Job profile: What’s it like to be a conservation adviser?

Conservation advisers work with farmers and other landowners to maintain and improve the natural environment.

It is a sector that has grown in importance over recent decades, with government policy placing increasing emphasis on land management practices and stewardship schemes that increase biodiversity, reduce pollution and improve water quality.

Farmers Weekly asked conservation adviser William Bartholomew to explain what his job is like.

See also: Job profile: What’s it like to be a plant breeder?

Name William Bartholomew

Age 33

Job title Lead land management and conservation adviser

Company Natural England

Sum up your job in a sentence or two:

I work with farmers and other land managers in the North York Moors.

I set up Countryside Stewardship schemes to maintain or enhance the natural environment on the moors, many of which are on commons and in-bye farms.

The North York Moors is one of the largest sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) in the UK, and the site has a range of important upland habitats and significant upland breeding bird populations. 

What does this involve day to day?

I work in partnership with a wide range of people including farmers, landowners, land agents, utility companies, charities and other government departments. 

My role involves getting out and about on site visits to set up and advise on agri-environment agreements, survey designated sites – including SSSIs – and advise on consents for management activities.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

It’s very rewarding to help keep the countryside healthy in a way that also works with people’s businesses. This is a core principle of Countryside Stewardship and the schemes that predated it.  

Over the past 20 years, agri-environment schemes have had a positive effect on the North York Moors and the farm businesses in this special place – something we are keen to continue.  

What can be the downside?

Hill farms face very real challenges to remain viable businesses, and that can be difficult. But its’s also extremely rewarding when I can offer help and support that makes a real difference to people’s lives.  

What percentage of your job is office-based?

The amount of time I spend in the office varies greatly, depending on the season.

I can be in the field four days a week, while during quieter periods in the early winter I might be in the office Monday to Friday. 

What skills and qualifications are essential to do the job?

The required skills and qualifications are:

  • An understanding of upland farming systems
  • Good communication, negotiation, computing and written skills
  • An understanding of ecological processes
  • Identification skills for key plant/bird species/habitat types
  • Knowledge of environmental legislation
  • A passion for and interest in the environment
  • A degree/postgraduate qualification in a relevant subject (biology, ecology, agriculture, environmental science), or equivalent experience. 

What experience did you have before starting?

I had an excellent one-year placement with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust at its upland research base in Inverness-shire, which I completed during my degree at Harper Adams.  

I also worked for an ecological consultancy and completed a voluntary internship with Natural England in my home county of Worcestershire.  

Added to that, I worked part-time on several farm estates throughout my teenage years, where I really got to know the business side of farming.

What other careers did you consider?

Agricultural/environmental law, army officer, veterinary surgeon, research scientist and also land agent and adviser.

What tips/advice would you give to someone wanting a similar role?

I would encourage them to consider completing a degree with a year in industry and/or doing a range of farming and environmentally related voluntary jobs.  

It’s a competitive area and experience counts.

Give us an idea of the salary a new-starter in your sector might expect?

About £24,000/year.

What’s the best bit of career advice you’ve been given?

Do something you enjoy – your passion can be also your career.