"The role of conservation is really to reverse the decline in our natural capital." ATTICUS FLEMING, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY

Made famous by crusaders like David Attenborough, Jane Goodal and Steve Irwin, conservation is the best-known area within the environmental industry. A hugely popular sector, conservation is about preserving habitats, biodiversity and ecosystems – with a focus on the biology of the environment.

Australia has more than 9,400 protected areas – covering nearly 14 per cent of the country. This large area shows the important role played by conservation professionals in managing and preserving our unique ecosystems.

Atticus Fleming, Chief Executive of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, stresses the urgency of growing Australia’s conservation sector. “Australia has been blessed with natural capital. Our flora and fauna are considered mega diverse and many of them are found only in this country. But our record over the last 100 years in preserving that capital has been lamentable. The role of conservation is really to reverse the decline in our natural capital,” he says.

The biggest employers of conservation professionals in Australia come from the public sector. At the largest scale, Australia’s federal environment body is the Department of the Environment, which manages the national Cleaner Environment Plan. Each state or territory then has their own environment department, such as the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, and may also have an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) working alongside the government.

At a finer scale, there are regional natural resource management bodies and local councils who employ people within their biodiversity sections.

After the public sector, the next biggest employers are not-for-profit organisations, the largest of which include Bush Heritage Australia, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Birds Australia and Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

These government and not-for-profit organisations employ a variety of professionals for a wide variety of jobs. They employ environmental officers to do proactive work, such as managing and developing habitats, managing the coastline, and doing fieldwork to assess habitat quality. They also employ professionals to respond to critical situations, such as managing threatened species, rescuing wildlife, and managing fire.

Working in this sector can also involve assessing land for biodiversity value or building development. And not all conservation roles are outdoors; some include managing volunteers and community engagement – a key element in this popular sector – as well as staffing visitor centres and headquarter offices.

Mr Fleming believes that good science is essential for effective conservation. He says the sector looks for science graduates who have strong skills as well as the right attitude. “We want graduates who have great technical ability, but also who are passionate about conservation, practical and enjoy being in the bush,” he says.

A great way to sharpen your skills and demonstrate your passion for conservation is to volunteer. This helps you get to know an organisation, develop networks and skills in the field, and is how most conservation professionals have entered into the industry.

Many conservation organisations, such as the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, have internships or volunteering programs. Mr Fleming agrees that volunteering is an invaluable first step in seeking employment in the industry, and says that internships are “a genuine mechanism for getting work experience and then winning a conservation job at the end of it.”

Statistics and salary

  • Environmental jobs in Australia have been growing steadily over the last five years.
  • The Australian Government’s Cleaner Environment Plan has four pillars: clean air, clean water, clean land and heritage protection.
    New technology (satellite remote sensing, advanced computer modeling) is bringing a wealth of opportunity to the sector, providing more interesting aspects to conservation roles and opportunities to develop skills.

Average salary: $90,000


Industry bodies

Government bodies

Courses to consider

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