Breaking into the conservation sector

As a career switcher, I have a very personal understanding of the misconceptions that surround working in the conservation sector, especially when it comes to ‘breaking into conservation’. I can relate to that feeling of despair brought on by the natural assumption that the only way in is to go via the costly and time-consuming higher education route.

I also remember the symptoms of imposter syndrome, and if I’m honest I still have to occasionally brush that feeling off by pausing and reflecting on the reality of my conservation experiences to date. This helps me to remember that I bring plenty to the party, and you can too.

At Hove Beach, UK, describing the injuries on this Common Dolphin to one of our marine biologists over the phone. This dolphin was reported as ‘headless’ in the press and linked to a shark sighting. The head was still there and the injury had nothing to do with a shark…

After all, conservation is a sector that needs a wide range of skills to fully deliver on its many and varied objectives. In fact, I would argue that conservation has a real skills shortage outside of the traditional scientific disciplines. That’s not an attempt to downplay the importance of science, quite the opposite in fact. I believe that science won’t win the race against our planet’s most urgent problems if the conservation sector fails to evolve into a more balanced careers ecosystem.

On the boat we used in December 2021 to film the Frank Bonefaas supertrawler in Dover, UK. I was Excited! Then I saw the sea state and weather and became less excited about filming and had to focus more on staying on my feet. It was rough! We still got the shots though!

Since my career switch, I have seen first-hand that there is a real lack of skills in disciplines that even the most traditional of sectors take for granted. For example, marketing, sales (fundraising), HR, accountancy, legal, managerial etc. If you think of traditional industry and consider the job roles that are commonly associated with it, conservation needs those too if it stands any chance of success.

I can almost hear you saying, ‘marketing isn’t going to save the planet.’ Of course, you’re right, but the point is none of us can do it on our own. As the great Sir David Attenborough said in 2020, ‘Saving the planet is now a communications challenge’. He didn’t say that to belittle the science or undervalue the importance of research, he said that because fundamentally there is a strategy in place to deal with our problems, we know what we need to do. The challenge is now convincing everyone to do it, and that is a communications problem.

In the same way, we need a whole range of skills to evolve conservation into a fast-moving, creative and results-focused sector to make those strategies a reality. That means we need the brightest scientific minds, but also the best leaders, the most successful marketeers, the best legal and financial teams and people that can give NGOs the funds they need to deliver on their promises. In this fully functioning and expanded sector, there is a role for you.

So how can you ‘break into conservation’? Don’t be limited by traditional misconceptions, talk to people in the sector, add to your skills and volunteer. But make smart volunteer choices, and look for roles that will give you access to the internal workings of the organisation. Or roles that best reflect the eventual job you want to do. Use that experience to tailor the way you present your skills when going for job roles. Talk with confidence about the things you have learnt on the ground and connect your attributes to real-world problems.

In other words don’t wait for a conservation career to come to you, go and get it.


Author Profile | Lloyd Gofton

Lloyd has over 25 years of communications experience in the agency and conservation sector working in public relations, social media, content marketing, digital marketing and strategy disciplines.

During his career, he has worked with various organisations, including O2, WWF, Greenpeace, RSPCA, Médecins Sans Frontières, Samsung, Honda and Pizza Express, as well as a wide range of challenger brands.

He started out in PR in 1998 and launched his first communications agency, Liberate Media, in 2006. The agency was one of the first in the UK to combine PR, social media and content marketing services, running campaigns in the UK and across Europe, The Middle East, Africa, North America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2019, Lloyd decided to focus his career on conservation and animal welfare. He has since worked with organisations such as World Animal Protection, Cheetah Conservation Fund, and Wildlife Heritage Areas. He is also a Director at two marine conservation not-for-profits: Sussex Dolphin Project and Blue Planet Society. Lloyd joined Conservation Careers as our Communications Coach in 2020 and later went on to become our Head of Marketing.


Main image: Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) training in 2022 with our skipper (John) off Seven Sisters, Sussex, UK.


Careers Advice, Communicator