Careers in the Ecology and Environmental Sector
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By The Student and Careers Working Group, CIEEM
The Ecology and Environmental sector is extremely diverse with a range of career possibilities. Jobs will typically combine outdoor field work with desk-based work, and the field work could potentially take you anywhere in the world. You could be monitoring climate change on mountains, tracking whales across the oceans or recording insects in the Amazon or you could be getting down to the dirty work measuring sewage outfalls in watercourses! Office work will typically include accurate recording, analysing data and writing reports.
Whether you’re a generalist or decide to specialise, ecologists are needed in multiple areas such as habitat management, flood defences, pollution, environmental legislation, fisheries, green infrastructure, reintroduction of species, agricultural improvements, academic research, soil health, landscape restoration and many more. Studying and training to break into the sector can lead to a variety of career paths, such as:
Many departments and agencies of central and local government have responsibilities to promote or have regard to the conservation of wildlife, habitats and landscape quality. Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, Defra, the Environment Agency and Local Authorities need staff who have a sound knowledge of ecological practice. Further information on how to work for local government can be found here.
The employment opportunities offered by NGOs are as wide as the variety of work done by them. For young and aspiring ecologists, NGOs can provide an accessible and attractive route into work in practical ecology as well as policy and advocacy work. For example, working for an NGO you will assess and develop policies and guidance and deliver ecological expertise internally and to external organisations and governments.
Organisations such as RSPB, County Wildlife Trusts, and the National Trust employ between them a large number of ecologists and environmental managers, but many jobs are temporary or seasonal and competition for salaried posts is very strong. Voluntary work for NGOs is often used as a steppingstone to work.
An ecological consultant undertakes research and surveys to provide advice on ecological matters, such as how plans to use a particular area of land may affect the plant and animal species and types of habitats present. They will have gained specialist knowledge in this field, usually an appropriate first degree and often a second degree or relevant background in nature conservation, as well as field experience. Alternatively, apprenticeships are also available and supported by CIEEM.
Environmental action by industry is largely driven by legislation on pollution and the requirement for environmental/ecological impact assessments in the planning stage of developments.
Many of the potentially or actually harmful activities of manufacturing industries are monitored by environmental regulators such as the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Further information on careers in environmental regulation in the UK, Wales, Scotland and Ireland can be found below:
- Environment Agency
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Natural Resources Wales
There has recently been an enormous growth in the environmental media industry with television, radio, magazines, books, websites, exhibits and interpretation centres contributing to the quality and amount of material available.
As a science communicator, you will empower diverse audiences to interact with scientists and their research through a variety of media; from newspaper articles, blogs and TV appearances, to developing compelling events and workshops. You man be engaged in public relations, working for organisations that depend on public understanding to support their environmental work and for presenting a good public image.
The people who control and direct the industry tend to come from journalistic backgrounds, but many of the people who make the films, write the books and magazine articles, and take the photographs are ecologists by training or persuasion. The BBC Natural History Unit provides an excellent example of effective symbiosis between media personnel and ecologists. For careers in the BBC, visit their website.
Research into ecology and environmental management covers a very wide range of topics and ecologists are employed as researchers in many of the employment sectors listed previously.
Academic institutions and research centres carry out much of the baseline research, working to contracts awarded by organisations such as the Research Councils, countryside agencies, Government departments and industrial clients. Other research is done as personal projects, carried out alongside other aspects of the job, such as university teaching. Results of research are published in scientific journals and specialist magazines. Some of the research data generated are published and used by the media to create awareness or to lobby and persuade.
There can be few more rewarding jobs than passing on knowledge to the next generation. Teaching can offer great job satisfaction. The multi-disciplinary nature of ecology helps to make ecologists flexible and effective science teachers. There is a move to establish a new Natural History GCSE, which would offer even more opportunities for ecologists.
For further reading, do take a look at our In Practice Career Profile Interviews, to read more about what each of these different career paths can entail, as well as many other useful resources.
CIEEM also have top tips on how to break into the Ecology and Environmental sector. Don’t forget to join us as a member if you have not done so already and we can provide many benefits and support as you progress through your career.