Women in Conservation: Cydney – kickstarting a career in the environment sector

In the conservation sector, women are fundamental, driving local impactful changes that resonate far wider and contribute to a global movement – thinking globally, while acting locally. Their stories are as diverse as the ecosystems they work tirelessly to protect.

The Conservation Volunteers’ Women in Conservation series delves into fascinating stories of efforts, achievements, and challenges faced along the way. This unique collection of stories not only shines a light on their exceptional contributions or aspirations, but also serves as a wellspring of inspiration for the next generation of conservationists. Join us as we celebrate their dedication to nature and often pioneering spirit, defining the landscape of environmental conservation in local green spaces.

So many people have developed their job skills and received vital practical training with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and then gone on to work with environmental charities across the UK. We caught up with Cydney Epps to hear about how she is carving out a new career in the environment sector with support from TCV…

As you embark on your career in the environment sector, what inspired you to pursue training in this field?

I remember checking my A-level results in 2017 and absolutely kicking myself for not getting my head down and getting on with it. I hadn’t enjoyed the subjects I had been studying for the last 2 years and it showed in my results. I set up a meeting with a career advisor the day after results day so I could assess my options for further education. “What are you passionate about?” she asked me, “the environment” I replied. I was passionate about the natural environment, but I don’t think I realised how much that passion would snowball over the next few years. A few clicks later she found a foundation course in Bristol, it was the first one we looked at and within a few days, I had applied and secured a place. After a gap year and 6 months of travelling, I headed off to Bristol, graduating 4 years later with a First Class BSc in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation Science.

What difficulties have you faced along the way, as you try to get experience within the sector to ultimately land a job?

I came out of higher education with confidence that I would find a job easily, the reality was the opposite. Over the next 9 months, I worked exclusively in retail, with a brief interim working at a large ecological consultancy firm, an experience which allowed me to confidently rule out ecology as a prospective career choice. I applied to upwards of 40 different roles, altering my CV and cover letter every time. I did countless online tests and a few applications where you have to record yourself answering a series of questions, horrible. None of them came to anything. I saw the role at TCV come up at a time I was particularly struggling with the lack of job responses, but I put the application in anyway and within a week I had an interview. I was elated to be offered the role and the opportunity to develop skills within a field I had become so passionate about.

Can you tell us about your practical placement programme?

My placement programme is called New to Nature (NTN) and it’s a programme funded by The National Lottery. Starting in April NTN placed 95 young people, in roles working in 60+ Nature public and charitable organisations across the country on year-long paid placements (paid at the real living wage), ranging from some of the biggest (RSPB, National Trust) to some of the smallest. These placements were primarily targeting those from communities who have historically been under-served within the sector (racially diverse, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and disabled). This placement involved connecting with one another and aims to build valuable, transferable skills that will set us up for future careers, in or out of the sector. All the roles are different, from conservation to public engagement to urban greening. In my role at Wellesley Woodlands working for TCV, I am the Community Engagement Assistant.

And what is your personal experience of the programme with TCV so far?

I have loved my placement so far. NTN as a programme is super supportive, giving each placement monthly 121s to see how they are doing as well as team building sessions in places like Chelsea Physic Gardens in London, speaking to other people within the environmental conservation field.

My role within TCV has also been brilliant, I have taken every opportunity to grow my skillset and have tried to build connections with as many people as possible within TCV as an organisation. My team is super supportive and have provided me with so many useful resources and encouragement over the course of my placement so far.

How do you envision contributing to environmental conservation efforts in the future?

I find it hard to imagine myself in one specific conservation role in the future as I am still finding out which areas of conservation I enjoy. Within my role in TCV, they have been really supportive in letting me try lots of different things, from assisting rangers with site maintenance to helping with funding requests. This has definitely helped me to narrow down the tasks I enjoy working on the most and I am hoping that, whatever area of conservation I end up in in the future, it will allow me to feel like I am making a tangible change in conserving the natural environment.

What specific training or courses are you undertaking to prepare for a job in the green sector, and how do you plan to apply this knowledge in a practical setting?

I am lucky that with NTN they provide you with a funding pot that you can utilise in any way that you think will be beneficial to your current role, but also for any future role in conservation. As I have taken an interest specifically in marketing and communications, I have been in regular contact with both the marketing team within TCV and with a number of the partner organisations involved with the project I work on. These conversations have been so valuable and really provided me with an insight into the skills required to work within marketing, especially within environmental field. Something which came up frequently was the increasing use of SEO (search engine optimisation) in digital marketing online. This led me to request funding from NTN to carry out a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) course on this which I will be carrying out in the New Year.

I am also hoping to undertake a foraging course in early spring, primarily because it’s something I have always been interested in. I am hoping that by gaining transferable skills within the environmental niche it will allow me to showcase this in future roles within conservation.

In the early stages of your environmental training, have you encountered any challenges or surprises that you didn’t expect, and how are you overcoming them?

Something I struggled with at the start of my time with TCV was coming to the realisation that I didn’t get on with all the tasks I thought I would enjoy. For example, as someone who spends a lot of time outside already, I really thought that being a ranger was something that I would both enjoy and be good at. In fact, I even applied to a few assistant ranger roles before I landed my role with TCV. However, through assisting rangers a day a week I found that although I enjoyed aspects of the role, it wasn’t something that I could see myself pursuing as a career. After thinking for several years that physically being out working in the natural environment would be the only way I could see the measurable impact of my conservation efforts, this was a hard pill to swallow. However, as I have spoken to more people working within the environmental field, I have seen the importance of so many completely different roles in conservation and how a tangible impact can be made in so many ways.

As a newcomer to the environmental job market, what advice would you give to others who are also starting their journey in pursuing a career that aligns with sustainability and environmental conservation?

As a newcomer to the environmental job market, I would firstly say, don’t give up with the job hunt. It is so hard doing job applications and I know how disheartening it is to not hear back from companies especially when you can really see yourself in that specific role. Try to remember that the right opportunity will find you. When you secure a role in conservation, my advice would be to try absolutely everything that it has to offer. Take up every bit of training that you can do and try to build connections with everyone you come across within your role. There are so many options to choose from in terms of jobs in the conservation sphere, and although you might think “this role isn’t really for me”, in my opinion ruling a career path out is just as important as ruling one in. As well as this, transferable skills are so valuable, and if you feel like you learnt something, trying something new always has value.

How do you see the demand for entry-level environmental positions evolving in the UK, and what steps are you taking to explore job opportunities in this field?

With such a heavy focus on environmental conservation and sustainability in the UK recently I am hopeful that there will be a lot more entry-level environmental positions coming up over the next few years. With the end of my placement coming up in April I am hoping to start looking at and applying for roles in the new year. Although I find the concept of having to start the entire process again with applications and cover letters etc daunting, there is an element of excitement to see what other opportunities are out there and I am hoping that by showcasing the skills I have learned in my placement, I will find the job search a little easier this time around.

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Women in Conservation: Lucy – Boosting Biodiversity and Connecting Communities in Leeds
Women in Conservation: Rebeka – 35 Years of Increasing Urban Biodiversity in London

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Are you looking for a job in conservation or a volunteering role to kick-start your career? Be sure to visit our web pages to find out more about various roles available in your area.

Keep up to date with the latest news and activities from The Conservation Volunteers by following us on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Instagram. You can also sign up to receive TCV’s Greenzine newsletter for more ways to get involved.

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