The conservation sector is highly competitive when it comes to getting that job you always wanted. Whether this is due to lack of funding, jobs requiring some very specific skills/qualities or simply that the job is particularly attractive to many people, it is well known that breaking through into this line of work is difficult.

As a young person it is likely that your potential first job will ask for a long list of experience, achievements and skills. This can appear very daunting when beginning to venture into the world of work. “Employees must have a degree in X, one year of experience in the given field, adequate identification skills, be able to drive, own their own PPE…” are all things that may be read in a job description. A degree in what? How am I supposed to have a year of experience without getting a job? What’s PPE?!?

Do I need a degree?

Firstly, having a degree in a relevant subject is very helpful. It’s proof that a prospective employee can meet deadlines, has a passion for their subject, and will stay committed to something, amongst many other things.

However, it is certainly not absolutely necessary. There are other ways of gaining access to the conservation sector…

Ring-barking to promote the growth of natural Caledonian pine forests

Ring-barking to promote the growth of natural Caledonian pine forests

Experience is equally, if not more, important than a degree

When a job description asks for “one year of experience in the given field” or anything along those lines, it may seem a little unreasonable given that in order to experience work in conservation, one would need to have had a job in conservation. However, this is not the case.

Experience usually means an employee needs to have experienced the line of work that they are applying for, and the more experience you’ve got, the better. A long list of varied experience demonstrates to an employer that you have been able to develop skills, learn and understand the line of work that you are seeking a role in.

Obtaining a degree is very good, but they don’t often teach you how to deal with real life situations. Does a degree in ecology include lectures in how to lead a group of 14-year-old children in a woodland activity? Or get you a quad bike qualification? This is why experience is so important and if you can fit it into your life, you’ll stand head and shoulders over those who haven’t managed to commit any of their time to gain valuable knowledge and know-how.

Where though?

Conservation organisations are always looking for weekly or monthly volunteers! There can never be too many people to pull Himalayan Balsam, repair paths or count ducks. The best place to look tends to be the internet, where a simple search can point you in the direction of opportunities to volunteer locally.

However, having the right contacts can be the easiest way to get chances that others won’t, simply because they don’t know the right people. Staff on a reserve you visit, lecturers, people you’ve worked with, university outdoor clubs; they can all help find you the experience you seek.

Long-term experience

Searching for more permanent placements, such as six month or year-long voluntary or paid placements, can be frustrating. A lot of them will be too far away from home to be feasible and if accommodation is provided then only a few will be able to afford to work for free for that long.

If one of these placements turns out to be achievable then seize the opportunity! A year of experience will almost guarantee to an employer that you have been put in many different situations and have therefore progressed towards becoming competent in the workplace. But then again, these placements are not always that easy to

Studying Kittiwakes in the Isle of May

Studying Kittiwakes on the Isle of May

make happen.

Prove it!

Of course, if you have obtained relevant experience then it’s important to know what you did and to be able to prove to a potential employer that you have done what you claim to have. Simply having a reference written by the person who was in charge of your experience will suffice in most cases.

If on a long-term internship or similar, it could be useful if a note is made of what you did each day. Just a quick note in the diary so that it is easily accessed when needed, and the same goes for all experience. Keep a list somewhere, on the fridge, in a word document, on PostIt notes on the walls of your room; so long as it is all recorded and you know what you have done.


Hopefully you will now head out and look for some way of gaining that extra experience, after school, over the weekends, for the summer holidays. All experience is valuable!