Inspiring urban conservation through social media | A Q&A with wildlife influencer Lirayen Valencia

“I would love to see more wildlife influencers, and for them to be as popular and cool as fashion/lifestyle influencers”

As of January 2024, around 62.3% of the world’s population are social media users. Communications have always been crucial for spreading conservation messages across the globe, but it seems that now, more than ever before, social media is elevating these opportunities further.

Recently, an opportunity arose to chat with Lirayen Valencia (@outsidewithlira on Instagram) about her conservation career journey and the importance of social media in inspiring public awareness to fight for greener spaces and protect local wildlife.

Lira is a Visitor Engagement and Volunteer Ranger at the London Wildlife Trust, working at the Walthamstow Wetlands (London, UK) site.

Dubbed the “urban wildlife queen,” she owns a fast-growing Instagram page where she advocates for accessibility to nature for ALL and strives to inspire people to be curious about urban wildlife.

Lirayen (@outsidewithlira) using binoculars at the London Wildlife Trust’s Walthamstow Wetlands (London, UK) site.

Lirayen (@outsidewithlira) at the London Wildlife Trust’s Walthamstow Wetlands (London, UK) site.

Why did you decide to work in conservation?

“I’ve always loved nature since I was young. Initially, I wanted to be a vet because that’s what you’re told when you grow up in a city. It’s almost the only option adults, such as your family or teachers, give you if you like animals. But, you need really good grades to become a vet, and I have much more of a creative mind than an academic one.

“So, I didn’t get the grades to do vet medicine, which was honestly a blessing in disguise.

“I then came across Zoology and decided I wanted to do this subject at university. Once I graduated from Reading University (UK) in 2018, I started volunteering. Then, after this, I applied for the role I’m in now.” 

What’s it like working at the London Wildlife Trust?

“My full title is Visitor Engagement & Volunteer Ranger. Essentially, my job is to connect and engage the public with nature found at the reserve through a series of workshops, talks, walks, and a bit of social media as well. I also have to do field work, such as surveys.

“No two days are the same. Especially when you work on a site that’s open to the public, so there’s always something going on.”

What do you enjoy the most about working your role?

“If I had to choose my favourite thing about the job, it would be encouraging people to go outside and take up hobbies such as birding. Those elements of my role are so rewarding, and I’ll go home feeling like I’ve done something really big. I would say the best part of my job is connecting communities to nature, especially underrepresented communities.”

What are some of the more difficult aspects of your job?

“The weather, especially being outside in winter, can be quite challenging. And also, the job can be quite physically demanding because we have to carry heavy tools.

“Other things that I find challenging are more mundane jobs, such as litter picking. This is actually one of the big jobs we do because litter is detrimental to wildlife. You don’t really want to be doing those types of jobs because you might find them boring, but you get on with it because it’s necessary and important to get them done.”

Lirayen (@outsidewithlira) leading a group of bird watchers as part of her conservation work.

Lirayen (@outsidewithlira) leading a group of bird watchers as part of her conservation work.

Let’s talk about your Instagram page @outsidewithlira, why did you start the page?

“When I first created the page in 2022, I was doing a traineeship. I wanted to post what I was doing and learning. And also, a lot of my friends and family never understood what my job was, so I thought this would be a good way of properly showing them hands-on conservation.

“My followers only started growing around four months ago. Up until that point, only my friends and family followed me. I had a particular video that blew up, and it just started slowly gaining momentum from there.

“I didn’t think people would be interested. But it just goes to show how so many people are interested in knowing about urban wildlife. I’m also not the typical person you would expect to work in the sector. The way I talk about conservation is the same way I talk about it with my friends – so it’s really about making it more accessible to people without using heavy jargon or complicated language.” 

How useful do you think social media is for wildlife conservation?

“I think it’s so important nowadays. I’m aware that social media can be such a toxic space, but at the same time, the reality is that we all use it. If you want to put a message out there or influence people, social media is probably the most effective and efficient way to do it.

“In terms of inspiring the public to think about wildlife conservation, first of all, the most important thing is that people care about wildlife. And to do that, you need to influence and engage people. I think representation is also so important, and social media is such a good way of amplifying that. In my case, I feel like I’m the voice for urban people who come from underrepresented communities, and they now feel confident to start going outside and connecting with nature.

“I really do think that communication, hand-in-hand with education, is the foundation of wildlife conservation.

“You can have all the science and research knowledge about wildlife. But, everyday people won’t understand the complex statistical and academic side of conservation.

“You’re going to have people at the top, such as scientists and political leaders, but everyday people, who are the majority, are not going to care about what happens to the planet, or want to change their habits, if it’s not fed to them in THEIR language and way of understanding.

“I think the communications sector is so easily overlooked in conservation – practical conservation gets more attention. That type of work is so important as well, but I do think there needs to be a greater emphasis on the importance of communication and education in connecting everyday, regular people to wildlife.”

Lirayen (@outsidewithlira) holding a young Shearwater near the coast of Skomer Island during a conservation project.

Lirayen (@outsidewithlira) holding a young Shearwater near the coast of Skomer Island during a conservation project.

What career advice would you give someone wanting to work in the conservation sector?

  • Get involved locally: “Think locally. What can you do to better your environment, especially if you’re from a city. For example, I’ve started a community garden with my neighbour, and we live in a really urbanised area of London. We still managed to do that. Things like that really inspire employers. So, don’t think that just because you’re doing something locally and not abroad, that it doesn’t count, because that’s still really important.”
  • Work with local charities: “Find out about your local wildlife charities and see if there are any volunteering or traineeship opportunities because any opportunity is good to have on your CV.”
  • Find paid opportunities abroad: “There are paid internships abroad, and I did one for BirdLife Malta. They pay for your flight and accommodation. I got about €300 a month, but because I wasn’t paying for anything else, that was more than enough for me.”
  • Network: “Networking is really important, so see if there are any groups that are local to you, such as bird walking groups. Through these groups, you meet other people who are also interested in this specific thing. They could have connections that give you further opportunities.”

Follow Lirayen Valencia’s Instagram @outsidewithlira to keep up to date with her inspirational conservation posts. Check out London Wildlife Trust’s website to learn more about their work, or find out more about their volunteering opportunities.

If you’re interested in becoming a Conservation Communicator yourself, check out our free guide to Conservation Communicator roles.


Author Profile | Maya de Paz

Maya de Paz is a passionate creative with a drive for conserving our planet. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and has a particular interest in the human connection with nature. Currently, she is working for a media company as a Marketing Executive. She hopes to combine both her love for conservation and the natural world, with her growing communications and storytelling skills. Connect with Maya on LinkedIn or check out her portfolio.


Interviews, Communicator