Image of Leeds student, Billy Offland

Billy Offland

BSc Sustainability and Environmental Management student, Billy, has chosen to embark upon a unique year in industry. Supported by Chief Productions, he is travelling the world in his ‘World Conservation Project’ to find out more about the current biodiversity crisis. 

You can follow his adventures on his YouTube channel.

Where are you undertaking your year in industry and what is your role within the company?

My year in industry was supported by Chief Productions is a TV Production company based in Manchester. I am not an office-based employee of Chief Productions but they supported my ‘World Conservation Journey’ project. This is a 2-year solo mission to gauge a global perspective on the current biodiversity crisis. I am building on my existing knowledge and experience in the field and making short pieces of video social-media content which act as a tool for awareness that allows people at home to experience and understand some of the incredible things I’m learning along the way and then be able to engage in these important debates.

Can you give an insight into what a typical day looks like for you?

I’ve been meeting up with renowned global experts, multinational NGO’s, local communities and indigenous populations to better understand the realities of the crisis on the ground, as well as to learn about what conservation means and looks like to different communities. A big part of this is exploring what are the best possible solutions to protect our nature, ourselves and our planet.

So far I have travelled to 40 countries in 8 months, trying to cross as much by land as possible, so this took up a lot of my time. My year in industry has forced me to pick up new skills along the way. Through making video content, it has been necessary for me to learn: how to be comfortable on camera; how to edit video; how to take decent photos; how to fly a drone and how to write stories to best communicate a message and experience. Planning has been a large part of this trip – not only planning my route but also time contacting organisations and coordinating meetings and trips.

What do you enjoy the most, what are your most interesting experiences?

I have had so many extremely interesting experiences but some of my favourite experiences so far have been things like: Strolling through the rich forests of Nepal’s oldest national park, Chitwan, with 2 local tiger trackers and conservationists; hanging out on a sea wall in Montenegro with a Marine Biologist who is fighting to create their first marine protected area; understanding the importance of gender equality in conservation staying in a local community on Fiji who are trying their best to save their mud crab populations; Standing on the banks of the Fitzroy river in western Australia with an Indigenous Aborigine leading the charge to protect the lifeblood of their nation; and hiking at over 3000m in the Pakistani Himalayas with some of the world’s top Trophy Hunters trying to understand the role of Trophy Hunting for conservation

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

For me, it was taking the extensive knowledge I’d gained from doing 2 years of my course and taking that into a real world setting where I could use this, and build on it, learning from a diverse group of stakeholders and knowledge systems. This means that I can bring it all back to make the most of my final year with new perspectives and experiences and to, hopefully, create a meaningful dissertation.

The driver for my ‘World Conservation Journey’ was the ground-breaking publication of the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) Global Assessment which is the most comprehensive report of its kind on the state of our global biodiversity. This report compiled all of my understanding of global biodiversity issues from personal experiences and course content into one place and immediately drew me to go out and explore this for myself on the ground for one but to also realise the need to share this incredibly important information with people

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned during the year?

The most important thing I’ve learnt is that our global nature system is being destroyed by the actions of the majority of humans and as well as this having terrible consequences for nature - with it being predicted that a million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. This is also going to bring severe negative consequences for the livelihoods and wellbeing of so many people across the globe. Beyond these negative consequences though, through my experiences, it’s clear to see that there are Mavericks navigating the complex conservation landscapes, swimming against the tide, but making positive impacts as they go. What’s been important to recognise is that no matter how small these contributions are, they all contribute to the overall patchwork of successes that we really need in order to make a difference for nature and ourselves. Anyone from anywhere and any background can make a difference by saving what they love.

Has your experience given you a better idea of what you want to do for a career?

I would say it has given me a better idea of what I want to do, whether or not I know exactly what I want to do is a different story but by understanding the complexity and nuance of the on the ground landscape, which I would only gain by leaving the classroom and stepping out, It’s clearer which out of the many sectors I’d like to aim for.

For sure, getting out there and experiencing what the conservation and environmental protection industry really looks like on the ground by speaking to people in all different areas, from different countries about their work, has allowed me to see where my skills and interests lie.

What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with pursuing your ‘World Conservation Journey’?

The broad range of modules and topic areas definitely help guide me to figure out what I enjoy and don’t enjoy. The willingness of the department to support personal endeavours like mine certainly helped.

Why did you choose to study Sustainability and Environmental Management and why did you choose the University of Leeds?

This course was the only one that really jumped out to me out of all of the ones I looked at. The breadth of the content in comparison to other courses of the same nature at other universities (for which there were few) was so important to me as someone who had a broad set of interests. However, it wasn’t until I’d spent time working in conservation in the small West African nation of São Tomé e Príncipe and Madagascar, that I really realised that this was something I properly wanted to pursue.

What has been the best aspect of your course?

It’s empowering nature - which gave me the get up and go to learn more myself. As I’ve mentioned, the breadth of scope with faculty members spanning all possible areas and interests has been fantastic. I also found the course attracts a very likeminded group of students and this creates a great atmosphere which is especially obvious when it comes to groupwork and the trips away!

What would you say to students thinking about studying your course?

Top Tip: The course is great because the field is constantly developing and as such within the work you do you can bring in all the new news and science as it comes out. Set up a twitter account dedicated to Sustainability as soon as possible and follow all the researchers, news outlets and organisations. It’s the perfect way to keep up to date on everything that’s happening, how it relates to everything you’re learning and gives you a lot of information and papers to reference throughout your assignments.