Jess Chappell

Jess Chappell

Nature Policy Officer, RSPB, Bedfordshire

Describe your job in a nutshell

I make sure that our species in the UK are given appropriate protection. I do this by developing and advocating RSPB policy with government, other statutory bodies and decision makers, to make sure that the legislation covering legal species protection is adequate and being enforced.

A lot of the stuff I do deals with conflict species, such as fish-eating birds and large gulls that nest on roofs – species that for whatever reason come into conflict with peoples’ day to day lives, and I have to make sure that the laws that we have adequately protect these species, to try and encourage people to live side by side with them and use non-harmful methods to deal with the perceived problems.

Invasive non-native species are also very high on my agenda at the moment – a massive conservation issue, both in terms of RSPB policy and wider UK and EU policy, and I also cover wildlife diseases.

In 2012 I decided that I needed to get into a more scientific or policy-based role, and to do that I would need a Masters, so I went and studied Conservation Biology and the knowledge that I gained from that has definitely helped me get the role I’m in today.

What route did you take to get to this position?

I started with my undergraduate degree in zoology, and knew from that that I definitely wanted to work in conservation. So I got a foot in the door with the RSPB by volunteering for them in a people-engagement role, and I got my first paid contract with them through that.

I’ve worked my way up through temporary contracts with the RSPB, first 3 months, then a year, and eventually permanent positions.

In 2012 I decided that I needed to get into a more scientific or policy-based role, and to do that I would need a Masters, so I went and studied Conservation Biology and the knowledge that I gained from that has definitely helped me get the role I’m in today.

You’ve worked in quite a few different jobs with the RSPB, have you found that there is a lot of sideways movement in the organisation?

Certainly. And I can see that the skills that I got from my time in more people-engagement based roles have been a really good foundation for my other jobs with the RSPB.

I’ve moved from people-engagement which mainly focused on membership, into a Wildlife Advisor role, where I was still working with the public, but was advising on wildlife and scientific issues and really needed those communication skills which I’d picked up in my previous position.

In the role I’ve moved into now, I’m not interacting with the public as much, but the communication skills I picked up way back are still absolutely vital but in a different context. Because I’ve always been with the RSPB or other BirdLife partners you learn a lot about the organisation and their ethos and values, and that’s extremely valuable knowledge to have.

Jess Chappell

What sort of skills do you use in your job?

You need to have a lot of knowledge of EU and UK wildlife legislation, and of wildlife conservation issues in general.

Strong communication skills are vital as you are advocating conservation policy to other interests, and you do need to be able to deal with difficult people and situations. For example I might go to a group meeting and I could be the only conservationist in the group, and therefore the only one representing wildlife when everyone else in the room has the opposite view; so you need to be strong in your convictions, a good communicator and work well under pressure.

Is the job what you expected?

I think it is. It is the most challenging job that I’ve had to date. The jump from communicating primarily with the public to communicating with government bodies and scientists is quite a big leap, but it’s challenging in a really good way.

Because my previous role as a Wildlife Advisor required me to have a good knowledge of wildlife law, I already had an idea of the kinds of issues that come up, and the kind of partners that I’d be dealing with.

What personal qualities do you need for working in this sector?

Passion would be the main one.

Conservation is such a broad field that I think it attracts a whole range of different people with different qualities, but you’re always going to need a good knowledge of current conservation issues.

It’s an extremely interdisciplinary sector and it is very important to know what’s happening with your colleagues on the ground as well as higher up at government level, as it’s all relevant – even if it doesn’t appear to be directly relevant to your own role day-to-day. You need to have an appreciation of the different viewpoints and take an interdisciplinary approach.