I’ve been working at Severn Rivers Trust as a Volunteering Officer since January 2020, predominantly coordinating volunteer opportunities for a project called Unlocking the Severn. Earlier in 2021, the project ran a ‘Careers in River Conservation’ event and we were overwhelmed by the response, with over 300 people signing up! It showed us how many people out there were hoping to begin a career working in this field, and so when EJ asked us to write this blog we jumped at the chance.
The Rivers Trust
The Rivers Trust movement began in 1994 with the formation of the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT). The Trust was started and mostly run by volunteers. Soon after the formation of the WRT, several other Rivers Trusts were set up across the country.
By 2001, Trusts had started working together, sharing what they had learnt, developing policy, and helping local communities to establish new Trusts, partly by assisting them with small start-up grants. Eventually the Rivers Trust gained charitable status in 2004, acting as an umbrella organisation for over 60 local member Trusts.
Local member Trusts are charitable organisations helping to improve land, rivers and wetland across the UK and Ireland. Our approach, working on a catchment scale, allows us to identify the main causes of problems that are damaging rivers, habitats and wildlife and look at how we can address these directly. We work in an integrated, holistic way – considering where water is coming from, and where it is going. Often this means multiple interventions upstream, or intercepting water before it reaches the river to have a big impact downstream. The work of each Trust will vary slightly, but the overall aim is to offer education, water and land management advice and take action in the form of practical conservation work.
Together, the Rivers Trusts are the only group of environmental charities in the UK and Ireland dedicated to protecting and improving river environments for the benefit of people and wildlife.
Severn Rivers Trust
Severn Rivers Trust (SRT) was founded in 2008 aiming to protect and enhance the river Severn, along with its tributaries and streams. SRT aims to create ‘a vibrant healthy Severn for everyone’.
Staff often come from a variety of backgrounds, each bringing a unique set of skills to help spread the work of Severn Rivers Trust
We are a team of passionate and enthusiastic river champions. Our motto is ‘we get our feet wet’ – meaning we make things happen on the ground and constantly strive to make a real and positive difference for the river and its communities. We currently have just over 20 staff members, split into several teams, with each team focusing on different work areas: river restoration; community engagment and land management.
Our River Restoration team is made up of experts in freshwater ecology, research and monitoring. Staff need to have the practical knowledge and skills to manage in-stream improvements for fish and other wildlife. Roles can be quite varied but include core postions such as Fisheries Officers, and fixed-term ones such as Project Officers. These fixed terms roles come about as almost all of our funding comes from grants relating to specific projects, therefore we appoint staff to carry out work and meet project goals. We do look to extend contracts wherever we can, but this relies on us being able to line up the next project, and ensure funding is in place. Project Officers do a huge variety of tasks as they are responsible for planning, delivering and reporting on their specialist area / project. The specifics depend on the project they are appointed to.
Our PhD students often sit within the River Restoration team. PhDs are run in partnership with universities, and students often have a mix of work activities and PhD research to complete. They spend a lot of their time collecting and analysing data, and writing up their findings.
Ed Noyes, Senior Fisheries Officer at SRT, advises that we look for people who have detailed technical knowledge of fish and river sciences to join this team. For individuals without further or higher education, we recommend the IFM Certificate in Fisheries Management as a fantastic starting point. Practical experience in different survey techniques is also very helpful, such as river walk-over and hydromorphology surveys, fish migration surveys, and any surveys relating to species specific to waterways, such as water voles.
Our Community Engagement team work hard to share our enthusiasm and passion for rivers through a wide variety of activities, helping people feel the benefits of healthy rivers. Activities can include anything from recruiting volunteer citizen scientists to help with survey work, such as riverfly monitoring or fish migration monitoring; working with schools and getting children involved in hands-on activities to help them learn about river systems; or working with community groups to deliver large interventions such as tree planting.
Staff often come from a variety of backgrounds, each bringing a unique set of skills to help spread the work of Severn Rivers Trust, but all have one thing in common: bags of enthusiasm! Roles include Education Officers, who specifically focus on working with schools and colleges; Volunteering Officers, who focus on working with volunteers and citizen scientists; and Community Officers, who typically do a combination of everything, including work with schools, volunteers and community groups.
Alice Fallon, who leads the community engagement team at SRT, says “All staff on the Community Engagement team have a ‘can-do, will-do’ attitude and work together to share ideas and devise brilliant engagement”.
Our Land Management team works with landowners to identify the potential economic, as well as environmental, benefits of sustainable land management practices. Unfortunately agriculture is by far the leading cause of pollution in our rivers, and changing land use has greatly contributed to issues such as increased erosion and flooding. By working with farmers we can improve infrastructure and change land management practices, and significantly improve the state of our rivers as a result.
Staff need to be knowledgeable on farm and wildlife issues and also solutions. Typically they will have gained this knowledge either through college/university or through working in similar fields, either on a paid or as a volunteer basis. Roles include Catchment Officers, Farm Advisors and Wildlife & Farming Officers.
Our GIS and Data Officers also sit within this team, assisting colleagues with the analysis and presentation of spatial data to feed into farm reports, and undertaking environmental modelling to support evidence-based decision making.
Melissa Hoskings, Head of Land Management at SRT, says “The three main qualities I look for in potential employees are agricultural/ land management knowledge, good communication skills and being a self-starter”.
Finding roles within the Rivers Trusts
If you are unsure of which role in a Trust would be most suited to your interests and skill set, don’t be afraid to get in touch with your local Trust and ask questions! River conservation is a wide field and there are many different roles to suit different skills, interests and specialisms. Not all of them will necessarily suit you, but it is important to explore the many avenues available.
Job shadowing can be a great way to try out a few of these roles and learn more about what each entails, helping to narrow down your search. If you are interested in job shadowing, send a detailed email to your local Trust, explaining what you are hoping to learn and why. All Trusts have a general admin email address, this is the best place to send your query (unless you have a named contact) as the admin team will forward your email to the relevant staff.
Tips for success
As with all jobs in conservation, there are often many more applicants than there are positions available. Making sure you stand out from other applicants is key to being successful in this field. Although there are lots of ways to do this, here are my top three tips:
1. Get qualified - there are many different qualifications relevant to this field and a degree isn’t always necessary. Apprenticeships and traineeships are becoming more common, helping people to learn through practical experience, rather than taught classes. Fisheries Colleges also offer many river-related courses.
2. Gain experience - having a working knowledge is incredibly important. Paid experience is great, but volunteer experience is also looked upon favourably and it can help to show you are enthusiastic and committed.
3. Communicate your passion - succeeding in conservation can take a long time and ultimately, it is passion and commitment that help us to have a successful career.
Mike Morris, CEO at SRT, says "Passion for protecting the natural world is paramount for me. Anyone applying for a role with us will likely meet most of the job description, but if the passion of the individual doesn't meet the same mission and values of Severn Rivers Trust, and they can't show that, then they lose something in their application".
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