Low talent levels threatening climate crisis targets

24 August 2023 by Gurmeet Chopra
blog author

​Low staffing levels in the natural environment sector is threatening climate crisis targets, according to a new study.

The survey, conducted by trade union Prospect, which supports and represents scientists, engineers, tech experts and other specialist roles, has unveiled new findings which revealed members’ concerns about working in nature and environmental roles.

The sector, which plays a vital role in delivering on the government’s net zero and nature commitment, is suffering due to the reduction of expert staffing in the past 12 months.

More than 500 professionals took part in the survey, from a broad range of organizations including National Trust, Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, and the Environment Agency. Several devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales, which are all prominent Prospect branches, also took part in the research.

More than 40 per cent of workers reported that expert staffing levels had been cut back in the last year, with more than two-thirds believing staff numbers overall were too low and half reported vacancies within their teams.

The negative impact of this is increased workloads for staff, with tasks also being assigned to untrained staff.

What are the main survey highlights?

Low pay
Despite the roles requiring a certain level of skill, around 38 per cent of respondents earn £30,000 or less while 35 per cent earn between £30,000 and £40,000. The survey also revealed more women are affected by low pay in the sector

Environmental preservation challenges
Government policy is the main obstacle to achieving net zero and protecting the natural environment, according to 37 per cent of those who took part in the study. 27 per cent believed economic factors play a key role and 16 per cent cited behaviors and reluctance to change as other issues that need addressing.

Challenges in the last 12 months
Some 57 per cent of respondents said changes in job roles (leading to increased administration) have played a big part, while 42 per cent said reduced expert staff and tasks being assigned to untrained staff (36 per cent) have caused problems within the sector. Increased workloads and staff turnover have also become problematic.

Staffing concerns
A staggering 69 per cent noted staff levels were too low with 52 per cent highlighting vacancies in their team. Despite this, 52 per cent of respondents have seen a reduced level of specialist personnel and a lack of leadership by senior management.

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.”

Gurmeet Chopra, Consultant – Sustainable Business at Acre UK, said: “These findings are very concerning, particularly at a time when exceptional talent is required to drive forward solutions to align with the climate agenda.

“The sector needs a diverse mix of experts - individuals who can hone their skills and collaborate with the rest of the team to unpack the challenges surrounding the natural environment, but lack of funding remains a key stumbling block.

“The government must find a way to boost this sector which plays a crucial role in mitigating the climate emergency before it is too late.”