Countryside/Woodlands Officer

When you go out for a walk in the countryside, have you ever wondered who decided where the footpaths should lead, who ensures that they are kept clear of vegetation and who arranged for the picnic area to be located in a particular spot? Well, it's very likely that a countryside officer was involved in all of these things.  There are about 5,000 countryside (or woodlands) officers working in the environmental services departments of local authorities.  They support and assist countryside managers in the management of country parks, woodland areas, nature reserves, fishing areas and public rights of way.  Their main aims are to encourage visitors to the countryside, promote awareness and understanding about the natural environment, and, at the same time, protect the natural habitats of plants and animals.

Work Environment
Countryside officers spend about half of their working week in the office or at meetings and half of their time out and about.  Site visits are necessary for carrying out surveys or meeting with landowners, for example.  These take place as and when required, regardless of weather conditions; countryside officers may find themselves outside during strong gales, heavy rain or snow.

Daily Activities
The work of a countryside officer varies from council to council. Typical duties could include:

  • looking at how to develop individual areas of countryside.  For example, should a piece of woodland be developed in order to attract visitors, or should it be protected in order to sustain certain species of wildlife/plant life;
  • managing visits to the countryside - trying to prevent any damage to the land by ensuring that footpaths are well-signposted, litterbins are provided, and car parking is available;
  • educating people on how to look after the countryside, via leaflets, information boards, etc;
  • carrying out research and writing reports, which will help form the authority's long-term conservation policies;
  • talking to landowners and advising them on how to manage their land in ways which benefit the surrounding wildlife/countryside;
  • monitoring the quality of the natural environment - going out on site, conducting surveys, arranging for scientific experiments to be carried out;
  • organising and overseeing the maintenance of country parks and woodland areas;
  • inviting schools to take part in 'environmental interpretation' - pond-dipping, looking for wildlife, tree-identification walks;
  • offering advice to people who want to carry out their own conservation projects; 
  • dealing with complaints - about overgrown public rights of way, for example;
  • meeting with agencies such as the Countryside Council for Wales to discuss conservation schemes;
  • meeting landowners to discuss schemes that are planned adjacent to their land;
  • looking at planning applications and advising on the potential disruption to the countryside, of a new road, for example;
  • giving talks on the countryside to local groups;
  • dealing with paperwork and writing reports.

Skills & Interests

  • Communication skills are essential.  Countryside officers deal with landowners, other local authority officers and members of the public on a daily basis.
  • Officers need to be confident and assertive, yet sympathetic to the points of view of others.
  • Tact and the ability to negotiate are important.

Countryside officers also need to be:

  • well-organised and able to plan ahead;
  • able to write reports and present them at meetings;
  • interested in and enthusiastic about working with plants and animals in their natural environment.

Entry Requirements
There are no specific entry requirements but, as competition is high, many entrants have a degree/higher national diploma.  Relevant subjects include environmental sciences, biology, surveying, geography, ecology and countryside/environmental management.  Experience gained through voluntary or temporary work is essential.  It may be possible to start in lower-level practical jobs and work your way up.  NVQs/SVQs in Environmental Conservation are available at Levels 2 and 3.  A driving licence is very often required.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
The competition for jobs in conservation is very high, therefore, the more experience you have the better.  A lot of the physical work associated with managing the countryside is seasonal and therefore, temporary jobs are often available.  Countryside officers with the required qualifications can progress to become senior officers or countryside managers, with the responsibility of managing a team of officers, and controlling a budget.  Opportunities exist with Government agencies like the Countryside Council for Wales and with charitable trusts such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust.

Further Information & Services
Countryside Council for Wales
Environment Council
Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management
The Conservation Volunteers

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales ( or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

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