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Marine Adviser

Age: 37

Organisation: Natural England

Viv Roberts - Marine Advisor


Why did you decide on a career in ecology/environmental management, and when did you decide?

I decided in 2001, when I was 25, that I wanted to follow my passion and interest in wildlife and the natural environment. I had always been interested in animals and watching wildlife programmes but after having a child at a young age, I didn’t consider a career in ecology until my son was in secondary school. I left school with no qualifications and didn’t think I was capable of completing a degree course, which, in the field of ecology, is essential to gain a broad level of understanding to be able to progress within the sector.

How did you get started in the sector?  What qualifications and experience did you have? Have you gained any additional qualifications since?

After a lot of advice and encouragement by my tutor on an Access Course (Biology, English and Maths) for mature students, I decided to follow my passion and enrolled on a BSc in Wildlife Conservation at Seal-Hayne (University of Plymouth). My choice of university was restricted due to my family commitments but the course provided a varied selection of modules which gave me a good grounding for most career avenues and further academic studies. I had very limited experience when I started my degree and it did come as a bit of a shock to realise that the environmental sector required a lot of voluntary commitment to build-up suitable experience. However, with a lot of hard work, networking and giving up spare time to volunteer for conservation NGOs, I quickly developed my knowledge and experience during my degree. I was inspired by the people I met and the dedicated work organisations were doing to protect wildlife and the natural environment. I didn’t have much of an idea which direction I wanted to go with my career during my degree and I still haven’t specialised in a particular area. I like dabbling in all kinds of work but I wouldn’t recommend this to people as a rule of thumb. It’s better to have some idea of an area of work to specialise in and focus on that direction. Two years after completing my degree I decided that a Master’s in Applied Ecology and Conservation was the best way forward for my interest in research work. A Master’s course prepared me for research in an academic environment and employment within the sector. I decided on completion of my Master’s not to stay in academia and went into ecological consultancy (due to the need to earn some money!). I spent two years in this field conducting habitat and protected species surveys, mainly in the terrestrial environment but I also did six months work for a marine consultancy. I left consultancy work to take up the challenge of managing a programme of apprenticeships in conservation and countryside management for young people (charity conservation sector). In doing this I gained additional qualifications in teaching, project management and experience working with partners and stakeholder.

How long have you been in your current role?

Nearly one year.

What does a typical day involve? What are your responsibilities?

A typical day usually involves giving advice to the marine regulatory authorities (IFCA and MMO) that protect marine features within Marine Protected Areas, ranging from providing advice on activities that may impact on a protect feature to commenting on management plans, bylaws and Habitat Regulation Assessments. This involves reviewing available evidence and analysing new data. I also get the opportunity to conduct marine surveys during the summer, in partnership with EA, IFCA, MMO and CEFAS (maintaining my field skills). Further work areas include providing advice to government (DEFRA) on the designation of new marine protected areas.

What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have?

Communication, organisation, IT, technical report writing, negotiation, a good understanding of UK legislation and how it is applied, time management, data management and recording, an  understanding of marine ecology, pro-active and self-motivated, ability to work as part of a team to. Beneficial skills also include GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and statistical analysis skills.

Describe the aspects of your job you find particularly rewarding and those you find challenging?

In my current role the most challenging aspect is my limited background in marine ecology. However, with a solid understanding of ecology, UK legislation and statistical analysis this is overcome by experience and coaching from marine experts. Another challenge is working to government priorities and timeframes, which are not always aligned to organisational and/or personal aspirations. Rewarding aspects are the knowledge of contributing to the protection of the marine environment, and building a network and systems for managing marine protected areas. Another rewarding aspect is being part of a local team, seeing first hand how my work is benefitting the environment and local communities in an area where I have lived and worked for most of my life.

Describe your career progression so far and any plans you have for the future

My career so far has been both challenging and rewarding, providing me with some unforgettable experiences. I have a varied background, with multiple transferable skills and a broad range of knowledge which I can apply to many different areas. However, I have not specialised in a particular area and this has limited my progression to some degree. It is my aspiration to work on research projects overseas, but my personal circumstances do not allow for long periods abroad at present. However, I have come to appreciate the stability of working for a statutory body and want to remain in the marine sector for the immediate future, possibly gaining specialist knowledge in fisheries management within marine protected areas and/or marine monitoring.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the sector?

First make a choice between marine, terrestrial, working overseas or in the UK. Then try to gain an understanding of the different conservation and environmental sectors and narrow these down to a few areas you would like to work in (voluntary work can give an idea of the jobs available and the sector in general). Focus your career path on your selected work area and direct your learning and experience to these choices. This will save you time, money and effort and will provide you with an opportunity to specialise in a particular area/species/habitat etc. much quicker. Generally the more you specialise the more you generally get paid. If you know academia/research is your direction, find a Phd as soon as possible once you have an idea what you want to study. NGOs, private consultancies, statutory bodies and self-owned businesses all have pros and cons ,it comes down to personal choice and circumstances. If you are, like me, not driven by ambition and the need to progress quickly, it is rewarding and interesting to have a varied background and knowledge-base but don’t expect to be earning in the higher pay brackets for a while! Although you bring experience to a new sector/job role, you generally start at the bottom when moving around areas of expertise unless you specifically have transferable skills that directly match the job role.