Lucy McRobert: How I started in conservation communications
Lucy McRobert is a talented conservation communicator, and ex-Creative Director of a network of young people in the UK looking to start their professional careers in conservation. Here she tells conservation careers her story so far, and provides advice which others can follow…
Why do you work in conservation?
Most people say that they loved wildlife as a kid, but for me it was a bit different. I always loved nature but connected to it in a different way though reading books like Beatrix Potter and watching nature on TV. However, I also loved lots of other stuff beyond nature and wildlife, and it completely faded away during my teenage years.
Then half way through my university career I took an environmental module and I brought back all the feelings and excitement I had for wildlife as a child. From there I started meeting like-minded people, did my dissertation on the history of the nature reserve ‘ideal’ in Britain in conjunction with the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, and ended up turning it into a career.
How you would describe your job?
How long have you got! I do about five different jobs at the moment.
I run a network for budding conservationists in the UK which is A focus On Nature. We’re a network of young people, between the ages of 16 and 30, who love nature, want to communicate it and to work in professional conservation. We offer mentoring from professional conservationists, equipment like binoculars and books, conference tickets. We also help young people to explore new environments and work with NGOs; developing their own networks and their own passions.
Beyond this voluntary work, I’m self-employed as an environmental consultant. At the moment I’m researching Tony Juniper’s new book examining What has nature ever done for Britain? I also write for various magazines like RSPB children’s magazines, BBC Wildlife, Birdwatching and have recently been offered a column in Birdwatch.
What’s the best part of your job?
The best thing for me I meeting and talking to new people, and I love the variation I get in my job. The other day I got an email from a 14 year old boy asking what qualifications are needed to work in conservation. It made my day to know that I can help someone like this, and put such a smile on my face. I told him to follow what he’s most interested in, find his own niche and turn it into a career.
Conservation is one of the broadest career choices you can do today. The best skill conservationists can have is to see the bigger picture. So not just one species, habitat or issue – you need to see the whole spread and see how things link together. There are so many career options available now and it continues to expand rapidly.
What key steps in your conservation career you have taken?
My turning point in terms of realizing what I want to do was a few years ago when I attending the Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition in London. I had written a piece for it, and the people I met that day – from artists, musicians, conservationists and writers – who had all come together to try and understand something as fundamental and horrific as needless extinction was really important to me. It all escalated from there really.
The other big one was the first time I went to the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland. Anyone who wants to work in conservation should go to Birdfair; you’ll get to meet anyone you need to know over three days.
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Communicating with one another is important. Other like-minded people are not competition, they are a support network. A career in wildlife conservation is a team sport – you have to be willing to work with others if you’re to make a difference and reach your full potential. Especially with social media where your reputation will precede you and you want to be open and helpful to others.
You also can’t do enough volunteering!
Do young people have an advantage in communications with their experience of social media?
I think it is something that young people have capitalized on in the last few years, in terms of offering new skills to conservation organizations. However, the rest of us are catching up quickly, so their advantage is becoming lessened to a degree.
The important thing is it’s cheap, has a huge reach and has become an important part of spreading a conservation message. However, it’s not the be all and end all, and traditional communications remains very important.
What’s your favourite song?
My favourite song of all time is Dirty Disco by Dizzee Rascal.
Read more about Lucy here.