When I realised that I wanted to work in nature conservation, my next thought was that I didn’t know where to get advice from. Trying to start a career in conservation can feel isolating and daunting. There aren’t many graduate schemes and there isn’t a lot of  career guidance on how to get into the sector. Advice can be hard to find unless you know someone personally who has worked or is working in nature conservation.

This is where A Focus on Nature’s Mentoring Scheme comes in!

A Focus on Nature (AFON) is the UK’s youth nature network. Our aim is to support, inspire and connect young people who love nature. We hope to tackle the isolation that can be felt by young people hoping to get into the sector through our mentoring scheme.

How does the scheme work?

We have a fantastic range of mentors, all successful professionals, who volunteer their time to support young people. Those who are interested submit an application detailing their interests and requesting which mentors they’d like to have support from. All mentees receive an advice booklet, which contains top tips from across our board of mentors. Mentors and mentees work together and discuss how the mentee can be supported to achieve their goals and get that dream job.

The scheme is open to anyone aged 18-30 who has an interest in nature and conservation and wants advice. Thanks to the voluntary time of the mentors and AFON committee, the mentoring scheme is completely free. We want the scheme to be as inclusive as possible to make our support accessible to everyone, so you can sign up as a mentee irrespective of your background, level of experience or education.

As our mentors are UK-based, the scheme is open to those who live, work or study in the UK, or anyone who is looking to get into UK conservation. Please get in touch if you are interested in setting up a similar scheme elsewhere and we’d be happy to share resources!

We currently support over 50 mentees through the scheme every year. In 2021, we are planning on expanding our impact through the launch of a careers advice hub on our webpage – watch this space!

Who are the mentors?

From authors to rangers to educators, all our fantastic mentors have great experience in the wildlife sector. We are delighted to recently welcome Conservation Optimisms’ Julia Migné on to the panel! Our mentors recognise how hard it is to get into the sector and want to support young naturalists and conservationists. The mentors come from many of the leading conservation organisations in the UK including the National Trust, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, as well as successful freelancers.

We’re very grateful to our mentors for volunteering their time and expertise to support young people.

Going forward

We are currently looking to increase the diversity of our mentoring panel. Specifically, we are looking for women working in conservation science, and Black, Asian or minority ethnic conservationists. We hope through this we will make the mentoring scheme more reflective of the young people we hope to support, and improve representation of the diversity of people working in conservation.

What do mentees and mentors make of the scheme?

The AFON mentor scheme provides opportunities that I wish had been available to me when I was starting out in my conservation career. As a mentor it is also very rewarding as you are not only sharing experience, but learning from the inspiring young people who you are paired with too.” – Catriona Corfield, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Manager for the RSPB, AFON Mentor

I had a fantastic phone call with [my mentor] who offered me fantastic advice, and helped me narrow down my general enquiries into more specific ones. He’s very approachable and offered up help in the future as well. “ – AFON Mentee

Talking to someone who followed a similar career path to me has given me reassurance that I can change paths and it’s okay to feel uncertain about continuing in academia.” – AFON Mentee

Want to get involved?

Check out our website www.afocusonnature.org/mentors to find the application form, mentoring guidelines and the bios of our wonderful mentors. If you have any questions, please get in touch with me, Emily Seccombe, at mentors@afocusonnature.org.

AFON itself is run by young people volunteering alongside full time work or study. There are lots of other ways to get involved aside from the mentoring scheme – follow us on social media to find out more! You can find us @afocusonnature on Instagram and @AFONature on Twitter.

Emily is a UK-based conservationist with a passion for freshwater ecology. She has been volunteering for A Focus on Nature since February 2019, alongside working in conservation and more recently completing a Masters in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management.