Five Important Conservation Field Skills

Have you considered getting into field-based conservation? Choosing the best type of job that suits you can be challenging, but once you have it is useful to get your hands on some skills that will help you when out of the office and in the field. In this blog, Conservation-Careers Blogger, Zehra Zawawi, reveals some top conservation field skills that might prove handy.

Flickr/USFWS Mountains Prairie.

Identification Skills

Employers of field-based staff are often looking for people with excellent identification skills. These may be useful for species-focused surveys (such as Great Created Newts or Barn Owls) or community-focused surveys (such as habitat vegetation assessments or coral reef surveys).

Whatever the survey, a central skill is being able to quickly and accurately identify the species in question and record it for future reference and analysis.

One way to improve your identification skills is through formal courses provided by universities or places like the Field Studies Council. Beyond the thousands of fabulous field guides available for conservationists to use, technology has also started to become a very useful tool when in the field. There are now a growing number of smartphone Apps to aid in species identification. For example, the Virginia Tree Identification App enables forest conservationist to map and identify trees in Virginia. Also, it’s worth checking out the following links:

There are other ways to improve your identification skills. Perhaps, you can start by finding your study focus and asking someone with an interest in this area to share their expertise.  You’ll learn much more quickly and have more fun in the process.

Communication skills  

With the growing importance of conserving our natural resources and the need to sustain our planet, the need for effective communication has become vitally important. There are many ways we communicate in the field. These include: verbal, non-verbal and written communications.

Your job may require you to write reports or compelling news stories to help promote your project. For both of these you’ll need excellent written skills to convey your messages to your target readers.

To hone your writing ability you can keep a diary of your fieldwork, or even create your own blog which you can update daily with photographs and stories to share your experiences. This will not only improve your writing skills but also help you create new connections with wider online networks through a blog.

Being able to communicate face to face with community people, field guides and relevant stakeholders on the ground is also very important. This may mean within cultures and settings very different to what you’re used to.

Being a good listener and observer is a great way to improve your verbal and non-verbal communications, whilst also building your confidence and developing closer relationships with people you come in contact with.

Local language and knowledge of local laws

Being able to integrate with different cultures can be important for some field-based work – especially community-based conservation programmes. Let’s face it, employers often prefer to have staff who have the ability to speak local language and who can demonstrate good amount of knowledge of local laws.

If you really want to get a job that you think is suitable for you, try to learn the local language first and read the environmental laws governing the community. French is mostly required in North Africa or if you are planning to get into South American countries then you should acquire Spanish and/or Portuguese language skills.

Watch local news channels of the country you are interested to work in. Read their newspapers and magazines. Keep a bilingual dictionary. Make connections with local people who can provide you information about their rules, cultures, do’s and don’ts.

Mapping skills 

Most often, fieldwork involves finding and recording locations of yourself and the observations you make; this means using maps and mapping devices effectively.

Being able to use a compass and a map is a basic requirement. However, experience of using hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment for navigation purposes, and Geographical Information System (GIS) for recording and analyzing spatial data is proving increasingly useful too.

Software like ArcGIS is globally used online and as well as on smartphones, making it one of the useful applications during field assignments and back in the office.

GIS courses are offered by many universities and also available through distance learning programmes. There are many free webinars and learning resources offered online which you could look into on the web, alongside GIS experts on Linkedin and Twitter. Check out blogs such as GIS Lounge which has a section on GIS Careers and Jobs.

Ecological survey techniques

Ecological Survey techniques are used to record changes in biodiversity of the land which could occur due to the effects of man-made and natural factors.

It is important to demonstrate the ability to select appropriate survey methods relevant to the area of study. For some surveys you may need professional guidance and training to learn it. If you have a post-graduate education in Ecology or a related field, then it is likely you may have covered them in your study course.

You can also acquire certificates offered by various universities depending on your location and means. Google your chosen survey technique to find a course suitable for you.

Finally, you may try participating in experiential learning programmes like the ones offered by the Earth Watch Institute. Join a local recording society or get an internship in organisations which conduct surveys.

While all these skills are recommended, there are no hard and fast rules for what is needed. Different employers have different expectations and it also depends very much on the type of job you are working for. A good idea would be to read through job requirements of the organizations you wish to work for and make your own list of skills. 

Stay right here at Conservation-Careers for the remaining five important field skills in my next article. 

About the author

Zehra ZawawiZehra Zawawi studied B. Sc Geography and Environment as an Independent student with University of London – International Programme. She currently graduated as a Lead Fellow with Lead International ‘s Leading for Sustainability Programme and also volunteered internationally for WWF South Pacific’s communications department.  Since her return from the Fiji Islands, Zehra has been presenting in various organizations to promote awareness of conservation and sustainability.  She also facilitated conservation education programmes for WWF Pakistan providing fundraising, marketing, advocacy and communications support.  Zehra has a passion to work with community life and sustainable livelihoods.  She is interested in leadership for sustainable development and currently coaching younger people to hone their leadership skills.  In future she hopes to work in field based conservation but also wants to make good use of her writing skills by sharing conservation stories from across the globe.

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