists at least aware of their options.

Feel free to suggest others that I haven’t thought of in the comments.

1. The Ecological Consultancy Career

I hesitate to say this is a ‘default’ option, but it’s certainly one of the clearest avenues to take, and the first that springs to mind.

Ecological consultants generally provide a range of services on a contract basis to organisations that do not employ specialist staff or have insufficient expertise. Topics can be varied, from forestry and water quality management, down to species specific work such as bat surveys, or novel technologies like eDNA. A few years in an ecological consultancy is a good opportunity to develop good fieldwork and survey skills. The work can be seasonal, but that’s sometimes great – office in winter, field in summer.

On the downside, some companies probably commission ecological work out of necessity, with little interest in acting on it beyond what is legally required.

Ecological consultancy jobs are also some of the most readily advertised and most straight forward to apply for. A quick search online shows that it’s also one of the few conservation jobs where you can get an estimated starting salary.

2. The Get Your Hands Dirty Conservation Career

Some people just want to get stuck in. This could range from working on nature reserves in the UK or abroad, to volunteering overseas

Sometimes I think this is what we should all do – it’s surely what we could enjoy the most, outside in the fresh air, amongst the very environments we seek to protect. But the caveat is that it’s difficult to influence policy. Does that really matter? Sometimes I wonder… but for most conservationists, at some point in their lives there is an urge to try and make a bigger difference, beyond your own limited sphere of influence.

Some of my own formative experiences were out in Madagascar and South Africa. It’s certainly an essential right of passage for many people starting out in their conservation career.

3. The Big NGO Conservation Career

Perhaps a job with Birdlife International, WWF or the RSPB appeals? I’ve never worked for one of these organisations, but luckily I have a good (anonymous) friend who has:

The pros: “You can be part of something really big, making a massive difference; you can (if you want to) specialise in a particular area of work; you benefit from shared resources; once you’re ‘in’ you stand a better chance of getting future roles within the same NGO; you can learn from more experienced colleagues and other teams.”

The cons: “Sometimes your creativity can be limited by the (usually perfectly sensible, but not always) constraints of the organisation; you’re never going to get paid much; the larger the organisation the slower it is to get anything done. Lastly, it’s very, very hard to get a job in a big environmental NGO in the first place!

“In general I’d recommend it. What could be better than being surrounded by people who share your passion and determination to make the world a better place, saving species and habitats and reconnecting people with nature?”

4. The Little NGO Conservation Career

By contrast, there are many more smaller NGOs and they often have slightly more specialised aims or campaigns.

On one hand, this might suit your particular interest and n smaller teams it’s often easier to have a larger impact, but on the other they perhaps lack the clout of larger international voices. Luckily, I have another friend with experiences in smaller NGOs:

The Pros: “You are in the front lines; you can feel and understand what conservation means in the ground. It is very rewarding, because you actually making it happen.”

The cons: “Small conservation NGOs struggle a lot with fundraising, and the impacts you can achieve are very difficult to measure from a conservation point of view. Most of the time, your efforts are not enough to solve the problem. No matter how hard you try.

As a self confessed tree lover, my favourite small conservation NGOs are Trees for Life, Trees for the Future and Crees. I’ve wittered on about how planting trees is the best thing you can do many times before.

Related Article: Incidentally, you might like How to Choose Which Conservation Charity to Support (with your hard earned cash).

5. The Big Famous TV Star Conservation Career

With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, you could be the next Nial McCann or George McGavin.

But it’s a challenging world to work in, and TV production companies are a difficult beast to tame. My own experience of ‘the industry’ has been very mixed, despite some great pitches, lots of enthusiasm from producers and very positive progress, lots of great ideas just don’t get carried forwards. Sometimes it’s better just to do it yourself, but you will often lack exposure.

My own view is simply to strive to be great at what you do; at some point a TV career might just come knocking. If you want to learn more, then it’s worth following folks like Catherine Capon and updates on Wildvision.tv.

I also recently reviewed a book called ‘How to make conservation films and make a difference‘ that might be useful.

6. The conservation photographer/filmmaker career

Similar to the TV star avenue, but this time behind the lens. The explosion of relatively cheap, but professional quality kit, has made photography and filmmaking increasingly popular among environmentalists.

It’s a great route to take, because those iconic images really do matter and really do make a difference. If you need inspiration to see what’s possible, then look no further than the International League…