I’ve always had an affinity for the wilderness, my father previously working for Greenpeace and my mother coming from a long line of fell walkers; it is in my blood. And after a childhood filled with regular day trips to the Lake District, holidays around the beautiful British countryside and being sent out to play until teatime, I feel like my parents always nurtured that love for the outdoors without ever pushing me to start working in it.
People might describe me as the kid who forever had muddy hands, bruised knees and random vegetation stuck in her hair (nothing’s changed there!). Of course I went through the obligatory pubescent phase, goth being my personal favourite fad, but I always gravitated back to nature and reveled in its freedom. I was a happy child and I definitely pin part of that on the fact that I could always find joy from the simplest things mother nature had to offer.
As I grew older and started facing decisions that would shape my life and career, I decided to choose what I was good at – science and maths – and gained an appreciation for meteorology and oceanography. I liked the way that unchangeable, sturdy laws and equations could translate into changeable, erratic events; it was exciting and unpredictable. However after spending the first two weeks of university (UEA) unraveling simultaneous equations and coming to realise that people only chase storms in their spare time without being paid for it, my mind wandered to greener fields and landed in a bog in Norfolk – my first ecology field trip. Yes, I changed courses after watching those lucky students foraging for fungi in the woodland and bird ringing by the lake, and never looked back. I studied a variety of modules, from environmental politics and sustainability to parasitology and taxonomy. As the years rolled by, I found myself volunteering with the Wildlife Trust to see if I could apply what I’d learnt in community ecology lectures to the real world. I loved doing a hard day’s work come rain or shine and really admired the wardens for their innovation and sheer grit. Before learning about this avenue of conservation my heart was set on becoming a research scientist and publishing my findings to help environmental efforts, but with every new skill learnt in the field my aspirations pointed more and more towards practice than academia.
After graduating university I decided that the folks I’d volunteered with were who I wanted to become; through networking and asking lots of “how did you get your job?” questions, I’d applied for an internship and arrived at Eastern England RSPB. It was an incredible year of new adventures, new skills, new friendships and a new outlook on my career. I spent 6 months over summer at Minsmere, Dingle Marshes and North Warren (Suffolk coast) and come September moved to Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore (The Wash, Lincolnshire) for what I thought would be another 6 months. Whilst the position was unpaid, I received payment of sorts through vocational training in brushcutters, pesticides, ATVs and 4×4 driving, and was provided with accommodation with like minded people I will keep as dear friends forever. Tasks I helped with included volunteer leadership, livestock husbandry, equipment and vehicle maintenance, surveys of all kinds and general handyman jobs. Whilst I would recommend the internship to anyone wanting to pursue a career in conservation, I would also warn that you have to be financially prepared or, as I did, work evenings to pay for living costs. It wasn’t an easy ride and I am still paying off the debt it accumulated but unfortunately it is the easiest and quickest way to get on the ladder! I hope in the future this changes and that the exploitation of passionate, young naturalists becomes a faux pas; I now endeavor to help those following in my footsteps and give as much advice as possible.
We’re pretty much up to speed now. After 3 months in Lincolnshire applying for countless jobs in the sector I was finally rewarded with an exciting offer of assistant ranger in the South Downs National Park. It was a role I applied for thinking an NP would want someone more experienced and seasoned than I, but my friendliness, versatility and strong work ethic earned me the role and boy was I chuffed! I moved to the South East early 2017, renting a room from a lovely local who was more than happy to show me the area and settle me in, and started work the day after…strike while the irons hot eh? So now I am settled in my job, still learning a lot, but ready to share my experiences and findings with some knowledge behind the subject. Hopefully this has been useful in explaining how I got to where I am and a bit of backstory to my passion for the wilderness. I like to stress that everyone in this sector got to where they are in very different ways and through series of lucky breaks/useful contacts and perfectly timed opportunities, but there’s one thing we all have in common – determination and commitment to conservation.