Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and Svalbard

Logo: Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Most of us will never make it to any of these places in our lifetime. You may not even have heard of Svalbard - it’s a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole where the small human population lives alongside reindeer and polar bears.

For hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, these far-flung places are their summer breeding grounds. But each year as the days start to shorten, these birds begin their journeys across land and sea, arriving hundreds and even thousands of miles later on the UK’s shores. Here, on our coastal and inland wetlands, they’ll over-winter and build up their fat reserves before starting their incredible journey back to their northern breeding grounds next spring.

Yet the wetlands that are the winter home to these birds are themselves under threat from drainage and pollution, invasive species and the over-harvesting. With no wetlands, we will have no birds.

The fact that we need to conserve and protect both the wetlands and the birds that visit them was the inspiration for Sir Peter Scott, founder of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

View of Slimbridge and Severn estuary (Sasha Dench/WWT)
View of Slimbridge and Severn estuary (Sasha Dench/WWT)

Just after World War II, he moved to Slimbridge, a tiny village on the edge of the Severn estuary in Gloucestershire, and a favourite winter home for geese, ducks and other migratory birds.

Scott loved the wild open marshes of the Severn Vale, and the birds that visited each year. Initially a painter and shooter of wildfowl, he learned how to protect the birds, and then on to understanding their wetland habitats.

In 1946 he established what became the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Slimbridge as a centre for science and conservation. Uniquely at the time, he opened his grounds to the public so that anyone could enjoy getting close to nature.

WWT continues that legacy to this day, both at our headquarters in Slimbridge, and at our 10 wetland sites across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In total our sites cover over 3,000 hectares of critically important wetlands.

Because we’ve been doing this for 70 years, we’re pioneers in saving wetland wildlife, both in the UK and around the world. We work internationally in key global wetland areas, balancing conservation with sustainable livelihoods and influencing national and international conservation policies.

We are one of the largest wetland conservation organisations in the world, and our work covers everything from saving species, tracking and technologies, habitat management and conservation, science, wildlife health and monitoring and education.

In addition to our wetland reserves, we also work in partnership with local authorities and statutory bodies to plan and deliver individual projects. In the UK this ranges from a project to reduce flooding using natural landscape features in West Somerset, to restoring the urban catchment of a stream in urban Slough.

Spoon-billed sandpiper being headstarted (Paul Marshall/WWT)
Spoon-billed sandpiper being headstarted (Paul Marshall/WWT)

Internationally, our work focuses on globally endangered species, and those which can act as flagships for wetland conservation along international flyways. We work alongside partners to understand and help re-establish native populations such as the spoon-billed sandpiper in Artic Russia and the Madagascar pochard, a type of duck in its native country, and the rarest duck species in the world.

The type of work we do provides a wide range of hands-on, interventionist roles both on our sites, and further afield along migratory bird migration routes. And, because we are at the forefront of environmental science when it comes to so many of these species, staff working for WWT have the opportunity to get involved in a range of fascinating and ground-breaking technologies and techniques.

When it comes to saving species, particular skills are required in the study and management of small, threatened populations, and wildlife health and conservation breeding, as we successfully deliver the hands-on recovery of species.

Like most conservation charities, much of our work centres on identifying an issue or a problem through observation and research, and then trialling solutions. The work is as diverse as the species and habitats that we inhabit.

Bewick’s swan (WWT)
Bewick’s swan (WWT)

For example, we had an issue at our site in Martin Mere, Lancashire where, during the over-wintering season, Bewick’s and whooper swans returning to their night-time roost from their feeding grounds were colliding with the high-voltage electricity power lines that lay in their flightpath.

Detailed observational studies, combined with the electricity company’s own records showed exactly which were the most frequently struck parts of the power lines along the birds’ flightpath. Combining this with other variables such as wind direction, feeding patterns according to the time of the agricultural year and the type of deflectors available all helped identify the best type of deflector and where to site it along the birds’ routes to provide the best outcome for both the birds, and the power company. It’s hoped the research will help other electricity power companies elsewhere in the country.

Various powerline deflectors, Martin Mere (Sasha Dench/WWT)
Various powerline deflectors, Martin Mere (Sasha Dench/WWT)

Internationally, we’re working to save the spoon-billed sandpiper, with less than 250 birds in the wild, it’s one of the most threatened birds on the planet. It breeds in the Russian Far East, and migrates 8,000km to winter in southern China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand. Working with others, we’re helping track their migration using satellite tags, establishing a breeding population to safe-guard against extinction, and “headstarting” (hatching and rearing to fledging), which has resulted in the successful release of over 100 birds back to the wild.

Whatever your interests in natural sciences and conservation, whether it’s genetics, ecology, wildlife management and species reintroductions or looking after our living collections, or even the human dimensions of conservation such as environmental economics, international biodiversity regulation, to the politics of climate change or work with local communities, there’s plenty of fascinating, life-affirming, interesting and enjoyable roles to enable you to follow your passion, develop your knowledge and skills and find a rewarding career with WWT. 

Keep an eye on the CJS website for our latest jobs.

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