Conservation jobs are real jobs

Featured image by Lisa Calder [planting at Bush Heritage Australia’s Scottsdale Reserve, NSW]

During the months of June and July 2021, The Third Fuse Project will donate to Bush Heritage Australia $10 from every paperback sale of Red Reflection and $4 from every e-Book sale [see our Red Reflection page here]. You can also donate direct to BHA via their website:

According to the 2019 Global Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson said in response to the report, ‘We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide”1.

Despite these sad facts, the stereotype of the paid conservationist that works to address these global problems sometimes lacks understanding of the importance and reality of the conservation effort. Jobs in this sector can be perceived as easy jobs or jobs of a temporary nature that will one day be replaced by more important career choices in one’s life. The rhetoric is that a conservationist is a ‘tree hugger’ or a ‘greenie’, or someone working against progress or development. This is unjust in the context of the findings of reports like the IPBES Global Assessment Report.

There is an excellent book, Lonely Conservationists, by Jessie Panazzolo2 that describes the reality for conservationists around the world. Their experiences show us that paid conservation work is very hard to come. This is because conservation is not a major industry sector and there is often high demand for positions. This is despite the huge need for these jobs in the face of species loss, climate change and a poor history of land and water management in Australia. In this industry there are often expectations of volunteering to get anywhere. Jobs can be remote, lonely and in harsh conditions. The task for conservationists can also be overwhelming due to the scale and diversity of environmental problems that exist. You will often hear conservation organisations say they cannot do their work without the help of volunteers. This is so true; they need volunteers to support the relatively few paid workers that exist.

As someone that has worked in the conservation industry for over twenty years, I have experienced the reality of the work. I have also heard the unfair comments from people that work in other sectors. As a result, I have sometimes felt that my job is not valued by the broader community. In my novel Red Reflection the leader, Low, refers to bushland as “…serving no functional purpose.” This is a sad but true perception that people have in the face of economic and social pressures.

For this reason, I wanted to write a blog that celebrates conservation organisations that support paid staff and volunteers. In Australia, there are some fantastic organisations that value their staff for the work they do to protect natural ecosystems. Bush Heritage Australia is one of those organisations. Bush Heritage buys large areas of land specifically for conservation purposes. They rely on donations, bequests and grants to manage more than 1.2 million hectares of land around Australia. A further 10.1 million hectares is protected through partnerships with Aboriginal people. They do this with 120 staff3. This can’t be easy. But they do it well despite all the constraints that exist for conservation organisations and their workers.

I love the following quote from Dr Jody Gunn, outgoing Executive Manager for Bush Heritage’s South East Region. In February this year, in response to a question about what has had the most impact in the past five years she said:

…investing in people on Country and the recognition of our First Nations people. By working to support Ranger groups on Indigenous Protected Areas, investing in fieldwork on reserves, and undertaking long-term monitoring to track change over time, Bush [Heritage Australia] has built an approach that sees cultural and natural values protected, people rewarded by seeing the outcomes and impacts of their work, and all Australians benefiting from resilient land, healthier waterways and carbon sequestration’.4

I also really like Bush Heritage’s latest campaign, Our Bush Heroes. As part of its 30th year celebrations, Our Bush Heroes aims to celebrate the people around Australia dedicated to protecting our environment for future generations. It is clear from this, and from their plan to return the bush to good health, that Bush Heritage values its staff and volunteers, and wants to support them to live remotely with their families and cope with all the other challenges that conservation workers face today.

For me, one of the most important challenges conservation organisations and workers face is to change the public perception of conservation organisations from ones that save threatened species to ones that are busy saving us from ourselves because nature is the foundation of human progress, not a constraint. As Dr Jody Gunn implies, we all benefit from looking after the land. This is because the land becomes resilient, waterways become healthier and we contribute to carbon sequestration. Bush Heritage Australia is going a long way to changing these public perceptions by caring for their staff and volunteers.

Please feel free to leave a comment below. Let me know how you think we can change long-standing community attitudes to conservation organisations and workers.

Useful links to information used in this post:

  1. United Nations blog (6 May 2019), ‘UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
  2. Lonely Conservationists website
  3. Bush Heritage Australia’s blog (22 January 2021), Our Bush Heroes campaign
  4. Bush Heritage Australia’s blog (1 February 2021), ‘
  5. United Nations blog (3 April 2019), ‘Green economy could create 24 million new jobs
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