Environmental Education or Interpretation Officer

These careers are for people who are passionate about the natural environment and enjoy sharing that passion with others.  Environmental education officers are responsible for promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development via a variety of means, including education, marketing and publicity.

Working with people is a key feature of the job and includes conservation awareness events such as talks, presentations, workshops and guided walks, helping with volunteer activities and conservation projects.  They communicate with a range of groups, in various different contexts:

Stewardship officers negotiate land deals with farmers who agree to set aside part of their land for conservation purposes. Afterwards they work out a conservation management plan for that part of the farm, and provide an extension service to assist the farmer to manage the land for optimum biodiversity.

Social ecologists help communities living on the borders of national parks to derive optimum benefit from the presence of the park. They facilitate the development of community-based natural resource management initiatives, legislative control of aspects such as hunting, sale of game, the importing and exporting of game, law enforcement as well as the administrative aspects of managing a nature conservation organisation.

Community development facilitators help many different communities to benefit from the wise use of their resources, whether they are wild flowers, or wildlife and spectacular scenery for eco-tourism, or trees and grasses for arts and crafts.

Education and interpretation officers teach visitors of all ages about nature and the significance of the cultural heritage sites in museums, national parks and other areas of interest. The work involves raising awareness and promoting an understanding of the environment to different audiences such as schools, colleges, businesses, community groups and the general public. Their tasks include giving presentations, running workshops, conducting guided walks and tours, working on local environmental conservation projects, producing and distributing learning materials for students as well as managing budgets and supervising staff.

Typical responsibilities of the job include preparing and distributing publicity materials and displays, writing plans, reports and press releases, producing educational resources, liaising with schools, businesses, LEAs, voluntary/community groups and other local organisations, organising school visits, generating income via fundraising activities, submitting funding bids etc.  They also need to manage budgets, allocate funding, supervise and train staff/volunteers, analyse data to collate information and attend conferences.

Since these careers involve working with different groups of people, evening and weekend work may sometimes be required. A large part of their time may be spent away from the office in all kind of weather conditions, working with schools and community groups.

Personal Requirements

  • be enthusiastic, and able to motivate staff, colleagues and volunteers
  • have a good understanding of environmental or technical content
  • have teaching skills together with good social and communication skills
  • able to deal with discussions and objections from participants
  • good command of languages, written and verbal
  • interested in and appreciative of other cultures

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

• National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
• National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Compulsory Higher Education

People follow a variety of routes to become environmental education officers.

Degree: BSc or other Bdegree in Environmental Science is offered at most universities.

Diploma: the conservation diploma or other environmental courses offered at most universities of technology, e.g. NDip Environmental Sciences - TUT or NDip Environmental Management – CPUT, may have an education component. If not, they can be supplemented by a short course specializing in environmental education offered by an NGO such as WESSA or a university e.g Rhodes. These short courses could also be done after completing an environmental degree.

Postgraduate: HDipEd with subjects such as Geography, Biology or Formal Environmental Education courses at postgraduate level.

Possible Career Paths

Education officers start out running the courses and then progress to planning and producing new material and managing the staff that run them.


• local government - municipal
• nature conservation agencies
• national parks and game reserves
• wildlife rehabilitation centres
• educational institutions
• world heritage sites
• NGOs e.g. Delta, Roots and Shoots
• Botanical and Zoological Gardens
• research institutes
• Dept of Environmental Affairs – capacity development sections
• the South African National Biodiversity Institute
• private companies
• community based organisations
• self-employment

Further Information

Environmental Education Association of South Africa
3230 Lucas Avenue
behind The Alumni Block
c/o Environmental Learning Research Centre
Tel: (046) 603-7473

The Director: Human Resources
National Department of Agriculture
Private Bag X116
Pretoria, 0001

Agricultural Research Council
1134 Park street
Hatfield, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 427-9700

Department of Agriculture
Private Bag X250
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 319-7328

WWF South Africa
1st Floor, Bridge House
Boundary Terraces
Mariendahl Lane
Newlands, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 657-6600

Gauteng Office
23 Melle Street
(Corner Melle and De Korte streets)
Braamfontein, Johannesburg, 2001
Tel: (011) 339-1152


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