Can you feel the call of the wild? Working in conservation means you can spend your days in the great outdoors preserving its beauty for everyone. Read on as lead warden Kate Clarke talks about why her job is a real breath of fresh air.
Can you describe your job?
I lead a team of wardens conserving approximately 500 acres of beach, sand dune and woodland on Liverpool Bay (Formby). The area we look after is of national and international conservation importance due to the rare plant and animal species that are found here. The pine woodlands are also home to the native red squirrel and our site forms part of one of the 17 red squirrel refuges in the north of England. My job is very varied and includes practical conservation such as woodland management, dune restoration and habitat creation and restoration as well as office work such as HR administration and grant applications. We also look after a small flock of sheep throughout the summer months. Visitor and community engagement also play a large role in my job and this includes working with volunteers and community groups on practical conservation projects as well as giving presentations to local groups and organising and running public events.
What is a typical working day like?
I might have a clear plan of what my day’s work will consist of when I walk through the office door but often within 10 minutes I can be doing something completely different! It is better to consider a typical year when looking at my job rather than a typical day as much of what we do, and when we do it, depends on the natural seasons and the visitor season. Working in such a dynamic landscape with such high visitor numbers means that my work is often very reactive. Late spring and summer is peak visitor season so the majority of my time is spent engaging with our visitors and maintaining visitor facilities to a high standard. Autumn is the start of the woodland management season. We follow a strict plan of woodland management to keep our plantation woodland in good condition and make it more sustainable. We also make our woods as safe as possible for our visitors to enjoy. Late winter and early spring finds us undertaking dune restoration work. This involves putting up special fences on the dunes to combat the impact of both natural and man-made erosion. We also carry out tree planting with the help of local school children. Then it’s back to visitor season and the whole thing starts again.
Why did you choose to work in the environment?
My job is more of a vocation – I certainly don’t do it for the money or the glamorous lifestyle, that’s for sure! My parents brought me up to have a strong connection to the natural world and thanks to many happy family camping holidays I got to see the great variety and beauty of the British countryside. This encouraged me to work to conserve them for future generations.
What qualifications and training do you have?
I have a degree in Marine Biology and a number of vocational qualifications such as chainsaw, brushcutter and first aid licences.
What other skills do you need?
The first thing you need is passion for both the environment and conservation. It also helps if you have some knowledge of the type of habitat or landscape that you are interested in working in and the issues that affect it. In this line of work you need to be a “jack of all trades” as you can find yourself mending a fence one minute and then dealing with a first aid emergency the next. The reactive nature of our job means you need to be able to think on your feet and also be willing to try new things to resolve an issue as nature and our visitors are always throwing new challenges at us. It’s important to be flexible as nature doesn’t run to a set schedule. This means that sometimes you need to stay late or rearrange rest days to get a job done.
You also need good communication skills and a professional manner so visitors get the best possible care whilst on site. Presentation skills are also important to get you through all the guided walks and talks that you do.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Working in a beautiful place and knowing that you are helping to protect it. Also walking down a deserted beach on a stormy day is pretty good too!
What’s the most difficult thing about your job?
One of the hardest things to deal with is the lack of respect with which a small minority of our visitors treat the site. It is pretty soul destroying when you have spent three hours litter picking in the morning only to find that it looks as if you have done nothing by 5pm. This is a minority of visitors however, and it gives us a good challenge to try and educate them so they don’t do it again.
What advice would you have for people who want to be a warden?
Warden and ranger jobs are limited and very popular, which means that you have to be determined to get one. The best way is to get a higher education qualification, either academic or vocational, in a relevant field and then do as much volunteering in as many different environments and with as many different conservation organisations as possible. This will give you a broad spectrum of practical experience and knowledge. Most people start off doing seasonal work. You may need to do a number of these seasonal placements before you get the experience and training required to move up the career ladder to a full-time job. Although this will seem frustrating at the time it is definitely worth it when you get your first full-time, permanent contract.
Why do you think conservation is important?
The human race has done a lot of damage to this amazing planet of ours and I think it is our duty to try and mitigate the damage we have done and help protect what wonderful natural environment we have left.