What is conservation?
Are you intrigued or inspired by the wonders of the natural world? Are you concerned about the impacts we’re having on the planet’s species and habitats and want to be part of the solution?
In this article we answer ‘What is conservation?’ and explore how you could contribute your unique skills, passions and superpowers in one of the greatest challenges of our time – the fight to save nature.
What is the definition of conservation?
Conservation is about protecting the diversity of life on Earth – or ‘biodiversity’.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines conservation as the “study of the loss of Earth’s biological diversity and the ways this loss can be prevented”.
Biological diversity – often termed ‘biodiversity’ – is the variety of life at all levels. This includes everything from genes, species and populations, to habitats, ecosystems and their health and function.
Broadly speaking, conservation requires understanding the diversity of life on Earth, the threats it faces, and what we can do to help address these threats. At Conservation Careers we believe that conservation should go beyond protection, to restoring and enhancing diversity.
Conservation has been called a “crisis discipline”, one that requires making decisions with some uncertainty, and drawing on many different disciplines, all with the mission of ensuring our wildlife can thrive into the future, and for future generations.
What do conservationists do?
Put simply, a conservationist’s mission is to help protect and restore the diversity of life on Earth – biodiversity.
When we think of conservation jobs, we might envisage someone in the field counting turtle hatchlings or perhaps observing Mountain Gorillas. Although these conservation jobs exist, and are very attractive, the conservation industry is a large, expanding and diversifying sector.
Much bigger than you might imagine, it’s become a professional industry offering a dizzying array of conservation job types for job seekers. For example, on Conservation Careers to date we’ve listed over 33,000 conservation jobs which cover over 15,000 different job titles!
Conservationists can carry out any role where their activities aid the conservation or enhancement of wildlife.
This includes jobs which directly benefit wildlife conservation like a Project Officer for a marine protected area in Fiji. It also includes roles which indirectly benefit biodiversity conservation efforts, such as a Communications Manager role, whose job it is to raise the profile of a conservation organisation, so that staff such as their Project Officer can get to work protecting that Fijian marine reserve.
For an overview of what conservationists do, explore the 15 Key Conservation Job Types.
Where does a conservationist work?
Whether you enjoy working in the field, in an office or traveling to more remote field sites, you can find a work environment you thrive in with a conservation career.
Understanding the main employer types can help you navigate a career as a conservationist. They are:
- Academia – Help create the research base that practitioners need to effectively conserve biodiversity. Employers are typically universities and colleges, such as the University of Oxford (UK), University of Florida (USA) or the University of the Western Cape (South Africa).
- Charity – Contribute to not-for-profit and non-governmental conservation activities with the Charity, NGO or ‘Third Sector.’ Examples include Earthwatch Institute, Field Studies Council or the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
- Business – Work with for-profit private companies or consulting firms that need conservationists, such as RSK or Middlemarch Environmental.
- Government – Help set regional, national or international policies, and enforce best practice with the public sector or civil service. Examples of government institutions and agencies include Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Natural England.
- Enterprise – Join the start-up, social enterprise or innovation movement, applying commercial strategies to maximise improvements in environmental and human well-being. Examples include Conservation Careers and Ecology Training UK.
What is a typical conservationist job description?
The conservation sector is uber-diverse, so there’s actually no such thing as a ‘typical’ conservationist.
Here’s a summary of the 15 key conservation job types in the sector, to help give you a glimpse into different job descriptions, and understand where you might fit in.
Animal Welfare Conservation Jobs | Caring for animals
Zoos, sanctuaries, aquariums and rehabilitation centres are playing an increasingly important role in conservation and education programmes.
Within a zoo environment, roles such as Keeper, Zoo-keeper, Breeding Officer, Animal warden, Zoo Ranger, Animal Care Assistant, Animal Caregiver, Wildlife Assistant, and Assistant Animal Supervisor typically undertake the following duties:
- All aspects of animal husbandry and welfare.
- Assisting with the cleaning of animal areas.
- Regular inspections of the animals.
- Assisting with the preparation of approved diets and carrying out the correct feeding procedures.
- Maintaining courteous and helpful relations with visitors.
- Assisting with animal enrichment programmes.
In addition, there are a growing number of animal welfare jobs which are based in the field, which includes working in conservation as a Veterinarian / Vet.
Learn more about Animal Welfare Conservation Jobs.
Communications & Marketing Conservation Jobs | Raising the profile of conservation
One could argue that the single most influential conservationist of our time works in communications. Sir David Attenborough has written and presented his knowledge and passion for the natural world and inspired scores of young people to love the natural world, and almost as many to seek to help it.
Working in Communications and Marketing is a fast growing area of conservation. Your role is to identify, research and develop engaging stories for different audiences across multiple formats and channels. It covers conservation jobs such as Communications Officer/Specialist, Marketing Officer, Social Media Assistant, Magazine Editor, TV Assistant, Writer, Wildlife Journalist, Presenter or Blogger.
Within these roles your work may be varied and creative, involving activities such as:
- Promoting the work of employers to attract support
- Communicating to internal and external audiences through growing range of channels – Press releases, news stories, videos, podcasts, newsletters, magazines, brochures
- Using social media channels to grow and engage audiences.
- Representing your organisation to a range of outside contacts such as politicians, civil society and the media
- Developing and running campaigns
- Plus, lots more..!
Community-based Conservation Jobs | Helping people to be part of the solution
More organisations are seeing local people as key stakeholders in the process of conservation. There is a need for people to work effectively within different cultural settings and languages to deliver benefits for people and the planet.
People often get into conservation to work with animals, and then realise conservation is all about working with people. Increasingly conservation organisations are engaging in activities and projects which put local people at the heart of their work – seeing them as part of the solution to the problems in the natural world.
If you enjoy working with people, work well in different cultural settings and enjoy finding solutions for people and the planet then community-based conservation might be for you.
Typical early career job titles in this area are Community Outreach Officer and Local Empowerment Officer, and they include the following duties:
- Supporting local communities to sustainably manage their species, habitats and landscapes.
- Holding workshops, and planning community driven projects.
- Delivering volunteer, community and people-participation projects.
- Working within differences cultures and languages.
- Delivering livelihood benefits through project design and implementation
Countryside Management, Warden & Ranger Conservation Jobs | Saving key sites for nature
Being involved in countryside management means working on the practical side of conservation, and getting your hands dirty. There are two important aspects of managing sites – the habitat and the visitor access. Habitat could be grassland, wetland, woodland etc. For the access management there’s the footpaths, signs and gates alongside the health and safety of a site.
If you enjoy being outside, hard work and being in touch with people and sites, this could be the role for you!
Typical conservation job titles in this area are Assistant Warden, Assistant Ranger, Countryside Ranger, Park Ranger, Estate Worker and Reserves Officer, and their duties include:
- Managing sites in accordance with the management plan – habitat and site work.
- Welcoming visitors and providing a good customer experience.
- Writing and updating the management plan.
- Preparing, administering and controlling income and expenditure budgets for projects.
- Working with contractors and volunteers.
Ecotourism Conservation Jobs | Helping people experience the natural world
Ecotourism focuses on showing people the natural world and its wildlife. It has also been acclaimed as the best solution for attaining the often conflicting goals of conserving our planet’s habitats and creatures, and improving people’s quality of life through economic development of a region.
Being in the ecotourism industry can be a way to marry your passion for nature and your will to be active in conservation with your more entrepreneurial side, should you have one.
Working with people and showing them the natural world is perhaps the single most important thing to do in conservation if we are to guarantee the future and sustainability of our ecosystems. So, if ecotourism is something that appeals to you, it might be your way into conservation.
Ecological Consultancy Conservation Jobs | Ensuring ecologically-sensitive development
With increasing environmental legislation comes the need for skilled ecologists who can interpret law, advise clients and understand ecosystems.
Ecological and Environmental Consultants undertake surveys – often for protected species and habitats – to provide advice to clients wishing to undertake developments.
An important area of work is the undertaking of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) – of which ecology is one aspect. Ecological Impact Assessments (EcIAs) cover scoping out potential issues to survey within a development, undertaking the survey, and providing advice to avoid or mitigate for any issues – all within the framework of the latest planning advice and laws.
Within the context of conservation, consultants are relatively well paid, often have a clear professional career progression and may specialise in a specific area.
The skills learnt as a consultant – such as project, budget and staff management – can be very transferrable into other sectors, such as charities.
Typical job titles within this area are Ecologist, Assistant Ecologist and Graduate Ecologist, and they cover the following duties:
- Undertaking a wide range of ecological surveys including extended Phase 1 Habitat Surveys and more specialist work such as protected species surveys and mitigation.
- Carrying out desk studies, consultations, research, data management and analysis, and report writing.
- Liaising with clients and statutory bodies.
- Inputting into ecological sections of Environmental Impact Assessments.
- Supporting sales activities by assisting with drafting proposals and quotes.
Learn more about Ecological Consultancy Conservation Jobs.
Environmental Economics & Ecosystem Assessment Conservation Jobs | Putting a value on nature
An increasingly popular way of conserving the planet is through ecosystem assessments – literally putting a price on the value nature provides to us for free. Still in its infancy, there will be more focus on these methods looking forwards.
Putting a value on the natural world is an effective way to influence business leaders and politicians and has become a fast-growing field within conservation.
If you have a passion for the natural world and an aptitude for numbers (or specialism in economics) this could be the field for you!
Typical job titles in this area are Economics Programme Officer, Junior Environmental Economist and Sustainable Finance Assistant, and their duties usually cover:
- Providing expertise at the intersection of economics and finance, development and the environment.
- Supporting the development and application of economic tools and analysis – e.g. ecosystem service valuation, cost benefit analysis, opportunity cost analysis, bio-economic modelling.
- Developing and evaluating economic incentives and financing mechanisms for biodiversity conservation and restoration.
- Building a compelling business case for investment in conservation programmes.
Changing attitudes and educating people (children and adults) is fast becoming more important in conservation as we strive to reach new audiences and increase our efforts. If you love working with people this might be where your impact is waiting for you.
Environmental education can be teaching anyone from toddlers to adults about the natural world. There are a growing number of roles within local charities (like the Wildlife Trusts or Zoos) for educators. At the other end of the spectrum, you might be interested in becoming a lecturer or teaching fellow at a college or university.
If you have passion and knowledge to share, and enjoying working with others, this could be the role for you.
Typical job titles within the area are Learning Officer, Education Officer, Environmental Educator, Schools Outreach Officer, Learning Assistant, Schools Outreach Project Officer and Education Assistant. Their duties often cover:
- Leading a wide variety of environmental education sessions for school groups and families.
- Delivering community events to promote conservation work.
- Delivering interpretation and training programmes.
- Promoting membership schemes.
Fundraising & Development Conservation Jobs | Raising money to save nature
One way to have an impact in your career is to raise the vital funds needed to make things happen. Often termed ‘development’, fundraising can mean many different things – from running a stand at a country fair, to writing multi-million dollar proposals to governments. One thing’s for sure, if you’re a good fundraiser then you’ll be in demand as every conservation charity wants to raise more money. Always.
Typical early career job titles in this area are Membership Development Officer, Fundraising Officer, Membership Development Assistant and Development Officer. These often include the following duties:
- Writing grant applications and reports
- Supporting members and donors
- Organising appeals, campaigns and fundraising drives
- Developing projects and programmes
Mapping & GIS Conservation Jobs | Putting nature on the map
As computers and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) technology become ever more powerful, there is a growing need for skilled staff to make sense of it all and to inform conservation action. GIS (Geographic Information Systems) are the software used by modern conservationists who are putting species, sites and habitats on the map. If you enjoy cartography and computers, then this conservation career path could be perfect for you.
Job titles typical in the area include GIS Technical Support Officer, GIS Spatial Modeller, GIS Spatial Modeller, GIS / Ecology Graduate, GIS Technical Support Officer and GIS Officer. They usually include the following duties:
- Maintaining and developing the main databases and spatial information systems
- Developing tools for analysing ecological processes
- Data quality assurance and licencing issues.
Marine Conservation Jobs | Protecting the blue planet
As conservation on dry land is maturing, there has been an explosion in jobs within the marine environment within recent years. It’s a diverse area of work and requires all the skillsets of those across the industry as a whole. If you’re passionate about the life in the seas there might be a job for you in here.
The roles are diverse and growing, and include job titles such as Marine Support Officer, Marine Assistant and Assistant Marine Ecologist. These typically involve the following sorts of duties:
- Working on marine ecology, marine protected area or biodiversity assessment and management.
- Literature reviews and data collation from existing sources.
- Species identification both on surveys and from underwater video and still photographs (underwater surveys).
- Planning and participating in marine surveys, inshore and offshore.
- Analysing marine ecology data sets and presenting results.
Photography and Film-making Conservation Jobs | Storytelling for change
Do you have a passion and talent for photography, or making films? Often self-employed and freelance, there is a growing opportunity for Freelance Photographers, Photo-journalists, Film-makers, Editors and Producers. These typically cover the following sorts of duties:
- Taking high quality photos and video footage.
- Researching, scriptwriting, and editing video and photo stories.
- Maintaining a show reel of work for future clients.
- Promoting your work through social media, YouTube, etc.
Policy & Advocacy Conservation Jobs | Saving wildlife through law
A small tweak to some legislation can make an enormous, global difference for wildlife conservation efforts, and this may be where your passion lies. Building sound policies, and lobbying for them to be implemented and enforced is the job of a growing band of conservation policy and advocacy professionals.
Typical job titles include Policy and Advocacy Officer, Policy Advisor, Campaigns and Policy Assistant and they cover the following duties:
- Identifying and develop key policy issues for the conservation organisations.
- Drafting position papers, policy briefings and reports and communicate results.
- Participating in related policy fora.
Programme & Project Management Conservation Jobs | Saving the world one project at a time
A programme is a themed area of work, often made up of specific projects which work together towards a defined goal. Conservation jobs in this area require strong organisational skills and an ability to work in teams to manage and coordinate tasks, deadlines and budgets.
It’s a BIG area of work (we’ve listed 3,093 jobs so far!) and often requires a mix of project management skills (which can be transferred from non-conservation jobs) and some specific knowledge for the project in question.
Consequently, it’s an interesting area for career switchers to look at; many of your work experiences to date provide you transferrable or soft-skills which many graduates don’t have when they leave university.
Early career job titles in this area include Project Officer, Project Assistant, Programme Officer and Programme Assistant, Project Manager and Programme Manager, and they typically include the following duties:
- Coordinating project activities to deliver on budget and to time.
- Organising and running workshops and meetings, including budgets, travel, accommodation and other meeting requirements.
- Supporting the Monitoring and Evaluation work of projects.
- Managing communications for the projects (email-lists, newsletters, social media, donor reports etc.)
Science & Research Conservation Jobs | Answering the key questions to tackle biodiversity loss
Science underpins and informs conservation interventions across the globe. Often undertaken within an academic setting (but not exclusively), it involves a logical, methodical and rigorous approach to work. If you’d like to make discoveries to help species, habitats and sites around the globe then it might be worth thinking about a career in science and research.
Science and Research also offer one of the clearest career paths within conservation sector. These are often highly-trained professionals who have secured a Degree, Masters and PhD, and then worked on a series of short-term (1-3 year) ‘Post Docs’ to finally secure more long-term tenured employment in a University or similar. This isn’t the only career path into science and research (many NGOs and Government bodies employ researchers), but it’s a common one.
Learn more about Science & Research Conservation Jobs.
How much money does a conservationist make?
Conservationist salaries can vary widely depending on 1) conservation job type, 2) employer type, 3) region and 4) level.
Typically, the highest paying sector is the business sector, while the lowest paying sector is the charity sector. A common higher-paying job type is ecological consultancy.
However, these are just guidelines, and it is still very possible to earn a good wage in any conservation career.
Here’s a snapshot of the average salaries for a few different job types in the UK:
- Countryside Rangers – £17,000 (starter) to £30,000 (experienced)
- Photographers (all types) – £17,500 (starter) to £45,000 (experienced)
- Ornithologists – £18,000 (starter) to £35,000 (experienced)
- Geospatial Technicians – £22,000 (starter) to £32,000 (experienced)
- Ecologists – £22,000 ( starter) to £45,000 (experienced)
- Botanists – £22,000 ( starter) to £45,000 (experienced)
- Vets (all types) – £30,000 (starter) to £50,000 (experienced)
Here’s a snapshot of the median (middle) annual wages for a few different conservation job types in the US (from May 2020):
- Media and communications occupations (which include editors, public relations specialists, technical writers, photographers and others) – $61,310.
- Conservation scientists – $64,020.
- Zoologists and wildlife biologists – $66,350.
- Environmental scientists and specialists – $73,230.
- Veterinarians (all types) – $99,250.
To learn what you could make as a conservationist, we recommend selecting one of the 15 key conservation jobs, and looking up salary information for your region.
What is the job demand for conservationists?
The job demand for conservationist salaries can vary widely depending on 1) conservation job type, 2) employer type and 3) region.
Here’s a snapshot of expected growth for a few different job types in the US:
- Media and communication occupations – projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, resulting in 46,200 new jobs.
- Zoologists and wildlife biologists – projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029.
- Environmental scientists and specialists – projected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029 (faster than the average for all occupations).
- Veterinarians (all sectors) – projected to grow 16% from 2019 to 2029 (much faster than the average for all occupations).
Aspiring conservationists should be encouraged by recent trends. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the planet are calling for a green recovery, and the leaders are listening.
- In the UK, the government proposed £3 billion in funding for ‘a green and resilient recovery’.
- In Germany, the government pledged ‘a green recovery’ with funding of £36 billion.
- The European Council agreed to a massive recovery fund of £644 billion, to help tackle climate change in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement.
At Conservation Careers we’ve seen jobs flood back into the sector in late 2020 and 2021, and new roles being created as a result of the green recovery.
We’ve also spoken with people who are leading the charge to deliver more jobs on the ground.
For example, we talked on the Conservation Careers Podcast to Beth Thoren, Deputy CEO of Client Earth, who’s spearheading a huge and exciting drive to create jobs in nature through a new National Nature Service.
“… we’re aiming to create 15,000 jobs within the sector directly, and another 5,000 in supply chain and supporting the work”, said Beth on our podcast.
Conservation organisations – including some of the biggest names – report that they sometimes receive too few applications for conservation jobs, and often struggle to find high-quality applicants.
To learn more about the job demand for conservationists, we recommend selecting one of the 15 key conservation jobs, and looking up job demand information for your region.
What are conservationist education requirements?
Many people entering the conservation sector believe that most conservation jobs require a university degree or master’s, and that formal education is the single best route to a conservation job.
But conservation is a diverse sector and the requirements for each role varies, so having a clear target job will help to understand the type of education you need.
Employers tell you what they require in their job descriptions, so get clear on your target job and study entry-level job descriptions to see if you have what’s needed in terms of education, skills and experiences.
For example, to be competitive for science and research jobs, you might need a PhD or Post Doc. But for some conservation job types such as Wildlife Photography & Filmmaking, Ecotourism, Fundraising and Development and Communications and Marketing, you may only need a degree – or find that skills and experience are more valuable to employers than education.
That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that conservationists are a clever bunch. In a survey undertaken by Conservation Careers, when asked what their highest ranking qualification is, survey respondents stated:
So 61% of conservation professionals have a master’s degree or higher.
Attaining university education takes time and money, but it can make you more employable in the sector and also helps to build your knowledge of the industry.
When starting a career as a conservationist, real-life experience can greatly increase your chances of landing a job. We recommend gaining experience through internships, volunteering and other work experience schemes.
Check out these resources:
How do I get a conservation degree?
If you’ve decided to pursue a conservation degree, you can search our Conservation Training board for conservation degrees, courses and more, such as:
- Endangered Species Recovery | Durrell Conservation Academy | Online (Short Course)
- Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate (DESMAN) | Durrell Conservation Academy | Jersey, British Channel Islands
- Introduction to Ecology | Ecology Training UK | Online (Short Course)
- Endangered & Priority Species Conservation & Habitat Management | Wildlife ACT | Online (Short Course)
- Conservation Career-Booster | Communications For Conservation Projects | Conservation Careers | Online (Short Course)
- Project Management for Wildlife Conservation | WildTeam UK | Online (Short Course)
- Wildlife Conservation | University of Kent | Canterbury, UK (BSc)
- MSc Conservation and Biodiversity | University of Exeter | Cornwall, UK
- Conservation Ecology | Oxford Brookes University | Oxford, UK (Master’s)
- MSc Management of Conservation Areas | University of Applied Sciences | Carinthia, Austria
- Conservation Leadership through Learning | Colorado State University | Fort Collins, CO, USA (Master’s)
- Environmental Policy and Management | University of Denver | Denver, Colorado, USA / online (Master’s)
- Field Guide Course in Botswana’s Okavango Delta | Natucate | Botswana
- Professional Veterinary Expeditions | Conservation Careers | South Africa
What are the top conservationist skills?
Conservation is a diverse sector and the requirements for each role varies, so having a clear target job will help to understand the skills you need for career success.
Employers tell you what they require in their job descriptions, so get clear on your target job and study entry-level job descriptions to see if you have the skills needed.
At Conservation Careers, we analysed 29,767 conservation jobs, from over 100 countries, to find out what skills employers want. We focussed on entry level positions in three common themes: Communications, Fundraising and Project Management.
- Verbal and written communication
- Organisational skills
- Social media skills
- Writing for diverse audiences
- Editing video/photo
We found that 41% of all conservation jobs explicitly wanted people with communications skills or experience. Of these, 2,726 (11%) were communications specialist roles like Communications Officers. Marketing Managers or Social Media Officers.
The most wanted skills for fundraising related roles were:
- Relationship management
- Budget management
- Organisational skills
- Research new opportunities
- Proposal development
- Course development
The most wanted skills for project officer related roles were:
- Organisational skills
- Communication skills
- Team collaboration
- Stakeholder engagement
- Organising meetings and events
- Grant and finance management
- Providing of training
Common requirements and skills across communications, fundraising and project management were:
- Organisational skills, Communication, Working with others (internal/external)
- Microsoft Office, Databases, Negotiation
To help you identify the skills that can fast track your career and create positive impact for wildlife, check out our Ultimate Guide ‘Top Conservation Skills’. You’ll find more specialist skills related to communications, fundraising and project management, plus examples of conservation skills in real job descriptions.
What conservation societies and professional organisations exist?
There are 1,000s of societies and professional organisations for conservationists worldwide. Here are just a few to get you started:
- The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB). The SCB serves as the premier international membership society for professionals, students and non-profits dedicated to advancing the science and practice of conserving biodiversity.
- Ecological Society of America (ESA). Founded in 1915, ESA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists, whose mission is to advance the science and practice of ecology and support ecologists throughout their careers. They have over 9,000 members and publish a suite of publications, from peer-reviewed journals to newsletters, fact sheets and teaching resources.
- British Ecological Society (BES). Established in 1913, BES is the oldest ecological society in the world. Dedicated to advancing ecological science, they have 6,000 members around the world and membership is open to anyone, anywhere. They produce eight world-renowned journals, provide grants, organise events, provide careers support and more.
- Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). Formed in 1991, CIEEM is the leading professional membership body representing and supporting ecologists and environmental managers in the UK, Ireland and abroad. They establish and uphold standards of professional competence; promote the sharing of best practice through publications, networking and awards; provide training and conferences; and much more.
- International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA). IAIA provides the international forum to advance best practice and innovation in impact assessment and advocates for its expanded use for the betterment of society and the environment. IAIA’s members are professionals from a diverse array of interests and organizations.
- Natural History Institute. The Natural History Institute engages the next generation of naturalists to reunite science, humanities, and art in the practice of natural history. The Institute is a place to collaborate on projects, share information, pursue research questions and ecological curiosities, and more.
- Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). SER is a dynamic global network of nearly 4,000 members who foster the exchange of knowledge and expertise among ecological restoration practitioners and scientists from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. SER communicates leading-edge tools, technologies and scientific findings, and actively promotes best practices and effective restoration policy around the world.
- The Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS). SCGIS is an all-volunteer, U.S.-based non-profit organization on a mission to support and grow an inclusive global community using geospatial technology for conservation of biodiversity, natural environments, and cultural heritage. They run an annual conference and share resources like jobs, training and events.
- The American Society of Mammologists (ASM). Established in 1919, the ASM promotes interest in the study of mammals, and is composed of around 2,500 members, many of whom are professional scientists. They host annual meetings and maintain several publications, including the Journal of Mammalogy.
- North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). NAAEE works with partners across North America and beyond through signature programs, advocacy, conferences, and other activities to accelerate environmental literacy and civic engagement to create a more sustainable future.
- Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (AERE). Founded in 1979, AERE provides many forums for exchanging ideas relevant to the management of natural and environmental resources – including journals, meetings and workshops. The Association has over 1,000 members from more than 30 nations.
- European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE). EAERE is an international scientific association that contributes to the development and application of environmental, climate and resource economics as a science in Europe. They publish journals, hold an annual conference, and offer training for young researchers.
- Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW). ELAW helps communities speak out for clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet. They are a global alliance of attorneys, scientists, and other advocates collaborating across borders to build a sustainable, just future.
- Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ). Founded in 1990, SEJ’s mission is to strengthen the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues. They provide educational opportunities and support to a membership of more than 1,400 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and 43 other countries.
For societies and professional organisations of botanists, check out How to become a botanist.
Who are conservationist role models?
Just a few famous conservationists include:
- Sir David Attenborough, an English broadcaster and natural historian who is widely recognised for his work presenting with the BBC Natural History Unit, and advocating for restoring biodiversity.
- Rachel Carson, an American marine biologist, conservationist and author, whose book Silent Spring (1962) convinced thousands of Americans to take action for the environment.
- Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a French explorer, marine conservationist, filmmaker and author who pioneered scuba gear and educated the public about the sea through books and documentaries.
- Gerald Durrell, a British naturalist, writer, zookeeper, conservationist and TV presenter who founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo and authored about 40 books.
- Sylvia Earle, an American marine conservationist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence, who was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Dian Fossey, an American primatologist and conservationist who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and who was tragically murdered in 1985.
- Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist who is known for her study of wild chimpanzees in East Africa. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots programme.
- Steve Irwin, an Australian zookeeper, TV host and conservationist who co-hosted ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ documentary series and co-owned and operated Australia Zoo before his demise from a stingray while filming in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
- Aldo Leopold, an American conservationist, professor, philosopher and author of A Sand County Almanac, who influenced our understanding of environmental ethics and wildlife preservation.
- Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist, author and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which now focuses on tree planting, climate change, gender, sustainable livelihoods and advocacy.
- John Muir, an American nature writer and ‘father of national parks’ in the USA, including Sequoia and Yosemite national parks.
- Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, and a conservationist and naturalist, who established the United States Forest Service and protected nearly 1 million square kilometres of land.
- David Suzuki, a Canadian professor, science broadcaster and environmental activist. He was host and narrator of the science programme The Nature of Things, and co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation.
- Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish environmental activist who has called on world leaders for action to mitigate climate change.
- Marco Lambertini | WWF
- Patricia Zurita | BirdLife International
- Mark Rose | Fauna & Flora International
- Jon Paul Rodríguez | IUCN Species Survival Commission
- Marnix van Holland | WWF
- Dr Alasdair Harris | Blue Ventures
- Darren Kindleysides | Australian Marine Conservation Society
- Moreangels Mbizah | Wildlife Conservation Action
- Catherine Edsell | Adventurer, conservationist and global expedition leader
Believe it or not, there is no such thing as a ‘typical conservationist’! The sector is uber-diverse, meaning that salaries can vary widely.
Salaries often depend on 1) conservation job type, 2) employer type, 3) region and 4) level.
Typically, the highest paying sector is the business sector, while the lowest paying sector is the charity sector. A common higher-paying job type is ecological consultancy.
However, these are just guidelines, and it is still very possible to earn a good wage in any conservation career.
Learn how to quickly, and easily start your career as a professional wildlife conservationist with our free video training series How to Get a Conservation Job.
If you’re a student, job-seeker or career-switcher you’ll learn the golden rule for getting started, the key mistakes to avoid, and answers to the ten most commonly asked questions.
Yes! There are hundreds of conservation courses and programmes offered globally. A great place to start your search is our Conservation Training Board.
There are lots of ways to learn conservation! It’s a diverse sector with 15 key job types, so we recommend first having a clear target job, in order to identify the skills, knowledge and experience you’ll need to succeed.
Our Conservation Training Board is a great place to explore training options – from short online courses through to master’s degrees.
Looking for hands-on experience or training? Our Conservation Experiences Board lists new conservation internships, volunteering and expeditions every day.
You might also want to check out the Top Conservation Scholarships for training, experiences and more.
The short, definitive answer: YES!
So why does this question come up? The problem is that the harm we’re causing to the diversity of life on Earth is currently far greater than conservation efforts – so even though conservation efforts are working, they’re not enough and the overall global impact is still negative.
The bad news (you asked, so let’s get it over with!)
Our planet has been sending us warning signs for decades.
From 2002 to 2020 – less than two decades – we lost over 64 million hectares of tropical primary forest globally. That’s a 6.3% loss of total area of tropical primary forest.
Since human civilization began, the global number of trees has fallen by approximately 46%.
While forests once dominated the planet, today the world’s total forest area is about 4.06 billion hectares, or just 31% of the total land area.
WWF’s trends in global biodiversity flagship report, The Living Planet Report 2020, shows that population sizes of global vertebrate species (mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish) have declined by an average of 68% in less than 50 years (1970 to 2016).
Wildlife populations in freshwater habitats have suffered even more – with freshwater population size declining by an average of 84% since 1970.
We’ve also reached record levels of climate change indicators – including atmospheric CO2, heat, loss of sea ice and permafrost warming.
Climate change is intensifying the rate of biodiversity loss, which is faster than at any time in human history and could see 500,000 to 1 million species become extinct in the coming decades if we continue down this path.
The good news (phew!):
It’s true that the challenges we’re up against are immense. But if conservation didn’t exist we’d be far worse off than we currently are.
Even though conservation can’t overcome the scale of challenges like biodiversity loss – yet – it is far better than taking no action.
Here are just a few examples of conservation success stories from around the world:
- The Red Kite. Perceived as ‘vermin’, accused of taking game and eventually targeted by taxidermists and egg collectors (once it became rare), this severely persecuted bird of prey suffered range reductions and population decreases through much of its world range. It eventually becoming extinct in several countries, including England and Scotland. Thanks to a re-introduction programme run by RSPB, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage, red kites have been re-established in several areas of England and Scotland, and their numbers in Britain rose 1026% from 1995-2014.
- California Condor. Only 27 of North America’s largest land bird remained in 1987, largely due to the accumulation of lead shot ingested from carcasses, plus insecticides, ingestion of glass and collisions with electricity pylons. Captive breeding and reintroductions have increased their wild population into the hundreds.
- Tigers. Having to compete with humans for space, numbers of this iconic species have declined for a century, due to habitat loss, poaching and killings. However, recent estimates suggest that there are 3,900 tigers in the wild, and that tiger populations are stable or increasing in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Russia and China. This encouraging results follow an ambitious effort by 13 countries to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022 – ‘TX2’.
- Antarctic Blue Whale. Hunted for their oily blubber, this subspecies plummeted from an estimated 239,000 individuals prior to industrial whaling to just 360 individuals. Thanks to an international moratorium on whaling in 1986, the whales recovered to about 4,500 individuals by 2015, and their main threat now is climate change.
- The Mauritius Kestrel. Due to a combination of post-colonisation habitat loss, the introduction of non-native predators and the widespread use of insecticides for malaria and agriculture, only four of these raptors were alive in the wild in 1974. The Mauritius Kestrel narrowly escaped extinction thanks to innovative conservation efforts including captive breeding, and it’s population climbed into the hundreds.
- The Blue Iguana. Found only in the dry forests of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, the Blue Iguana declined to only 30 individuals in the wild in 2001. By 2018, their population surpassed 1,000, thanks to the National Trust in the Cayman Islands.
- The Great Bear Rainforest. Part of the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest on Earth and home the elusive ‘spirit bear’, the Great Bear Rainforest received formal protection in 2016, following decades of campaigning by Greenpeace and other organisations. The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement permanently conserves 19 million acres of coast in partnership with First Nations people.
For more examples of conservation success stories, head over to Conservation Optimism, or explore what conservationists around the world are accomplishing in their careers, on our Careers Advice Blog.
You might also want to check out What Works in Conservation, a compilation of expert assessments of evidence for effective conservation actions.
What if conservation fails?
Like any other sector, conservationists are human. And they have to adapt to a constantly changing planet – not just physically, but politically, socially and economically. Conservation projects and initiatives aren’t perfect, and occasionally some may fail or fall short, as we learn and adapt.
The good news is that we’re getting better at sharing our experiences so we can learn from one another, and collaborate together towards shared goals.
What about unethical conservation organisations?
Sadly, there are some organisations out there that market themselves as achieving conservation, but don’t walk the talk.
Unfortunately all it takes is one ‘bad egg’ to taint the perception of many great conservation organisations doing excellent work.
If you’ve come across an organisation that didn’t act ethically, we encourage you to share your experience with others, to help put pressure on the organisation to change. Most importantly, we encourage you not to let it taint your view of the conservation sector as a whole – or discourage you from engaging in all the great work that’s being done.
The bottom line
We have the solutions to tackle the biodiversity crisis, and just need the political and collective will to do so.
There are examples of incredible conservation success stories from all over the world – and YOU can create a positive impact for people and planet as a conservationist.
Focusing on conservation successes and celebrating our ‘wins’ can help keep motivation up and build momentum for greater success.
Wait a second…
We’ve explored what conservation is, but we haven’t asked if we should conserve wildlife in the first place. And if so, why?
Neither facts nor empirical science can answer these questions, so we need to turn to ethics and philosophy for answers about what the human relationship with wildlife should be.
Consider these examples:
- How many feral animals can we justifiably cull, to save the last remaining individuals of a native species?
- Should farmers in developing nations be allowed to practise slash-and-burn agriculture?
- Does a grassland restored after mining have the same value as the original, untouched grassland?
- Should we build a road to give 100s of people access to basic healthcare, if it’s likely to wipe out the last remaining population of an Endangered frog?
- Is some trophy hunting ethical if it has a net benefit for a species?
- If human overconsumption or destruction of natural resources is wrong, is it because of future generations, or do those resources simply have value in their own right?
- Should we hunt native waterfowl if they are becoming overpopulated or pests?
- Is conserving a species that can only survive in captivity the right thing to do?
- If farming rhinos and selling their horns is the best way to conserve rhinos, should we do it?
- What is ‘natural’, anyways?
- Is it always ethical to intervene?
As an applied science, conservation is about making decisions and taking action.
The examples above show that conservation decisions involve more than just facts. They usually have social, ethical and philosophical dimensions.
They also show that different people can have different interests, and can assign different values to different things – for different reasons.
Conservationists need to be able to distinguish facts from values, and reflect on and carefully analyse values to take effective action.
Intrinsic vs. instrumental value
A key question in environmental ethics is: What kind of value does wildlife have?
Intrinsic value means that wildlife has value in and of itself. Wildlife – for example species like vultures and mosquitoes – simply deserves to exist, without any other justification.
Utilitarian or instrumental value means that wildlife is valued for the benefits it provides to people. These are often referred to as ‘ecosystem services’, and include everything from wetlands that purify water and sequester carbon, to forests that provide economic resources and medicines, to recreational activities along coastlines, and cultural and educational values.
The ecosystems and species that deliver these benefits are often referred to as ‘natural capital’.
At Conservation Careers we believe that all wildlife is beautiful and that it deserves great conservationists working to protect it.
We also recognise that natural capital and ecosystems services can be powerful tools to help different people and groups engage with and support conservation. For more on this, check out Environmental Economics & Ecosystem Assessment Conservation Jobs | Putting a value on nature.
That’s a tough one!
There are many conservation degrees offered globally, and many funding options available, so getting a degree in conservation is very possible. Check out our Conservation Training Board to start exploring degree programmes or courses in your region! You can also search the Top Conservation Scholarships if you need financial support.
That said, any degree requires an investment of time and energy (and often money) to complete. Before investing in a degree, we recommend first having a clear target job, in order to identify the skills, knowledge and experience you’ll need to succeed.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out our free video training How to Get a Conservation Job.
Useful links & free stuff
- You want to work in conservation but you’re feeling lost, disillusioned or confused?!? Check out our Kick-Starter training designed to help you understand the job market, to navigate your career options, and to get hired more quickly. It’s designed for students, graduates, job-seekers and career-switchers. We’re proud to say it also has 100% satisfaction and recommendation ratings. We know you’ll love it. Find out more about our Kick-Starter – Online Course.
- You need answers to top questions about working in conservation? Check out our free Ultimate Guides covering topics like the 15 Key Conservation Job Types, Top Conservation Internships | Paid or Free and Marine Conservation Jobs, and answering questions like How to Switch Careers into Conservation, Do I need a Master’s Degree? and much more! Or download our free guides to keep and read later!
- You feel ready to be applying for jobs in conservation? Check out our membership packages for job seekers which provide access to the world’s biggest conservation job board – with over 10,000 conservation jobs shared each year – plus a range of other benefits. Check out our monthly memberships here.
- You’re submitting applications, but failing to get many interviews? Check out our FREE eBook Conservation Jobs: The Step-by-Step System to Get Hired as a Wildlife Conservationist – available on Kindle, EPUB and PDF. We can also review your applications, and provide 1:1 advice on how to improve them. Check out our application support here.
- You’ve got an interview (well done!) and would like our help to prepare for it? We know what employers want, and have helped many people prepare for and deliver successful interviews. Check out our interview preparation here.
- You’re feeling stuck, struggling with a career decision or something’s holding you back from pursuing the career of your dreams? Our 1:1 career coaching can help you gain clarity about your next steps and form a plan of action. Check out our career coaching here