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National Mentoring Day – Finding a Mentor in the Conservation Sector

Logo: A Focus on Nature

By Emily Seccombe

AFON Mentor and Founder, Stephen Moss, speaking at the Now for Nature conference 2019 (Steph Brown Photography)
AFON Mentor and Founder, Stephen Moss, speaking at the Now for Nature conference 2019 (Steph Brown Photography)

Are you interested in a career in conservation but unsure where to start? Today is National Mentoring Day (27th October) and CJS has given us this opportunity to highlight the A Focus on Nature mentoring scheme, for 18-30 year olds. A Focus on Nature (AFON) is the UK’s youth nature network, and our aim is to support, inspire and connect young people. Through the mentoring scheme, professionals from the conservation sector provide tailored advice to young people with a passion for nature.

A Focus on Nature volunteers at BirdFair 2019 (A Focus on Nature)
A Focus on Nature volunteers at BirdFair 2019 (A Focus on Nature)

Trying to start a career in conservation can feel quite daunting. There aren’t many graduate schemes and advice can be hard to find unless you know someone personally who has worked in the sector. School or university careers advisors might not know much about the career paths available in the environmental sector. This is why the AFON mentoring scheme was set up – to provide career support and advice to young people interested in wildlife photography, nature writing, environmental policy, ecological recording, outdoors education or practical habitat management. We hope to tackle the isolation that can be felt by young people hoping to get into the sector. We support over 50 mentees through the scheme every year and are open to new applications all year round. In 2021, we are planning on expanding the number of people we support through the launch of a careers advice hub on our webpage – watch this space!

How does the scheme work?

We have a fantastic range of mentors, all successful professionals, who volunteer their time to support young people. Those who are interested submit an application detailing their interests and requesting which mentors they’d like to have support from. All mentees receive an advice booklet, which contains top tips from across our board of mentors. Mentors and mentees work together and discuss how the mentee can be supported to achieve their goals.

The scheme is open to anyone aged 18-30 who has an interest in nature and conservation and wants advice. Thanks to the voluntary time of the mentors and AFON committee, the mentoring scheme is completely free. We want the scheme to be as inclusive as we can to make our support accessible, so you can sign up as a mentee irrespective of your background, level of experience or education.

A group of young people at the A Focus on Nature Now for Nature Conference 2019 (Steph Brown Photography)
A group of young people at the A Focus on Nature Now for Nature Conference 2019 (Steph Brown Photography)

Who are the mentors?

From authors to rangers to educators, all our fantastic mentors have great experience in the wildlife sector. Our mentors recognise how hard it is to get into the sector and want to support young naturalists and conservationists. The panel come from many of the leading conservation organisations in the UK including the National Trust, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, as well as successful freelancers. We’re very grateful to our mentors for volunteering their time and expertise to support young people.

We are currently looking to increase the diversity of our mentoring panel. Specifically, we are looking for women working in conservation science, and Black, Asian or minority ethnic conservationists. We hope through this we will make the mentoring scheme more reflective of the young people we hope to support and improve representation of the diversity of people working in conservation.

What do mentees and mentors make of the scheme?

“The AFON mentor scheme provides opportunities that I wish had been available to me when I was starting out in my conservation career. As a mentor it is also very rewarding as you are not only sharing experience, but learning from the inspiring young people who you are paired with too.” - Catriona Corfield, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Manager for the RSPB, AFON Mentor

“I had a fantastic phone call with [my mentor] who offered me fantastic advice, and helped me narrow down my general enquiries into more specific ones. He's very approachable and offered up help in the future as well. “ – AFON Mentee

“Talking to someone who followed a similar career path to me has given me reassurance that I can change paths and it's okay to feel uncertain about continuing in academia.” – AFON Mentee

Want to get involved?

Check out our website www.afocusonnature.org/mentors to find the application form, mentoring guidelines and the bios of our wonderful mentors. If you have any questions, please get in touch with Emily Seccombe at mentors@afocusonnature.org

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