Name: Owain Masters
Employer: I am employed by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, a national wildlife charity with staff across the UK.
This roles involves lots of travel. I spend most of my time in the office planning, putting together resources and preparing for events. Then the rest of the time is spent in schools, universities, in country parks or out in nature reserves, delivering lessons and other events.
In the nature conservation sector, Engagement Officer and Education Officer roles involve informing groups of people about something that we wish to conserve and trying to work with those groups to benefit said thing. If you were to see these job titles they could be for everything from delivering outreach at a small local reserve to delivering events across a huge project area and being involved in strategy planning for national wildlife conservation.
In my case I work for a project called Snakes in the Heather which is to conserve rare reptiles, especially the smooth snake, and the heathland habitats where they live. The methods involved in education and engagement role vary hugely but my role in this project involves developing signs that are at our nature reserves, developing a children’s story book and developing resources for education including school packs and videos. My roles involves putting together informal educational games and activities, creating a curriculum linked education programme related to the target species, helping to create our family membership and providing content for the organisation’s project webpages, education webpages and social media. I manage work experience placements, internships and a volunteer programme, ad plan and deliver volunteer training, including reptile survey training as part of this. I also deliver lessons to all ages and talks to community groups, I lead guided walks and activity days, run volunteer task days and participate in strategic meetings, workshops and conferences planning future conservation of key species.
For all of the above I plan carefully the audiences involved, the messages delivered to them and how this involvement will benefit the conservation aims. For this I think in 3 Is, as a stepped process; to Inform, in order to Interest, in order to Involve (in behaviour change). I also have a role in evaluating the project throughout to ensure that we are making the best possible progress with our activities.
Funding for these roles is often directed towards engaging with hard to reach stakeholders. Sometimes this is very enjoyable but, occasionally, these hard to reach stakeholders have some objection towards the conservation action being taken, and this can be tricky. One bit of training I had that was very interesting was about how to approach more difficult stakeholders and de-escalate confrontation. Overall, it is a great job; you meet lots of interesting people and have a rewarding mission to work on.
Majority of time is spent doing: Mostly planning, creating resources, doing admin related to events and responding to enquiries, but with some time each week delivering events.
Time is spent mostly indoors but I am lucky that I can plan outdoor events and tend to deliver an event such as a volunteer task day outside in beautiful locations fairly often.
Yes, roles in nature related outreach often vary with the seasons. It is usual that more outside events are planned for the summer. In my current job working on heathlands, I lead more volunteer task days during the winter because the colder months, when the reptiles are less active, are a better time to make beneficial changes to their habitat to minimise disturbance. In each Engagement Officer job I have had the winters are also usually a good time to develop resources and do lots of behind the scenes work. Then spring into summer and autumn are busy with outdoor events and, if part of the role, survey work.
Engagement and Education Officer roles usually ask for an undergraduate degree. The degree is required for a foundation of ecological knowledge necessary to educate others as part of the role. However, I think if you had sufficient experience you would not necessarily need a degree. Volunteer experience, which will provide some networking opportunities and help to develop a knowledge of the sector, and possibly knowledge of the geographical area where a job is based, are just as important for those looking at this job as their first in the sector. I have also found a knowledge of the management of protected areas, the applications of GIS and some education theory which I learned as part of my degree to be very useful.
Additional training: I have usually been offered the extra required training early on in the role. The training needs will depend on the specifics of the job. For my current role I have needed a DBS, outdoor first aid and survey training. If the role involves other surveys or specific habitat work these will be needed but might be offered by the employer.
Skills needed: This role requires proactivity, patience and a willingness to speak to the public. Becoming confident when public speaking took me a while but will always be part of this role. Knowing what is involved in running events will be required.
Advice to anyone looking at similar roles:
Engagement and Education Officer roles can be very rewarding but they are very hard work. For anyone interested in this role in their early careers, some extracurricular experience beyond the degree will be more impressive to the employer. Once in the role, I suggest spending much of the first few weeks preparing and networking with partner organisations or colleagues nearby or with similar roles. This is extremely useful because, if you have similar missions, you may be able to work with them and get to know some of their contacts for engagement. You may also find that they are creating similar resources and you can work together synergistically both for events and to create resources required to support your specific conservation aims. This way you avoid duplication of effort and can further your reach.
If you have any queries about this role or would like to ask a question of the job holder please contact Owain on firstname.lastname@example.org
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