Durrell Conservation Academy – helping conservationists everywhere!
Theo Blossom is the Training Coordinator for Durrell Conservation Academy based in Jersey, UK. Durrell are world leaders in conservation training – offering a unique learning experience wherever you are in your career. Theo kindly takes some time out of his busy schedule to tell us about Durrell Conservation Academy…
What is Durrell Conservation Academy?
Gerald Durrell had the vision for setting up a mini-university for conservationists in Jersey from the very beginning. He wanted to help conservationists from all around the world to do their work, and saw that having a centre of excellence as a great way to achieve this.
He was right. His first student was a gentleman from Mauritius in 1978, who went on to become the Director of the island’s first National Park, and since that time we’ve trained more than 3,500 conservationists from over 135 countries through Durrell Conservation Academy.
Students who come to Durrell get to learn from our trainers and also share their knowledge and experiences too – it’s very much a two-way learning process. We learn from them, as they learn from us. Durrell also runs courses in Mauritius, where we have over 25 years’ experience in in-situ projects, and we take some courses around the world to meet the needs of specific conservation issues.
This is helping us to build up an army of conservationists who go out and do great work protecting wildlife all around the world.
What type of courses do you offer at the Academy?
We run a wide range of course suitable from enthusiastic wildlife lovers through to conservation professionals, drawing upon the proven conservation experience of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. We have four main target groups within that.
Firstly, we help conservation professionals who are seeking to enhance their skills and build their career. Within this we have people who are ecologists, conservationists and graduates alike.
The second group are people working on captive management and animal husbandry. This is mainly targeted at zoos and people seeking to enhance the levels of care and welfare for animals as part of an ex-situ conservation strategy.
The third group are the amateur naturalists. We have many supporters of Gerald Durrell from all around the world – the books he authored were hugely popular, and people come to Durrell almost as a kind of pilgrimage. For them we offer courses in natural history.
The final group are college and university groups, whom we offer bespoke residential courses built around their needs.
What is the graduate network at Durrell?
With over 3,500 people who have come through our courses, and share the same ideals, we’re developing new online tools to help them to work together, share information and support one another.
We’re aiming to provide a lifetime of support through the platform, and to encourage people to exchange ideas, provide access to the latest information, and profile funding opportunities through our grants which are available to our graduates. This funding can be used for conservation projects, future training and purchasing equipment to kick start the conservation programmes which people are working on.
What impact has the Academy had on people’s conservation careers?
Because the courses range from a few days through to a few months, the courses can be very impactful in people’s lives. The knowledge they gain and connections they make by spending time at the Academy have changed the many careers of people around the world.
Coming to the Academy has been described as the tipping point for many people which has allowed them to pursue more focussed careers within conservation.
It’s an honour to be part of something which is changing people’s lives and helping them to work in a sector where they can make a difference by being involved in something they are passionate about.
What is your job at the Academy?
I’m the training co-ordinator and I have a background in environmental education and communications. In the past I’ve worked for Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, the Natural History Museum, Zoological Society of London and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti.
Here at Durrell my role is to assist with the organisation of the courses, getting people here and providing them with support and guidance during their time with us.
Do you enjoy your job?
It’s great because I get to be involved in quite a bit of the delivery of different courses. I also get to travel a bit, and in two weeks’ time I’ll be going to Brazil to help with a course there.
Do you have advice to offer people wishing to follow a similar career path as yourself?
Being opportunistic has huge advantages in conservation work – you never know what is going to come up, and you have to be prepared to be flexible and make the most when they do.
Fixed-term contracts have been the bane of my life! The hallowed permanent contract takes a long time to come; so patience is important when waiting for something like that to come along.
Being open minded about the different roles available within conservation is also important. Conservation has changed to be much broader in recent years – gone are the days of it just being ecologists who are concerned about the environment. Actually, what conservation really needs are people who have people skills, so they can understand people, engage with them and ultimately change behaviours.
How can people find out more?
We describe everything really clearly on our website at www.durrell.org/academy. There you can download a brochure and descriptions of all the courses which are upcoming. Likewise, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us at various conferences, and we’ll be at the Student Conference on Conservation Science in Cambridge very soon (March 2014).
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