Making Your Own Success in Conservation

I spoke to Alex Bateson, a franchise holder at Lion Learners North West England. It can be a difficult task getting your foot in the door at a successful conservation organisation, why not try being a little entrepreneurial and set up your own conservation enterprise like Lion Learners?

Alex can you tell us a bit about yourself and Lion Learners?

I completed a BSc degree in Zoology, and after university, like so many, I found it difficult to get into the field. I worked in a variety of jobs for the first two years, such as call centres and for door-stepping campaigns. However, in my spare time I volunteered with Lancashire Wildlife Trust in Bolton and enjoyed many happy days hedge-laying and balsam bashing. I then whisked myself off to New Zealand and Australia helping out in a wallaby sanctuary.

Once I returned I was fortunately accepted onto a ‘V Placement’ with the Trust. This involved lots of work with local communities and gave me a chance to prove myself. From there I worked for the Trust for around 6 years in various roles including Assistant Community Project Officer, Volunteer Training Framework Officer and Volunteering and Wildlife Support Officer.

Whilst working for the Trust I was very passionate about the work they did and was eager to learn more so I undertook an MSc in Conservation Management at Edgehill University and absolutely LOVED it! I would recommend this course to anyone.

My last job with the Wildlife Trust was as their ‘Activize Your Lives Project Officer’ involved running Nature Tots. Unfortunately projects within charities do rely upon funding, so in 2015 the project came to an end. However, I decided to focus on roles which dealt with children and wildlife and I saw an advert for a Lion Learner Presenter.

Lion Learners Education Experience Limited is the full title, and they started out in Leeds by offering hands on animal education and entertainment across Yorkshire. Lion Learners then expanded their operational area and now offer animal sessions across East Anglia, Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, West Midlands and East Midlands. They were originally set up by David and Liona Woricker, Davis is a qualified teacher and Liona has an MSc in conservation. They both adore working with both children and animals!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My job involves attending schools, nurseries, care homes, libraries and events with a selection of animals from different habitats worldwide. Wherever I go I enjoy enthusing people of all ages about wildlife and seeing the changes in their attitudes towards the animals. Children and adults can be extremely quick to assign an animal as ‘creepy’ but when they realise why the animals look like they do and understand their roles within ecosystems, they come round to respect them.

I also love the way that no two days are the same. I am always meeting new people and finding out fascinating facts about animals from children and people in carehomes, some of whom actually spent time living alongside such creatures during the war etc.

What benefits do you think creating and working for a franchise can give to someone trying to break into the industry of environmental and conservation education?

I think the best part is you are not reliant on funding or grant successes (which is very rare in the environment field). There is no pressure to complete your jobs for funders or clients, you can just go at your own pace. You can deliver exactly what you want to in your own time!

How does Lion Learners deal with competitors? How does it create its market edge?

This varies from one Lion Learner franchisee to another, we will all no doubt offer discounts at certain times of the year and tailor sessions to suit what the school/carehome/organisation requires.

I guess my market edge is that all my animals are rescues which is really important to me. I do not buy from pet shops and I am not a collector which, I think in this field, is a rarity. I have delivered sessions to Guides etc. on the pet trade and how important policies like CITES are in protecting endangered animals from being over exploited.

Millie the Giant African Millipede Photo credit: Alex Bateson.

What advice would you give to someone in conservation trying to create their own business, enterprise or franchise?

Make sure you are completely aware of your competitors before you start! Start a franchise only if there is a gap in the market, few competitors or where it is needed and the concept is fresh.

Also if animals are involved a number of expenses can pile up, e.g., food, housing, vet bills, as well as being very time consuming. I can no longer hop off for a weekend away, so I would just remember to really think through if you have the time commitment to carry out a project like Lion Learners. For example, you do not get paid if you are ill, so working for yourself doesn’t always have its perks!

What is the hardest part of your job?

I would say the hardest part is probably “getting known”, for example skills in marketing, communications or advertising will go a long way when you start up your own franchise. Getting appropriate help and advice in this area could be essential to your success.

Also this job involves animals, so losing animals is inevitable and can be extremely upsetting. Also, all of my animals are rescues so seeing how ‘novelty pets’ have been abandoned and are clogging up rescue centres is very sobering.

Do you see a positive outlook for changing the mind-sets and actions of the younger generation into the future with regards to being environmentally aware?

Yes, definitely. Within the past decade there has been great advancements in schools in bringing in sustainability awards. Resources and funding is now going into creating Forest schools, School allotments and Eco-awards. Outdoor nurseries and sessions such as Nature Tots are all looked upon favourably by funders as it is hitting the correct targets. Getting children in the mind set of respecting nature and getting emotionally engaged in the outdoors should set this next generation in good stead for being more environmentally aware.

Shelly and Shelldon, Giant African Land Snails at Blackburn Council public Halloween event ‘Room on the Broom’. Photo credit: Alex Bateson.

Shelly and Shelldon, Giant African Land Snails at Blackburn Council public Halloween event ‘Room on the Broom’. Photo credit: Alex Bateson.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Still working for Lion Learners, passing on my love of wildlife, changing people’s perspectives of animals so they earn the respect they deserve, alerting people to the rate of habitat destruction and how we can help prevent this. I also think that I will have learnt a lot of facts off children within those 5 years…they know so much!

How can people get involved with Lion Learners? Would you personally offer any work experience placements?

Sadly, due to insurance costs we cannot offer any work placements, the only way to become involved with Lion Learners is by setting up your own franchise. If this is something you would be interested in, here’s a link to the essential information:

To book a session call 07940 554 245 or visit http://www.lionlearners.co.uk/pages/join-the-team.html for more information.

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