Getting into Ecological Consultancy
If you think you want to become an ecological consultant, what qualifications and skills do you need to have? Ideally you will need a relevant degree (e.g. biology, ecology or environmental science) and preferably an MSc or other higher level qualification. In this competitive field however, academic qualifications alone are rarely enough and you need to have some other experience and skills.
You definitely need good computing skills and the ability to write clear reports, often to tight deadlines, but the skill most often lacking in prospective employees is field survey skills. It would be great if degree courses put more emphasis on field survey skills, but few do.
Most consultancies help to train up staff, but to personally improve your skills and employment prospects there are quite a few actions you can take. My consultancy, Direct Ecology Ltd (www.directecology.co.uk), specialises in protected species survey and mitigation work. This includes surveys for species or groups including bats, otters, badgers, birds, red squirrels and pine marten prior to a development taking place;
plus recommending and implementing appropriate mitigation where necessary. Projects are wide ranging and include housing, industry, rail, hydro schemes, power lines and wind farms. I would be hoping for prospective employees to have some previous experience of surveying with one or more of these groups or species. There are a number of ways that you could begin to obtain this expertise, and a few examples are listed here. Being familiar with the background ecology of the species will also help with both
surveying and report writing.
Learning to be a good ecological surveyor isn’t something that can be achieved in a few days; it can take
quite a few years to become fully competent with a range of species in different environments. Here are some of the things you could do to either get you started and to help improve your skills and knowledge
● For bats, you could: join your local bat group http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/local_bat_groups.html; take part in the national bat monitoring programme http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/nbmp.html; or attend a training course run by the Bat Conservation Trust http://www.bats.org.uk/data/files/publications/509/BCT_Training_brochure_2009.pdf
● For other species, take part in any national or local surveys. For example, Scottish Badgers (www.scottishbadgers.org.uk ) recently organised a Scottish Badger Distribution Survey and volunteers were given appropriate training before taking on a 1km square to survey. The Mammal Society runs quite a number of training courses http://abdn.ac.uk/mammal/workshops.shtml. The Field Studies Council (FSC) http://www.field-studies-council.org/ also run a number of good courses. The University of Birmingham runs a University Certificate in Biological Recording and Species Identification http://www.biosciences.bham.ac.uk/study/prodev/BiologRec/ucert.htm, which includes attendance on a number of FSC courses.
● Becoming a member of the Institute of Ecology and Environment (IEEM) is also a good idea if you want to get into consultancy. They run quite a number of training courses, many on protected species http://www.ieem.net/workshops.asp.
For me, what makes a prospective candidate stand out is if they have put in the time and effort to do voluntary work and surveys, showing a clear enthusiasm for ecology and wildlife above and beyond any academic qualifications they might have.
Contact Details: Beccy Osborn, Director/Principal Ecologist, Direct Ecology Ltd
All photos credit: Beccy Osborn
Updated information March 2020:
You can attend a training course run by the Bat Conservation Trust http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/training.html
The Mammal Society runs quite a number of training courses http://www.mammal.org.uk/training/courses/ The Field Studies Council (FSC) http://www.field-studies-council.org/ also run a number of good courses. FSC in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University runs a MSc in Biological Recording and Ecological Monitoring https://www.field-studies-council.org/manchester-metropolitan-university/
Becoming a member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environment (CIEEM) is also a good idea if you want to get into consultancy. CIEEM run quite a number of training courses, many on protected species https://events.cieem.net/Events/Event-Listing.aspx