Non-Governmental Organisations

NGOs have an increasing influence on attitudes to the environment. Many NGOs are involved with conservation and habitat management e.g. RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, British Trust for Ornithology, and many more.

The employment opportunities offered by NGOs are as wide as the variety of work done by them. For the young and aspiring ecologists, NGOs can provide an accessible and attractive route into work in practical ecology. Organisations such as RSPB, County Wildlife Trusts, and the National Trust employ between them a large number of ecologists and environmental managers, but many jobs are temporary or seasonal and competition for salaried posts is very strong. Voluntary work for NGOs is often used as a stepping stone to work elsewhere.

The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) is an excellent example of an NGO which enjoys recognition and acceptance by the Government Ministers, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association, farmers and other NGOs. Changes in the attitudes of many farmers and landowners towards conservation have been achieved by persuasion and sound reasoning provided by FWAG advisors.

The Work

Practical conservation – NGOs own or manage a very large area of land throughout Great Britain. Whilst much of the estate work carried out by land owning NGOs is done by their own rangers, estate workers and members, some of them use other practical conservation organisations to help with specific tasks. These might include scrub management, hedge laying, ditch maintenance, stone wall construction, pond digging and woodland management.

The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), The Scottish Conservation Projects Trust (SCPT) and Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI) run programmes of tasks throughout the UK. Volunteers are trained by professional staff to carry out practical tasks in nature reserves and on land which has other forms of amenity value, like recreation. Groundwork Trusts employ, amongst others, ecologists and project officers. Some Trusts operate a graduate training scheme, opportunities also exist for volunteers to work with these organisations.

Information gathering and campaigning – The energies and resources of campaigning and pressure group NGOs are devoted primarily to gathering environmental data and to fundraising. They employ campaign managers, advisors and project-based staff, who may research and collect information on conservation issues, supervise ecological surveys, carry out impact assessments, assess planning applications, prepare and give evidence at public inquiries, formulate conservation policies or produce campaign literature.

The analysis of information provides evidence to persuade central and local government, companies, landowners and farmers to act on conservation issues, demonstrate greater environmental awareness and manage resources in sensitive and responsible ways. Some NGOs are very active and influential at an international level. The WWF, Greenpeace and Birdlife International, in particular, offer opportunities for work overseas.

Recording biodiversity – A number of NGOs specialise in the collection, compilation and dissemination of biological records and in other work on biodiversity. Most of this information is gathered by volunteers, but some of the work is done under contract to Government departments or agencies. The NGOs employ project managers and research staff to coordinate surveys, often at a national level, and to analyse the data. The information is used mainly in nature conservation and applied research. Further reference to this is made under the ‘Science and Research’ section.

The Employers

Broadly, NGOs can be split into four main categories of interest to ecologists or those wanting environmental work. Some organisations fit into more than one of these categories.

  1. NGOs that own nature reserves or manage land for wildlife conservation. This group contains:
  • The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
  • The Wildlife Trusts (County Trusts in England and Wales and the Scottish Wildlife Trust)
  • The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
  • The National Trust
  • The National Trust for Scotland
  • Plantlife International
  • The Woodland Trust
  1.  Campaigning organisations including:
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Greenpeace
  • The Marine Conservation Society
  • The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)
  • Buglife
  • Whales and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCs)
  • Organisation Cetacea

Many of the first group of NGOs (for instance the RSPB, Plantlife International and The Wildlife Trusts) are also campaigning organisations.

  1.  Practical conservation organisations including:
  • The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV)
  • The Conservation Volunteers for Northern Ireland (CVNI)
  • The Scottish Conservation Projects Trust (SCPT)
  • The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG)
  • Groundwork Trusts

The last are bodies co-funded by Government and industry that carry out practical environmental work in urban or regeneration areas.

  1. ‘Learned societies’ and research and data recording organisations, such as:
  • The British Ecological Society (BES)
  • The Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI)
  • The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Trust
  • The Royal Entomological Society
  • The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
  • Birdlife International
  • Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)