A field naturalist is an individual who has studied the environment, the natural world, and the species and ecosystems found within. He or she then generally educates others on this information. For instance, a field naturalist might lead groups of people on nature walks or hikes, sharing information about the different types of plants and animals found along the way. This person is experienced at identifying different things found in nature, and generally studies this information in relation to environmental problems that need to be solved. Some people consider a naturalist to be a type of conservationist, and a naturalist will often work with other conservationists or natural resource managers to suggest plans for rectifying environmental problems.
In some cases, a field naturalist will have a certain specialty; for instance, they might study insects, wildlife, or plants more extensively than other aspects of the environment. They might perform additional research into this area of expertise in order to study environmental issues that are occurring, ideally in order to help find solutions. Many people who choose to become field naturalists will first earn a master's degree in this field, and this is the time when they will first choose specialties or areas in which they want to perform additional research, often for a thesis project.
Not all field naturalists have master's degrees, however. Some of them simply have bachelor's degrees, while others may not have attended college at all and may have acquired their knowledge through independent study, or through familial or cultural experience. This knowledge can be quite extensive, particularly if an individual has lived in an area for a long period of time, and can offer information about the way in which certain environments have changed over time.
A field naturalist can be considered a type of environmental educator, most frequently sharing information with people through hands-on learning experiences out in the field. Ideally, this type of environmental education will inspire people to care for the natural world, and recognize the balances and connections between ecosystems. Field naturalists might also come to schools or other community events to share educational information about the region, or to address specific questions or problems that might be occurring in a certain area. For people interested in environmental problem solving and environmental education, becoming a field naturalist is just one opportunity of many, but people find it appealing because it involves working outside on a regular basis, and directly interacting with nature, as opposed to other specialist who spend more time in laboratories or academic environments.