Environmental protection: Think global, act local

If you want to protect the environment, help your local authority implement a strategy, says Nick Jackson
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The Independent Online

If you have a burning passion to protect the environment and appreciate that some of the best work in this respect is done on a local level, then volunteering for your council or a governmental agency could kickstart a rewarding career.

You do not need a specialist degree to get involved. "Good communication and marketing skills are the most important environmental skills," says Adam Cade, chief executive of Student Force, the educational charity specialising in placements for graduates. "You're persuading households and businesses to change; you're selling ideas."

Environmental protection covers a range of jobs from picking up litter or protecting deer, through encouraging local strategies such as recycling, to implementing vast national strategies such as flood prevention. The boom area in the public sector recently has been waste but that is already changing, with more local authorities promoting energy conservation and microgeneration projects such as wind turbines, says Cade.

The one thing most of these jobs have in common is low pay, with most non-technical graduates expected to have a considerable voluntary background and a starting salary of around £15,000. But if your community and planet are more important to you than a mortgage, a good place to start is online, either at Student Force or one of the other websites listed below.

Laura Dobbing-Hepenstal, 26, became interested in environmental work while studying fine art at Oxford Brookes, after a tutor encouraged her to draw inspiration for her work from nature. "As soon as you start making connections between yourself and the environment you realise things aren't quite right at the moment," she says.

Dobbing-Hepenstal volunteered for eight months in conservation work before an MA in sustainable development advocacy got her into paid work. Since then she has found short term contracts through Student Force at Cambridgeshire County Council and in Iceland's national parks before taking up her current 10-week contract at Norfolk County Council as a waste and sustainability champion.

Dobbing-Hepenstal's job is to go round to businesses and organisations on the north Norfolk coast and find uses for things that would otherwise be dumped in a landfill site. "It's like a dating agency for waste," she says. Dobbing-Hepenstal compares matching different businesses' needs and surplus resources to a fun lateral puzzle. "It taxes your brain to work out the solutions," she says.

Although dealing with waste is a growing priority for local councils they cannot police it alone, so much environmental protection work depends on winning public support. "It's all about getting the public onside," says Guy Stapleford, 24, clean neighbourhoods officer at Purbeck District Council in Dorset.

Stapleford's job is to enforce the 2006 Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, designed to control environmental crimes such as fly-tipping, littering and graffiti. Stapleford, an archaeology graduate, got into environmental work through a friend in waste management. "I like being outside, in nature," he says. "It's always been very important to me. This way, I feel I'm doing my bit to keep the area nice. It's a job I love."

As the only clean neighbourhoods officer for the district council, he has to convert the locals to his cause. Much of his time is spent getting people to care about their environment; going in to schools to teach children about the virtues of being aware of their surroundings and encouraging support among adults. "I feel I'm making a difference," he say. "You're changing people's attitudes. It's nice to know people can change and you can make a difference."

If you want to spread your net wider than your local community the place to head is the Environment Agency, the leading public body responsible for protecting the environment across England and Wales. It is also a major employer of technical experts, hiring environmental scientists and engineers.

It does not get much more national or critical than flood risk. Sadia Moeed, 26, is a project manager working on the agency's National Capital Programme Management Service. Her job is to assess flood wall engineering projects to prioritise the most effective, cost-efficient and environmentally sensitive projects. Recently Moeed has been involved in developing a flood risk management strategy for the Blyth estuary for the next 100 years. "I love it," she says. "Every single day is different. You talk to so many people."

Moeed first signed up to a mechanical engineering course at Warwick because of her love of cars, but in her first year found herself increasingly concerned with water supplies and environmental issues. "The importance of water is really clear," she says. "You can see the benefits of what you're doing." For Moeed, as with everyone who works in environmental protection, it comes down to passion for our communities and their future. "I've found a way I can really make a difference," she says.

More information: Student Force: www.environmentcareers.org.uk; www.environmentjob.co.uk; www.environment-agency.gov.uk