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Day in the Life of an Ecologist

Logo: Total Ecology

By Laura Thompson

At the start of a brown hare survey (Laura Thompson)
At the start of a brown hare survey (Laura Thompson)

My alarm wakes me up. It’s still dark because it’s 2am. I creep out of the bedroom to not wake my partner and pull on 3 layers of clothes (despite it being 17°C), brush my teeth, and go, still with wild pillow hair because it’s 2am and dark so who cares!? I drive to site in record time because the traffic at this time in the morning is negligible. Once at site I ring the doorbell on the large main gates… 4 times. No sign of the security guard who needs to let us in. At this point a colleague has turned up and suggests knocking on the window to which I explain I’ve rang the bell, and I can’t see anyone in the office through the window. He knocks anyway and lo and behold the security guard appears around a corner I didn’t realise was there! Typical. I place everyone and get myself into position and spend the next hour and 45 minutes watching the bats forage above my head, with a couple false returning and finally going in to roost within the building. In my opinion there’s not much better than bat watching!

It’s definitely worth getting up early for surveys with views like these (Laura Thompson)
It’s definitely worth getting up early for surveys with views like these (Laura Thompson)

After the survey I decide to head home and sneak in a quick hour nap. It’s then off to the office for a couple of hours to catch up on emails and client queries, and print maps for the weeks surveys. These include a water vole survey locally and a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) around an hour and a half away, in North Yorkshire. At 10am it’s back into the car to drive to another local site for a day of tree risk assessments. These are difficult given its July and the woodland is in full leaf however, the client is in a rush for everything to be done this season so I am trying my best to complete the risk assessments while not thinking too much about how difficult it’s going to be to squeeze in a whole host of new surveys, some before the end of the month should there be maternity potential in the trees. My colleague and I work until 5pm, picking our way through the woodland and searching for the relevant trees like trying to find a needle in a needle stack! Then I head back home, unfortunately stuck in traffic because its rush hour.

A female great crested newt encountered on survey. We photograph belly patterns to identify individuals (Laura Thompson)
A female great crested newt encountered on survey. We photograph belly patterns to identify individuals (Laura Thompson)

Once home I catch up with my partner and make us some dinner. I have an hour to relax before heading off to bed, setting my alarm again for 2am so that I can complete a second dawn survey at the same site as this morning; getting enough people available to cover the site in one go wasn’t possible as we’re in full swing bat season with surveys booked in left, right, and centre.

On a tree climbing course. There’s always an opportunity to grow your skills (Barry Thompson)
On a tree climbing course. There’s always an opportunity to grow your skills (Barry Thompson)

A day in the life of an Ecologist is a pretty difficult thing to specify, and that’s why I love my job. My days vary on a day-to-day basis, and seasonally. The example above is one day in possibly the busiest week of the summer season I’ve had this year. However, this week I have been in the office with no bat surveys to undertake as the weather hasn’t been suitable for surveys to be within Bat Conservation Guidelines. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with clients to inform them how my projects are going and answer any queries. I spend office time doing administrative and organisational tasks such as organising bat surveys around subcontractor and staff availability, and weather, and organising day-time surveys with other busy staff. When I can get around to it, I write my reports which this week include an Ecological Impacts Assessment (EcIA), a bat survey report, a bat monitoring report as required in line with a Natural England European Protected Species Licence, a PEA report, and working on a bat licence application.

As we work across Britain, a typical day can often be made up of driving to an area, checking into a hotel, finding somewhere to eat, and heading to site for a dusk bat survey. Usually when we are away, we are undertaking dawn bat surveys too. During the day we may have bat risk assessments to carry out on other properties, or it may be that we need to fight with dodgy hotel internet to try and work on our reports remotely.

In winter, we quieten down considerably but that’s not to say we’re not still busy. There are usually some reports to catch up on after the last few busy weeks of the bat survey season and we can and do still carry out PEAs, bat risk assessments, bat hibernation surveys, wintering bird surveys, as well as others. Usually, a lot of Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW) take place in the winter although we complete plenty of supervision during the summer too. Winter tends to be a good time to catch up on career progression development and join some training courses, although we do also do this in the summer too. For things such as flowering plants, you can’t really wait until winter.

So overall, a day in the life of an ecologist is usually fun, stressful if I’m to be honest, and very variable! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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