Communicating conservation – Double life or delicate dance?

Scientific writing requires details, data and absolutely no emotion, fostering credibility within journals. This approach ensures a rigorous foundation but often lacks the inspirational quality needed to engage a broader audience in conservation efforts. This is where Amber Hopgood bridges the gap between fact-based conservation and the need for greater understanding and support from the public.

Amber’s role as Writer and Research Specialist at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) extends beyond the realm of raw data and fosters the essential work of the Trust’s researchers into compelling narratives, worthy of everyone’s attention.

A conservationist wearing a head torch holding two toads on Toad Patrol.

Amber Hopgood holding two toads on Toad Patrol.

From passion to profession: Amber Hopgood’s career evolution

Amber’s career journey began at a young age with a passion for ecology and wildlife. She volunteered at local nature reserves, spending time combating invasive weeds and setting up bird feeders.

Her first degree, studying Animal Behaviour and Wildlife Conservation at the University of Wolverhampton, allowed her to explore a variety of habitats throughout the Midlands without specialising too soon and narrowing her skills and perspectives.

Amber lived a “double life” during her studies and after graduating, engaging in charity fundraising, managing communications for a pet rescue centre, and gaining marketing experience in e-commerce.

Volunteering has played a significant role for her since she was an undergrad, as she led a student-run wildlife society and began managing the Birmingham and Black Country Amphibian and Reptile Group (BBCARG) during her final year, which she still does now. When the pandemic hit, she transitioned into science communication roles at GWCT, aligning work with her passion for the sector and offering a more flexible working environment.

[Science communication] is actually in the sector I want to be working in, but it doesn’t come with any of the more challenging bits, like working outside or driving long hours, and it’s a bit more flexible for the kind of work that I like to do.

She still spends most weekends and evenings doing surveys, giving talks, and training volunteers, but now her paid work also aligns with her motivations. Amber emphasised that there are voluntary wildlife groups for most species groups in almost every county. This means that everyone has the opportunity to get involved in something. She was able to bring extra value to her involvement with BBCARG by helping to give it more consistent structure, membership, and monitoring projects.

Bridging science with communication

Amber’s natural affinity to lead teams does not stop when she comes into work, as she also chairs the GWCT Women for Wildlife group, LGBTQIA+ group, and is an active member of the Trust’s Investors in People committee. With her background in ecology, she seamlessly bridges the gap between research and communications at the Trust. Her scientific roots provide added confidence and credibility when communicating with colleagues across the organisation.

She enjoys the varied working schedule, which involves tasks such as summarising scientific papers, producing blogs, literature reviews, and guides, and working with research teams to help them effectively communicate their research. While a significant portion of her time is dedicated to reading papers, and she acknowledges that this might not seem thrilling to some, she genuinely enjoys it.

A female conservationist talking to a crowd about her work with the Birmingham and Black Country Amphibian and Reptile Group.

Amber Hopgood talking to a crowd about her work with the Birmingham and Black Country Amphibian and Reptile Group.

To tackle the common misrepresentation of science in ecology, and equip everyone with the knowledge they need to make well informed decisions, Amber oversees What The Science Says, a fact-checking site managed by the Trust.

Here, she reviews current research related to specific claims, producing an accessible synopsis that presents a fact-based conclusion, devoid of assumptions, stigma, and personal opinions. Admittedly, by the time one of these highly involved documents is ready for publishing, Amber is keen to move onto a new topic and refresh her enthusiasm for something different.

A creative and collaborative approach is an opportunity to produce more moving stories – calls to action that provide a holistic view on an issue and what can be done to help. Amber discussed how she also enjoys getting to work on “Think Pieces”, informative guides, and briefing documents.

[‘Think Pieces’] are a nice blend of soft and technical writing to help communicate information to people who may be discovering the issue or species for the first time… they involve more people too – for example our graphic designers, marketing staff, and research teams who all come together to produce lovely documents”.

She also utilises her own perspective to support others on her team and encourage innovation beyond her own job description. She feels that by always being open to discussion around new ideas, she can also help her colleagues embrace their own creativity.

The truth behind her dream job

As children, when asked about our future aspirations, we often leaned towards the conventional choices: doctor, fireman, teacher. Yet, the hidden truth behind our dream job may lie in our potential to fill a role that isn’t immediately obvious to us.

Amber described how her perspective, fostered by her role at the Trust and the completion of her Masters degree in Ecological Monitoring, has made her realise the variety of roles which professionals in her area are doing much more than she had realised beforehand.

“I think if I had known earlier that these careers were an option, I would have gone for this kind of job much sooner”

She loves engaging with the technical side of projects at the Trust, and getting the chance to discuss new research and go out into the field with departments for which she supports communications.

A female conservationist outdoors, smiling, holding some newts.

Amber Hopgood holding some newts.

The dance of diplomacy and conservation

The flexibility of science communication work was a major positive factor for Amber, although she admits much credit is owed to her lovely team. Beyond her flexible working schedule, she enjoys the creative freedom she has to raise current issues which she feels her and her team should address and provide coverage for.

The diversity of people and expertise Amber gets to work with and represent, keeps her work varied and often fast paced. She describes how she cannot think of many other professional positions that would provide her with the same level of interdisciplinary insight.

Times where she can’t be as flexible, however, often come with their own challenges. Larger pieces of work involving bigger teams often result in Amber feeling like she has as much project management to do as she does writing.

To be the mediator between a passionate scientist, keen to describe every nuance of their work, and public engagement, sometimes feels like threading a needle – dropping some technical details for the sake of clarity and comprehension. This can seem like a dance of diplomacy and communication, without dumbing down the science but providing the ultimately harmonious blend of expertise and accessibility.

Let’s unlock the cycle: Emphasizing communication drives public awareness and value

What is the purpose of research? It should not be enough to secure funding, complete the research, and then only have others in the scientific community be aware of its findings. A true and positive ripple effect requires people like Amber to translate a project into messages that resonate beyond a select group of people.

“Science can only exist if there are enough people willing to fund it, and often funding is concentrated towards where there is public interest and benefit to be gained.”

Amber says she would like for the “softer” communication avenues such as social media, leaflets, guides, and blogs to be given higher value in the scientific field. Unless the industry utilises these tools as effective bridges between science and the public, funding may not be provided to where it is most needed or can have the greatest impact.

She emphasises that often public awareness is needed long before a study’s results are published. It takes a moving story to convince someone of the importance of a species they have never even heard of before.

A female conservationist looking at some newts in a pond dipping tray.

Amber with newts in a pond dipping tray.

Understand your audience!

Amber described that by volunteering in ecology you achieve so much more than just logging experience hours, as you are able to create a network of support and opportunities that are invaluable.

Subsequently, you gain awareness of all the different routes people take into the industry, as well as understanding potential audiences that – as someone working in marketing or communications – you may be presenting your ideas and content to in the future.

For anyone looking at a future in science communication, Amber says that building a portfolio by offering your pieces for publication in smaller local or student journals, blogs, and magazines is essential to gain credibility, and can be just as important as gaining valuable experience or qualifications related to your field of interest.

Amber is a perfect example of someone whose passion for nature and people shines through everything she does, there is no doubt her positive impact in her industry and on our wildlife is all the better for it.

Useful links

Check out these links to learn more about Amber’s work:

Are you interested in becoming a conservation communicator? Check out our Conservation Communicator role profile to learn more about careers that raise the profile of conservation.

Author Profile | Jayna Connelly 

Jayna Connelly is an ecologist, deeply committed to communicating crucial knowledge to a wider audience. As a Research Ecologist specializing in Entomology, Jayna’s passion is fueled by a profound understanding of the intricate connections within ecosystems. Her studies made her aware of the huge breadth of wildlife that is often misunderstood or completely overlooked.

Jayna firmly believes that by fostering an appreciation for the significance of even the smallest creatures in our surroundings, society can collectively reverse the decline of ecosystems. Jayna’s work extends beyond academia; she strives to inspire a broad audience to recognize the inherent value of the biodiversity that surrounds us. Through her efforts, she envisions a world where the collective empowerment of individuals translates into meaningful actions, leading to positive changes for our planet.