Keeping a watch on Norfolk’s Wildlife with Lizzie Bruce

From an early age Lizzie Bruce has always loved being outdoors enjoying the Great British countryside. Today she is West Norfolk Assistant Warden for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and she shares her conservation career secrets…

Why do you work in conservation?

If you asked me when I was school what my career would be, conservation wouldn’t have been the answer. But to be honest at school my career choice changed every week.

After switching degrees from Psychology to Ecology and Conservation at University of St Andrews I discovered the wonders of bird migration and the challenges they faced. This inspired me to seek a career whereby I could assist in the maintenance, creation and restoration of British habitats to ensure nature can survive in the ever developing world by man.

Since then my passion for wildlife has developed from more than just to a career but a genuine interest and hobby.

What are the main activities in your work?

What I do varies throughout the year. As West Norfolk Assistant Warden I am principally based at Roydon Common, an established lowland heath and mire system. Adjacent is Grimston Warren an area of land that is undergoing heathland restoration from conifer plantation. There are a further 5 smaller reserves that come under my job remit.

For all sites the winter months are comprised of habitat management tasks principally scrub control through the use of brushcutters, chainsaws and pesticides. Spring into summer is the breeding season, an opportunity to survey the reserve for breeding birds (nightjar, woodlark etc) and to monitor butterflies and dragonflies. Other tasks over the year include machinery and estate maintenance (i.e. fencing), people engagement and working with the reserves Dartmoor ponies.

What’s the best part of the job?

Essentially I get to spend 5 days a week working outside conserving and recreating habitats and their respective wildlife from the threats of mankind. On a daily basis I experience the wonders of the natural world from watching hen harriers come into roost in winter to seeing lapwing chicks developing into adult birds.

What’s the worst part of the job?

Money, conserving habitats is not cheap and there just isn’t enough money available.

What other types of jobs are available in Norfolk Wildlife Trust?

Norfolk Wildlife Trust employs a range of staff both permanently and seasonally. The main department is the Reserve and Land Management team which is comprised of reserve staff who manage the Trusts Nature Reserves and Grazing operation. The People and Wildlife Team consist of Education Officers and Conservation Officers who offer advice to local landowners and parish councils in managing County Wildlife Sites. Other jobs within the trust can be found within the Fundraising team, Support Services, Visitor Centres and the Ecological Consultancy arm of the Trust.

What key steps in your conservation career you have taken?

After deciding I wanted a career within the conservation sector I realised a degree wasn’t enough and living in the North of Scotland there were limited options to gain the experience I wanted. Volunteering was the key step, mainly being a Conservation Intern for the RSPB at Old Hall Marshes and Minsmere. Working on the two reserves over a 12 month period allowed me to understand how reserves are run and to develop the skills needed to be warden. The RSPB put me on a range of training programmes from brushcutters and chainsaws to plant identification. I also volunteered for the Scottish Wildlife Trust on Handa Island and for BirdLife Malta at the autumn Raptor Camp.

It is also about developing as a person and spending your spare time experiencing nature and reading around the subject and attending conferences to build up your own knowledge.

What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?

Being a reserve warden is a competitive field requiring you to be a jack of all trades. Here are a few pointers

  1. Obtain an environmental based undergraduate degree.
  2. Complete long term (6-12 month) voluntary placement or internship with a conservation body (RSPB, Wildlife Trust) in the country you want to work in.
  3. Be flexible in job location as there are too few jobs to be location specific.
  4. Short term contracts open doors to longer term positions.
  5. Network and say yes to whatever opportunity comes your way.

What’s your favourite song?

Bikes – Lucy Rose

Careers Advice, Interviews, Mid Career, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation, Land Manager