The Wildlife Trusts: An Interview with Ian Rickards

The 47 Wildlife Trusts are the UK’s largest people-powered environmental organisation, working for nature’s recovery on land and at sea. The organisation manages some 95,000ha of British land across the the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney. They run over 11,000 events annually, helping more than 380,000 people connect with nature in their local area. They also advise more than 5300 landowners on how to manage over 200,000ha of land for wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts are comprised of 650 trustees, 40,000 volunteers, 800,000 members and 2,000+ staff. They aim to “inspire people about the natural world so that they value it, understand their relationship with it and take action to protect and restore it”.

Conservation Careers blogger Rosie Hynard had the opportunity to speak with Ian Rickards, a warden for the Kent Wildlife Trust.

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What is your job title? What duties are you responsible for with the Kent Wildlife Trust?

I’m the Ashford Warden for the Kent Wildlife Trust. I am responsible for the nature reserves in the Ashford area, specifically the Hothfield Heathlands, Ashford Warren and some sites in the Orlestone Forest. I also try and get involved in or instigate any conservation work in the Ashford area. I am responsible for expanding the reserves through involving local residents in conservation projects.

What do you do day-to-day at the Kent Wildlife Trust?

Day-to-day I am involved in a combination of several different activities. The first is practical on-site work involving volunteers. During this time we use machinery and manual labour to carry out the conservation work itself, for example, coppicing. I am also responsible for site visits involving surveying specific areas, to see what is needed for conservation.

Species monitoring is also conducted, particularly of butterflies, birds and dragonflies and botanical surveys are a regular occurrence.  From this, I build up a picture of what species are present at the sites and draw up plans to develop the areas in ways that would best suit these species. I spend a lot of time speaking to people on site including local authorities, land owners and neighbours. I spend the rest of my time writing reports and developing plans for the local areas.

What do you feel you have achieved over the past year at the Kent Wildlife Trust?

I feel the biggest achievement of the last year has been building up relationships with local people via the Meadows Project in the Ashford area. The project consists of encouraging local residents to manage their meadows so that they are more suitable for nature conservation. This is something I have found to be new and exciting. The project has huge value because it can expand without the resources needed to manage the reserves. Creating plans like the Meadows Project is my favourite part of working for the Kent Wildlife Trust because something that seems like a small change can have very positive impacts for local wildlife. Being responsible for that is a real achievement.

What challenges are involved with working for the Kent Wildlife Trust?

Being a charity is the main challenge. We work on low resources and usually have little funds but this can be a positive thing. We have willing volunteers and we often use products that we create on site to do the necessary tasks. We don’t usually have the opportunity to hire machinery or contractors so we do the jobs ourselves. This can be challenging as tasks can take a longer than is necessary to complete. Another challenge is the frustration of not always having the ability to complete the tasks when planned due to a lack of necessary resources. In general, these jobs are completed eventually but there are often setbacks.

How do you tackle this lack of resources? Do you do any fundraising?

Most of the funding we receive is from Ashford Borough Council. We need to supplement this income so I look for small opportunities such as selling fire wood and taking out contracts with local authorities to do paid conservation-based work. This is particularly successful as we get paid to do projects that the Trust would want to do regardless.

We also create projects for other people to get involved with that raise money for the Trust. Project Initiating Documents (PIDS) are an effective way of raising money. These are project outlines that we put together and give to fundraisers. If suitable, fundraisers will expand the projects with the help of wardens. Eventually, the projects generate an income.

I have found communication to be invaluable in generating funding for the Trust. Speaking to members of the public who believe the Trust is a great idea can result in large donations. It is important to remember that the next person I speak to could be a supporter for the Trust and make a big difference.

Why have you chosen to work in conservation? When were you first aware that you wanted to work in this field?

For me it’s a combination of being able to get hands on with British wildlife and being able to make a difference through directly conserving many British species. I first realised that I wanted to be a conservationist through volunteering with local organisations but was unaware of what direction I wanted to go in. I decided to do a Zoology degree because I was always interested in wildlife and nature conservation.

When I graduated I was unaware that it would be possible to work for an organisation like the Wildlife Trusts. Through different voluntary roles at organisations, I realised that working for a wildlife organisation was really rewarding. I then realised that there was the potential of doing the work as a paid job, which I found exciting. Initially, there was a real struggle to secure a job because of all the competition that comes with working in conservation. I also realised that the pay was low. However, I found something that I thoroughly enjoyed doing and my passion meant that these weren’t issues for me.

What steps did you take to secure the position that you have at the Kent Wildlife Trust?

My Zoology degree demonstrated that I have a strong interest in wildlife. I also volunteered for many organisations and built up necessary experience.  Opportunities arose within the volunteering that increased my skills such as training in how to use chainsaws and brush cutters etc.

All the experience I gained from volunteering showed potential employers that I had been working in the field and was knowledgeable. The two years of work experience I gained was invaluable. I found it was the necessary boost I needed to secure my job because it made me more attractive to potential employers than many of my competitors.

Do you have any advice for others who might hope to follow a career path like yours?

I would recommend getting involved with as much volunteering as possible. If you hope to work for a local organisation, volunteering with them beforehand will reveal that you have a keen interest in their work. Even if you don’t wish to work locally, volunteering will provide essential experience that will be invaluable and will make it much more likely that you will secure a job like mine.

Do you have any aims for your future with the Kent Wildlife Trust?

The main aim is to expand all the reserves in the Ashford area and make them more robust. Additionally, I hope to support the wildlife in the nature reserves and encourage it to thrive. I also plan to begin to link the different nature reserves, transforming them from small, isolated areas to a large network of many. This will be incredibly beneficial for the local wildlife.

What is your favourite place in the world and why? 

I was raised in Wales and I have always had a love for Pembrokeshire. Every time I return, I always find a new favourite place that is tucked away and secret. There are some amazing places I have discovered in Pembrokeshire that I never knew existed despite having lived there for many years. Making a discovery like that is magic.

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Whitesands Bay near St. Davids in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Copyright free image: credit goes to visitpembrokeshire.com.

If you are interested to find out more about the Wildlife Trusts and the work that they are involved in please visit: wildlifetrusts.org/

About the Author

Screenshot 2014-11-24 at 16.08.12Rosie Hynard is a Zoology undergraduate at the University of Derby who aspires to work in conservation in the future. She has a particular love of primates and is currently writing her dissertation about environmental enrichment in captive Bornean Orangutans. In the future she hopes to complete a Masters degree in conservation and to travel the world to gain the experience needed to be a great conservationist.

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