Make Connections

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By Aidan Neary, Conservation Officer at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

With LoveLincsPlants 18-35 botanists
With LoveLincsPlants 18-35 botanists (Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust)

I have arrived at my current role as a Conservation Officer at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust after a few twists and turns along the way. Most recently I have worked on the LoveLincsPlants herbarium project which was a four-year partnership project with the Natural History Museum in London and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Together we have created a contemporary herbarium (dried and pressed plants) for scientific research while inspiring the public on the value of plants and botany in our lives. This role was rich and varied, from event planning and delivery, media and promotion tasks to developing a scientific plant collection strategy and working with volunteers from all walks of life. I firmly believe that all of my previous work and voluntary experiences played a part in developing the skills needed for this role and my current work.

I started work in ecology and conservation in my late twenties after a completing a BSc Ecology and Conservation degree at Sheffield Hallam University. To get a foothold in the world of work after my degree I was aware that I needed to ‘prove’ my interest and dedication by volunteering for nature conservation organisations. But at the same time, I needed to explore where my interests lay and work out what suited my character and skills. So, in my free time I decided to get involved with my local Wildlife Trust on practical task days, contribute to the BTO Bird Atlas by adopting a few squares on my patch, as well as pestering Nottingham City Council to give me a week-long placement with their environment team. So, when the opportunity came up to get a paid summer placement as an assistant field ecologist with a local consultancy I was already in a position to show some practical experience. Therefore, my first bit of advice is to try to get as much experience as you can during your time at university. Making contacts with people in your chosen world of work is an essential first step and one to start developing as soon as you can.

Giving a talk to LWT area group
Giving a talk to LWT area group (Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust)

After graduation I knew I had an interest in the farmed environment but could not see any opportunities available in the Midlands. My partner and I decided to up sticks and volunteered on farms in Devon as part of the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms programme where you can earn food and accommodation in exchange for your labour. This was a great way to make connections with people, learn new skills and explore a new part of the country on a budget. It was at this time that I made a call to the Devon Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) about any potential assistant advisor roles. None were available at the time but I had spoken to the team manager, told them my intentions and made another connection. Six months later, a suitable position came up and I was successful; gaining my first full time job albeit a one-year graduate contract. I feel that it is this full time paid position that opened up the doors to other future work as I developed skills in habitat surveying, report writing and event management and promotion. Skills that I would later go on to develop.

Training vols in herbarium skills
Training vols in herbarium skills (Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust)

Short fixed term contracts are the norm in our line of work and can work in your favour if you are keen to explore different areas within the sector before perhaps focusing on a particular type of role. From working with local councils as a planning ecologist I realised that the times I enjoyed most were spent working with local people on small community projects i.e. a swift bird nest survey in Monmouthshire or a local green space planting scheme in Caerphilly, South Wales. When an opportunity came up to work with The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust on their Wildflower Meadow Network project I jumped at the chance. It was a chance to combine all of my interests; botany, practical habitat creation, event management and community empowerment. It is worth noting that during my various roles before this point I had continued to work on my botany ID skills at every opportunity in my spare time, whether through shadowing local experts where I lived to enrolling on an intense field identification weekend with the Field Studies Council. When it came to passing the plant ID field test on interview day I was able to put myself in with a shout!

At the moment I am back to where I started at the beginning of my career and working on farm conservation advisory work. Again, an ability to establish connections will be key to developing trust with landowners but I know I will also making use of my botany, reporting and event management skills once again while being open to new knowledge and experiences. I have come to realise that new roles bring fresh challenges with inevitable successes and failures but being willing to try something new and learn from others can lead to a richer personal and professional life.

Pond restoration work
Pond restoration work (Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust)

My top 5 tips

  1. Get ‘real world’ experience when studying. Volunteer and make contacts with people in your chosen area.
  2. Aim to get a breadth of experience i.e. practical, technical, natural history survey skills, media and event skills but don’t be afraid to focus on a particular interest or type of role e.g. botany when the time feels right. Follow what interests you.
  3. Be persistent. Sometimes a phone call or face to face visit to a prospective employer / volunteer organisation is needed to get a foot in the door.
  4. Seek professional advice on CV content composition. This is your shop window so presentation, spelling and grammar should be spot on.
  5. If possible, relocate elsewhere if an opportunity comes up. Jobs can lead onto other work and you may find yourself at your ideal destination after a few steps along the way.

For more about work and volunteer opportunities with the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust please visit the website:

First published in CJS Focus on Employability on 23 May 2022. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 30/04/2022

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