Cara Clancy, PhD Researcher on Rewilding (in) the Anthropocene

In a new venture for BANC, we are interviewing a range of people working in conservation, exploring different career paths and routes into this diverse sector. To start things off, we have recruited Cara Clancy, one of BANC’s Trustees. Cara has an interesting career path, having worked in for a number of conservation (and non-conservation) NGOs with a focus on communications and media. She is now adding threads to her career by completing a PhD in the Human Geography department of Plymouth University, focusing on concepts of Rewilding and the Anthropocene.

Cara Clancy, PhD Researcher on Rewilding (in) the Anthropocene

What was your route into working in conservation?

It is an unusual route – my undergraduate was in Philosophy, and then I took a year out, before completing a masters in philosophy as well. It was a full time MA, but at the same time I did a bit of volunteering with the Environmental Investigation Agency, looking at their fundraising objectives, and working on their communications and publishing outputs. I ended up using a lot of programmes that I had never used before, including publishing programmes like InDesign; I did all of the content and design for a particular report, and interviewed staff to get quotes and stories.

I then worked part-time whilst doing a part-time internship with Client Earth, where I became a Communications Assistant for about a year. The communications team was quite small so I was writing press releases, doing bits of social media and working on the website, and having to learn on the job. I think it is a good thing to work in a small team – you end up being given a lot more work! At the time, they were working on their campaign related to EU regulations on air quality, so there was a lot of interesting media and communications work to do - getting the public engaged in innovative ways in topics that initially seem quite technical.

From there I started applying for media work, and ended up working for Comic Relief as a media assistant on one of their ‘Sport Relief’ campaigns. It was great fun! In terms of experience and skills, this was one of the best things I could have done. I was assigned loads of really interesting work; going to local charities, schools helping kids to get into sports careers, refugee and asylum-seeking women’s home, and pulling all the stories together into something publishable for the campaign. I had to pick up the phone to grumpy journalists and ‘sell’ them a new story – it teaches you how to summarise issues quickly and pull out the important bits that resonates with the public and the media can engage with. Within 6 months I had a really good skill set built up, and I used that to apply for conservation work, which was what I ultimately wanted to do.

What were your next steps into conservation?

I applied for a temp position at WWF-UK and ended up working in their media team for about two years. A highlight was putting together a story on the kinds of wildlife products that get brought into the UK – we interviewed the head of the UK Border Force at Heathrow airport, as well as interviewing Deborah Meaden due to her role as a WWF ambassador. I then swapped teams and ended up working as campaigner on EU timber issues, climate change and the EU referendum for about a year. Campaign and advocacy skills are really important within the environment and conservation sector, so this was a brilliant opportunity to learn and understand issues from a more global perspective.

Why did you decide to do a PhD?

When I was working in communications and campaigning, I realised I wanted to get closer to the issues and help shape policy and practice in some way. I decided to work in Latin America for a year, to get some field experience and understand issues from the ground. I spent several months with grassroots NGOs in Columbia and Peru, looking at community participation, stakeholder engagement and local/indigenous rights. One of the reports I wrote is here [link]. It was an important experience and really improved my Spanish!

While I was away I saw an advert for a PhD on social media, through a search on rewilding. The deadline was the following morning at 9am at UK time and I somehow pulled together an application in the middle of the Amazon with terrible internet! I ended up doing my interview over Skype in a library in Peru, but the local fieldwork I’d just done really gave me something to talk about in the interview. I started in October 2015.

The PhD has its ups and downs which I think is normal, but I think the key is to be really interested in your subject matter. If you pick a PhD because it has the funding but you aren’t interested in the topic, you’ve essentially given yourself a really tedious three years! If you are keen on the subject, it will come through in your application and your interview.

And finally, what advice do you have for anyone wanting to pursue a career in conservation?

My advice would be to play to your strengths. If you are an artist, use art; if you are a journalist, use journalism; if you are a mathematician, use maths. Don’t be afraid to play on your contacts and ask for favours! That makes it sound easy, and it definitely wasn’t always easy for me, but you will get there in the end.

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