Careers Series: How do I get into Conservation?


To describe conservation as a broad field is something of an understatement. Consider the mission statement of the global organisation Conservation International: “We help communities, countries and societies protect tropical forests, lush grasslands, rivers, wetlands, abundant lakes and the sea.”

A cursory glance at job listings related to conservation doesn’t refine our definition much further. There are positions in soil conservation, fish conservation, island conservation, and even tree kangaroo conservation. Not to mention a raft of roles – in program coordination, administration, marketing, and fundraising – that support the work of conservation organisations.

To help you get a handle on the wide world of conservation jobs, we’ve spoken with three organisations operating in the areas of land conservation, marine conservation and animal conservation, and come up with a snapshot of their particular jobs market.

Land Conservation: Conservation Volunteers Australia

Conservation Volunteers Australia, or CVA, is busy running volunteer conservation programs along with a number of training courses for people interested in environmental work. Kathie Surridge, human resources facilitator for the organisation, says CVA is always on the lookout for people who want to be involved in managing and protecting their environment.

“As a team, we make it possible for thousands of volunteers, both local and international, to join us every year to help plant thousands of trees, clear hectares of weeds, improve river health, save endangered species, and protect our cultural heritage,” Surridge explains.

“As a not-for-profit we make use of various options to make our package as attractive as possible, but we also acknowledge that the people who do join us do it for more than the money – it’s about using your particular qualifications and skills to make a real difference,” Surridge adds.

Surridge says that CVA currently employs 343 staff in Australia in both casual and permanent roles. Most CVA offices are staffed by a regional manager who looks after areas such as marketing, funding, and project partnerships. The regional manager will be supported by a number of team leaders who are responsible for supervising and motivating groups of volunteers on conservation projects. A volunteer engagement officer will also be on staff to recruit, organise, and induct CVA’s volunteers.

Surridge says knowledge and experience in conservation will help you land a team leader role, and that applicants need to gather certifications in areas such as first aid, defensive driving, and operational health and safety before they can start work. CVA does not publish its pay ranges, so unfortunately we can\’t outline exactly what these jobs pay.

As an example of what other land conservation organisations pay their employees, a look at Australian job listings in the category reveals a yearly salary of  $40,000 to $44,999 for a senior bush regenerator with EcoBiological, and $60,000 to $69,999 for a terrestrial conservation officer with the Rottnest Island Authority.

Marine Conservation: The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

CVA’s picture of the conservation jobs market suggests there’s plenty of work to go around, but it seems that might not be the case when it comes to marine conservation. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society – an international organisation with bases in the UK, Australiasia, Germany, Latin America and the US – describes marine conservation simply as “a very difficult area in which to make a career.”

“Opportunities and positions are very scarce,” the WDCS states it its advice to job seekers. “In terms of research projects, these are usually given to established and well-respected scientists who in turn employ their own teams. These team places will be hotly competed for, with candidates most probably having degrees either in marine biology or other biology/zoology subjects.”

While this advice might sound bleak, the WDCS does have some advice for students considering marine conservation once they graduate. At a high school level, students should focus on subjects such as biology, ecology, environmental science, and other science subjects.

“If you are considering university degree courses, there are many excellent and relevant courses on offer these days,” the WDCS adds, explaining that this wasn’t the case even a decade ago. “You should aim for a degree in marine biology, or another biological science such as zoology if you can, although there are some excellent environmental science degrees on offer nowadays.”

The WDCS also notes that many positions in marine conservation organisations go to candidates with qualifications outside of marine biology. “For example, noise pollution is currently an important and much-researched issue within the area of cetacean conservation, and our own expert came to us not with a marine biology degree, but with an engineering degree in acoustics.”

Again, the range of jobs available in this particular field is broad, but as an example of the type of salary marine conservation workers can expect, a research associate at James Cook University’s School of Marine Biology has recently been advertised for between $61,000 and $66,000 per year.

Finally, the WDCS adds that conservation organisations also need people to work on campaigning, marketing, and fund-raising, so good writing skills and knowledge of one or more foreign languages can be extremely useful in landing a job. “Qualifications in IT, business studies and administration, marketing, journalism and other practical communication skills are much in demand for these positions,” the WDCS explains.

Animal Conservation: The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts is an organisation made up of 47 local wildlife conservation groups across the UK. With over 800,000 members, The Wildlife Trusts has plenty of work for those on the administrative side of the organisation, however there are specific roles for those who want a hands-on animal conservation role.

“Each Wildlife Trust is working independently on local schemes and projects and there is a huge variety of activities and work in which the are involved,” says Tanya Perdikou, The Wildlife Trusts’ media and campaigns officer. “Examples of specific roles include reserve wardens, who manage The Wildlife Trusts’ 2,300 nature reserves to ensure they remain fantastics habitats for wildlife.”

“Some roles may be more specific to a species, such as a door mouse project officer, or more strategic, such as head of conservation,” Perdikou explains. “Qualifications required vary from role to role, but in general for conservation positions a qualification linked to ecology or land management is required, along with practical experience.”

“Licences for handling equipment such as chainsaws may be desirable,” Perdikou adds. “Communications skills are also a bonus, as most conservation jobs involve working within a team and sometimes with the general public.”

In terms of salary, Perdikou says a project officer may expect to earn between £18,000 and £25,000 per year, while a head of conservation could earn anything between £30,000 and £50,000.

Clearly, there’s plenty of room to move if you’re looking for a job that involves caring for the environment. Your first step toward landing one of these jobs will be to zero in on a field that really interests you.