Crisis in expert environmental staffing risks undermining Net Zero pledge

15 August 2023

Prospect polling has revealed members’ concerns about working in nature and environmental roles. This sector is critical in delivering on the government’s Net Zero and nature commitments.

The survey received over 500 responses from professionals, working organisations like the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, National Trust, Natural England, and the Environment Agency, as well as devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales, which are all prominent Prospect branches.

Over four-in-ten workers reported that expert staffing had been cut back in the last year, with more than two-thirds thinking overall staffing levels were too low and half reporting vacancies in their teams. This is resulting in increased workloads for staff, with tasks also being assigned to untrained staff.

Sue Ferns, Senior Deputy General Secretary of Prospect, said:

“The insights provided by our expert members are invaluable to understanding what is happening on the front line of the fight to tackle the climate crisis.

“They are telling us that the paring back of expert roles in their teams is leaving them increasingly burnt out.

“Despite the government talking up the potential of green jobs, it is failing to put in place the funding needed to make working in the natural environment the aspirational career that it should be.”

Key findings from the survey

1. Challenges in the last 12 months: Changes in job roles included increased administration (57%), reduced expert staff (42%), and tasks being assigned to untrained staff (36%). Funding reduction, staff turnover, and increased workloads were also significant challenges.

2. Barriers to effective work: Respondents highlighted barriers including a reduction in specialist personnel (52%), lack of secure funding (41%), and inadequate IT systems (35%). High workloads, the turnover of government ministers or lack of leadership by senior management were also noted.

3. Staffing concerns: A striking 69% of respondents believed staffing levels were too low, and 52% reported vacancies in their teams.

4. Workload impact: Approximately 35% of respondents reported a significant increase in workload in the last 12 months.

5. Low pay: Despite the skilled nature of roles, approximately 38% of respondents earn £30,000 or less, while 35% earn between £30,000 and £40,000. The survey also revealed that women appear to be disproportionately affected by low pay in the sector.

6. Career progression: Almost half of the respondents (48%) reported no progression in their roles.

7. Barriers to environmental preservation: Among the challenges, 37% of respondents cited government policy as the primary obstacle to preserving the natural environment and achieving net zero. Other barriers include economic factors (27%), behaviours and reluctance to change (16%), and resource limitations (9%).

8. Types of work: The survey highlighted a diverse range of roles within the natural environment sector. A substantial proportion of respondents (25%) are engaged in conservation work, while research and development roles (24%), program or project management (9%), regulatory (9%), and horticulture/arboriculture (5%) also featured prominently.

Read the full briefing with survey results


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