Connel Bradwell – A Queer eye for Queer Ecology

You may be wondering what Queer Ecology is and how it relates to conservation?!

Well, we have interviewed a pioneering queer wildlife conservationist and educator to show how learning from the natural world can change our societal norms of acceptance, and how whatever your background, you can find a way to connect with nature and get your message out there.

Challenging the ‘Natural’ World

Connel is on a mission to challenge conventional views of the ‘natural’ world. He has recently begun producing and hosting an online series called ‘Out & About’ with CBC. It aims to put the spotlight on the wild LGBTQ+ community and promote awareness for all the wildlife out there which are misrepresented.

He also hopes that by highlighting LGBTQ+ wildlife, our social views on what is natural and normal can be shifted, with acceptance that all life is created uniquely, with no parameters.

Connel out and about educating via various mediums. @connelbradwell

Small idea, massive impact

Connel is the Program Director for an environmental organisation on Vancouver Island and runs wildlife educational programs. He also hosts Hello Spring the Canadian version of Springwatch and helps with content and production. His venture into producing ‘Out & About’ began as an idea for a small podcast.

Learning societal lessons from the wild

“I had thought about doing a little podcast speaking to LGBTQ+ scientists and finding out what they do in wildlife. I then started digging into it a little bit more and saw a few studies about homosexuality in nature. A few of the studies in the reports were super homophobic and biased, and they were from 2002! So, I thought, ok, there’s something in this. That’s where the idea for this series came from.”

Let’s talk about Queer Ecology

“From my research, I’d learned a little bit more about Queer Ecology, and about some of my queer colleagues that are doing this type of work. I thought, okay, that’s a really interesting relationship with nature in the sense that people who are queer identifying are often called unnatural, and that is something that’s not true at all, so let’s get talking about it!”

Wild LGBTQ+ and female empowerment

Connel’s first episode features @wildnwayward, who is an artist and researcher specialising in queer and political ecology. They feature nonbinary bats to showcase the LGBTQ+ community in action.

“The first episode features Queer Ecology, talking about how, with an amazing nonbinary bat researcher, queerness exists in nature and how science has put its own biases on it. It’s ignored, it’s not studied, and we don’t publish papers on it, even though it’s very normal and very natural.”

“This attitude then comes back on our society, and it doesn’t just impact queer people, it impacts many people, including women. For instance, so much more study goes into male birds than female birds. There are some species here in North America, in Canada, where they’ve done no research on females at all! They know exactly where the males go on their migration, but the females, well, no one’s investigated them at all! That’s 50% of their population, how can you possibly conserve a species if you don’t know where the females are?”

“This is my biased opinion, and I don’t know if there’s any studies to prove this, but through asking lots of scientists’ direct questions, my speculation is that the predominant researcher on birds is male, they don’t look at female birds, or historically they haven’t. It’s perceived that the males are the flashier ones, and they’re more colourful, and even that isn’t true.”

Connel engaging with a stunning Owl (regardless of their gender and sexual orientation!) @connelbradwell

Challenging Western standards and healing through conservation

“Our second episode is about making space for LGBTQ+ and wildlife communities in urban spaces. I talk with Black and Latinx urban wildlife ecologist Jaylen Bastos about connections between urban wildlife and the queer community and what it is like being a queer scientist in the environmental field. Urban wildlife has been a safe space for LGBTQ+ people historically, and now it’s also becoming a safer space for wildlife.”

“The third episode focuses on indigenous relationships here in Western Canada, and I meet with environmental steward Tiffany Joseph. They have a really unique view of sexuality and gender, which is very different from Western standards. A lot of that has been suppressed during colonization, so we are investigating queer, indigenous people reclaiming space and restoring their land whilst also healing themselves.”

Connel’s first episode of ‘Out and About’ @connelbradwell

So, what does a Wildlife Educator/Conservationist do? The good, the bad, and the, well, boring!

“My main job is environmental education and I do the media work on the side. I’m trying to do it more and more, because I really enjoy it, but It’s a bit of a fickle business, you’ve just got to pitch them 1,000 ideas and see if anything sticks!”

“I also do field work in the summer, and that’s the best thing I get to do. I’ve been doing some Orca conservation with the organisation for a long time, and that’s insane! I get to go out and just watch Orca’s and record their behaviour, and I get to call that a job. I also get to do a lot of bird ringing, and that’s always great as well. Then there’s the education aspect, I love interacting with wildlife, I love talking to people about wildlife, I love to talk as you can probably tell – so that’s the best part of my job.”

“The worst part of my job is the admin and the office work, no one ever talks about that, it’s not glamorous. I do a lot of fundraising, writing grants, so many grants, over and over and over again, it’s awful! They’re almost all the same, a bit like a job application, answering the same questions, but you have to make them slightly different every time. I also have to budget, and I hate maths, but then this all allows me to go and do the fun bits!”

Connel embracing the ‘fun bits’ of conservation: studying Orcas. @connelbradwell

How to become a Wildlife Educator/Conservationist (queer or non-queer – there’s no judgement here!) 

“I’m sure that my story is pretty similar to everyone else’s where I have always been interested in wildlife ever since I was really little. I was lucky, my parents are quite supportive, they were a little bit ‘birdie’, which kickstarted my liking of animals and wildlife. I started volunteering in the Leicestershire Wildlife Trust when I was about 13. I was pretty lucky in that I was one of those people that knew exactly what I wanted to do, so I went on to study wildlife conservation on a rural campus, which was amazing.”

“I consistently volunteered with the Wildlife Trust and the RSPB, and in my sandwich year at university, I went to Canada for six months. I just emailed a bunch of places and managed to get the email of an ‘Edinburgh guy ‘who was studying Orcas, and he gave me the number of where I work now, and that’s how I got to do Orca research. I considered a Master’s degree, but I was offered a job straight out of university, and it’s hard to drag yourself back to university. I admire those who can go back to education, my boyfriend was an Interior Designer, and now he’s gotten into environment, and conservation, so I’m big fan of that, if you want to do it, just go and do it. From his experience, going back to university later in life enables you to understand the world a little bit more.”

“I then got involved with the Canadian Hello Spring and did some things for the BBC. I do really want to reiterate that I initially only intended to come to Canada for six months, but then I met my partner. My intention was always to go back to the UK. The point is that I think a lot of the time people think they have to have amazing adventures and see exotic animals in conservation, but I love British wildlife. When I tell people here about tracking hedgehogs at university, they love it. People here hear the bears and whales all the time, and they are saying ‘tell me about hedgehogs’. Young people may think UK wildlife is boring, but every animal is always exotic to somebody, and if you’re doing local volunteering, that’s amazing.”

Connel in his element with nature. @connelbradwell

Connel’s Top Tips to nail that conservation job

  • Volunteer

“Volunteer, as soon as you can, in whatever way you can. If you’re able to do an afternoon a week with a Wildlife Trust, or an hour in the evening doing a bird survey, then that’s great. If you can do that consistently, then if a job comes up with them, and you apply, they’re going to know your face. They’ll think, ‘they’ve been volunteering with us for a while, I know them, I know what they’re about’. That puts you in a really good position.”

  • Network

“Don’t be afraid to network as much as possible. If you’re at university, you have a lot of opportunities right in front of you. Learn how to write a professional email, learn how to network properly, how to reach out to organisations. Ask your lecturers; who do they know? How did they do it? Then from there, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, in a very polite professional way. Go to organisations and say ‘hi, I love what you do. I am looking for an opportunity, is there anything that I can do to come and help’. It’s a small world out there, especially in terms of the conservation world, you’ll be surprised, who knows who, and that can lead to opportunities.”

  • Reach Out

“If you see a really cool job or someone in a job you want, reach out and say, ‘I’m really interested in what you do, can we chat about that?’.”

  • Be purposeful

 “You don’t need to go to Africa for a year, when people look at your CV, they’re going to look at whether what you’ve done was relevant, was it purposeful.”

  • Build up you resume

“My degree has definitely been helpful, it can get you through the first step, but then they’ll look at what else you’ve been doing whilst you’re doing that degree, and that’s your opportunity to build up your resume. They want to see that you’re committed and that you take initiative. Again, consistency is key here.” 

  • Consistent dedication to conservation is more important than a degree

“I also know people who are working on various projects who haven’t got a degree. There are definitely ways around that, particularly in practical habitat management. You can definitely work your way up without having a degree. Personally, and I’ve known some organisations to do the same, I would choose the applicant who has asserted and applied themselves, with lots of good experience. And like I said, good experience can be just half an hour after work consistently. If someone’s done that, I am much more likely to see that as positive over someone who got a first at university but has nothing else on their CV.”

So, there you have it, some expert advice on getting into conservation along with a captivating insight into the world of Queer Ecology. Connel is certainly breaking down barriers with his education and investigation of Queer Ecology, and I have a feeling this field will only gain a stronger voice as we challenge the status quo both as humans, and as stewards of this fascinatingly unique planet.

You can keep up with Connel on his Instagram, along with links to ‘Out & About’ and all his other amazing conservation work.

Also check out Conservation Career’s guides on How to get a conservation job, the Kick-starter course and career booster for further tips and advice of how to start or develop you career in conservation.

Author profile | Helen Burt

Helen is English and lives with her partner in Germany. She is studying for a degree in Geography and Environmental Science with the Open University. She is also an English Language Teacher. Travel and exploration have always been in her blood, but her love of conservation was ignited 2 years ago after throwing herself into the wilds of Africa with EHRA. She has also volunteered with the RSPB as a schools outreach officer, and hopes to one day run her own lodge and charity out in Namibia.

Careers Advice, Interviews, Mid Career, Volunteer & Internships, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation, Educator