Lonely Conservationists

Kashmir (A lonely friday night for a seasonal worker)

Written by Kashmir Flint

It’s a Friday night, and I am sat, alone, in my bedroom, browsing the Lonely Conservationist blogs to try and find a story that resonates with me. This situation feels all too familiar because it is one that I was in around six months ago.  

When my most recent seasonal contract ended, many of my colleagues and other workers within the organisation would ask with kind smiles, ‘So, what next for you?’ I hated that question, cringing at my answer of ‘Well, I’ll be moving back to my parents and starting again’. To some people, I’d admit that I was embarrassed about my situation, living back at my parents’ house, at 29 years old, unemployed with no job prospects on the horizon, single and barely a friend in the area in which I grew up. I should be used to it by now, for the last five years, I’ve moved every 6-12 months, often moving back to my hometown between contracts, using my rent-free privilege to work retail, hospitality and carer roles, anything I could secure, to save money that would allow me to undertake my next lowly (if at all) paid role.  

I have read every single conservation career article, guide, and blog on how to hone my skills and create a killer CV, listening to podcasts, seminars and webinars. I try to keep my CV concise, celebrating my greatest achievements, yet I feel I should soon be unravelling it like a floor-length Medieval scroll. After beginning volunteering on a local community woodland project in 2011, I got my first paid environmental sector job in 2016, as an Environmental Educator, one which I enjoyed but didn’t feel quite right for me as I wanted to work with animals, somewhere more biodiverse and wilder than England. I worked hard to save money and I spent five months volunteering in a conservation breeding centre for macaws in Costa Rica, the end of which marked the start of five years of job-hopping. In five years, I have had seven different jobs, most of which have been environmentally focussed, but also include my between-contract ‘filler jobs’. Of my conservation jobs during that time, two have been voluntary (one was a five-month unpaid internship where I paid rent and covered all my own expenses – ouch), one seasonal and two had one-year-long contracts. I have had no fewer than ten voluntary roles, in varying areas with various organisations.  

The end of my most recent role was only a few weeks ago and I was feeling positive about my future – I have over six years of conservation under my belt, up to twelve if you want to include my woodland volunteering. I have undertaken fieldwork and surveying, led nature engagement to thousands of young people, I have written my own grants, managed projects and volunteers, I have headstarted birds, been involved in release programmes and undertaken animal husbandry. I have gained specific skills in egg incubation and candling, amongst generalist skills of habitat management. I have won awards, undertaken courses and I’m a charity Trustee. I am by no means a confident person, despite how this sounds, but this is what I have done and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far. I felt ready to find a longer-term role, somewhere hot, surrounded by forests and wildlife. Yet, my optimism began to falter as the familiar rejections came in, rejections of both applications and interviews. Over the years, I have had similar feedback from interviews: ‘You didn’t do anything wrong; we just went with someone who had more experience’. Not being able to find anything suitable with longer-term contracts, I applied for a year-long internship in the tropics, feeling a little overqualified and perhaps a little overconfident at my chances, they were hiring three positions and yet I didn’t get a single one. After weeks turned to months of job searching, I was finally offered a position of a five-month internship studying sea turtles that will start in 2024. I can already feel the hatred seething through the screen from fellow conservationists by saying this, but I will admit that I was, and still am, slightly disappointed. Sea turtles are phenomenal creatures, and the experience will be outstanding, but I’ve never once worked with marine life, my CV is bird and woodland-focused. A sea turtle position is a wonderful position for a marine biologist or someone starting out their career, I am not denying that it’s an amazing opportunity, but it’s not the opportunity I wanted or one that I think will benefit me in the long run.  

This is an opinion I have tried to voice to people, who have laughed at my concerns, ‘Wow, it must be really hard to be studying sea turtles on a tropical island’. I understand their point, but they don’t see the toll that these short-term positions have on me. The constant feeling of being lonely, having no physical friendship network around me, spending months at my parent’s in a job I don’t enjoy trying to find a conservation role to escape to. Five years of starting afresh once or twice a year, making a new group of friends, and finding my people, only to lose them again in a matter of months and add more contacts to my WhatsApp. They don’t see the skills that I try so hard to build, undertaking online courses and seminars, the voluntary work to try and build my CV and make myself more employable, only for those skills to be underutilised in a role where I lack responsibility due to its short-term contract or voluntary nature. They don’t see that whenever I’m in my hometown, I feel like a failure, that the job rejections stack up and weigh down on my confidence, that I can only reach out to friends online or cry over the phone about how lonely and unsuccessful I feel.  

I have met the most brilliant, talented, and kind-hearted people over the years, people that I am proud to call my friends. My family are so incredibly supportive of what I do, welcoming me with open arms and never minding how many times I boomerang back home. Between family and friends, I am constantly told that my passion shines so brightly that it will eventually pay off, I’ll find my dream job and be able to set down roots, gaining the security that I am so desperate for. Yet as I sit here on a Friday night, alone in my bedroom, five years into my job-hopping, looking for a retail job that will tie me over until my newest seasonal position begins, I wonder how much I believe them and how much longer it could take. 

For more of Kashmir, check out @kashmirflint on Instagram or Kashmir Flint on LinkedIn

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