Environmental conservation officer
Agricultural, Natural, Animal Care
Environmental Conservation Officers study the effects of modern developments on the environment and are concerned with the preservation of the countryside as a whole. They investigate ways in which farming procedures (e.g. pesticides) or construction (e.g. pipelines, roads etc.) interact with plant and animal life.
What does an Environmental Conservation Officer do?
Environmental Conservation Officers are responsible for examining the changes in the balance of nature. To achieve this they carry out research into the local environment through fieldwork. They advise other scientists, economists and planners about their findings. They may enforce regulations to protect the environment and the species within it.
Typical job responsibilities include:
- Managing and protecting areas of land and the plants and animals within them
- Identifying and surveying species, recording their habits and distribution
- Enforcing regulations to protect the environment
- Advising local authorities and private companies on the likely impact of developments
- Carrying out surveys of the wildlife, habitats and landscape features within the local environment
- Identifying plant and animal species, mapping their habitats, analysing their behaviour and recording numbers
- Liaising with other environmental specialists and scientists e.g. botanists and ecologists
- Maintaining computer databases to record findings and reports
- Implementing policies to protect wildlife and the environment
- Raising awareness of their work through giving talks, setting up displays and writing leaflets and newsletters
- Recruiting, training and supervising staff including volunteers
- Managing and controlling budgets
Environmental Conservation Officers work in a variety of settings including nature reserves, woodlands, heaths and moors and sites of specials scientific interest (SSSIs). They usually work a basic 40 hour week. They are normally employed in an office, a laboratory or out on fieldwork. Travel around the district will be necessary and sometimes there will be irregular hours.
You would be informing, advising and consulting with people and will also have to cope with some physical activity and poor weather conditions.
Future career progression could be into a supervisory or management-level post. There may also be opportunities to specialise in a particular area of conservation. This could involve overseeing field projects and supervising staff.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for Environmental Conservation Officers
- A passion for the environment, nature and wildlife
- A willingness to work outside in all types of weather
- A scientific approach to the work
- An ability to show initiative
- Excellent communication skills to give advice, complete reports and explain findings
- Confidence to give talks and presentations to a wide range of people including scientists, landowners, local authority officers, representatives of private companies, conservation bodies and members of the public
- Have a good level of physical fitness for fieldwork
- A thorough, analytical approach to research
- Able to interpret and keep up to date with environmental legislation and guidelines
- Good negotiating skills
- The ability to train and supervise people and lead teams of conservation specialists, rangers/wardens and volunteers
- Sound organisational and planning skills to make best use of resources
- Good IT skills for producing reports
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of Environmental Conservation Officers
Examples of typical employers of Environmental Conservation Officers include:
- Natural England
- The Environment Agency
- The Forestry Commission
- The National Park Authorities
- The Countryside Council for Wales
- Scottish Natural Heritage
- The Scottish Wildlife Trust
- Local Authorities
- The National Trust and National Trust for Scotland
- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
Qualifications and training required
A degree, HND or Foundation Degree would be required unless you have considerable experience in conservation or natural history. Most environmental conservation officers hold degrees in life sciences, environmental science, ecology or conservation, geology or geography. It is essential to have completed at least six months' work experience in conservation or a related area before applying for a degree (e.g. voluntary work with the RSPB or the National Trust). Entry into a degree course requires a minimum of 5 GCSEs grades 9 – 4 (A*- C) and 2 A levels. An A level in a science subject may be preferred. In Scotland 4-5 Highers (A-B) including Maths, Science and/or Geography plus a good range of National 5s including English.
It may also be possible to study for a Sandwich Degree which would give you the opportunity to gain more work experience as part of the course.
A relevant postgraduate course or higher degree in conservation, land management, ecology or a related subject, would be an advantage.
It is possible to enter this job through an Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship or Modern Apprenticeship in Scotland. An Intermediate Level Apprenticeship usually requires 4/5 GCSEs at grades 9 – 4 (A* - C) including English and maths. An Advanced Level Apprenticeship usually requires 8/9 GCSEs at grades 9 – 4 (A* - C) including English and maths.
It is possible to start as a Countryside Ranger/Warden to gain experience and qualifications and then apply for a post as an environmental conservation officer. Once you have started work it is likely that your employer will encourage you to take further short courses at field study centres.