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8 Mar 2023

Field Notes: Embracing equity in conservation land management

The Trust’s Ben Nevis Manger Alison Austin shares her thoughts on how we can best #EmbraceEquity in conservation land management (plus some career advice) for International Women’s Day - 8 March 2023.

Alison Austin Nevis by Lukasz Warzecha/Mountain Equipment

Within conservation land management I feel that there is largely equity and inclusivity, especially for lower and mid-level roles.

My own challenge – and that of others I talk to - has been to balance progressing my career with motherhood, in a rural community with less provision of childcare opportunities and often long distances to drive to/from school, or out of school opportunities. In rural areas, this can restrict the ability to return full time and make it difficult to progress in a career.

The John Muir Trust has been extremely supportive and flexible, which has allowed me to continue as an active member of the team. But there are still challenges with society expectations: where fathers are less likely to be offered flexible work in other sectors; and schools automatically call the mother for illness and children’s needs. This means that women often adopt these extra care demands, making full time or less flexible work very difficult.

My role also involves liaising with land managers who work outside the conservation sector. This field can still be a more male-dominated environment. I have attended meetings where I’ve been the only female and assumptions have been made to myself and colleagues that I am the secretary, or caterer, so there is still progress to be made!

I hope wider diversity across recruitment in all land management sectors including forestry, fisheries, rural land agents and conservation - which we are seeing - will mean those assumptions fade away.

My advice to anyone considering a career in conservation land managment would be:

  • Get outside and build experience both working in and enjoying being in the outdoors in different places and landscapes. It’s a solid base that will help you understand the challenges of managing operations in the outdoor environment.
  • Speak to people from different backgrounds and listen to what they have to say, especially with regard to barriers and opportunities. Experience and learn the different ways of - and reasons for - managing our landscape, both in the UK and further afield if possible.
  • Work collaboratively. Inevitably any progress to benefit biodiversity and address climate change at a significant scale relies on collaborating with others. Experience of this is essential and bringing knowledge and learning from other successful projects and areas can help the decisions you have to make each day.

I find that the learning experiences and opportunities I had 20 years ago still influence and impact how I might tackle an issue today, as does speaking to and learning from those working across the sector right now to see how they have achieved similar aims to my own.

Photograph of Alison Austin near the north face of Ben Nevis courtesy of Lukasz Warzecha/Mountain Equipment.

  • Find out more about the Trust's work at Ben Nevis.
  • Read about the International Women's Day 2023 theme #EmbraceEquity.
Frosty leaves - Alexander M Weir

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