The Professional Voices Blog allows people within the industry to share their thoughts on a particular topic. Today, we hear from Ben Gardner, from Ecology by Design, who has some guidance on training and development for Ecology Consultants.
The study of ecology is a wide-ranging academic field that can be approached from many different angles. As a result, it's possible to become an ecologist by holding a bachelor's degree in a number of fields, including botany, biology wildlife conservation, environmental science, marine biology, zoology, and other related fields. There are many ecologists that have come from a more experiential background by building relevant experience through training or direct project experience of different flora or fauna.
The broad scope of ecology means that ecologists can specialise in many different areas, and it also means there's usually room for additional training and development. In fact, it would be impossible to find any individual ecologist who is fluently knowledgeable about every aspect of the science. Fortunately, there are plenty of continued education resources available for ecologists of all skill levels.
Utilise the British Ecological Society's Career Development Resources
The British Ecological Society provides links to helpful learning resources for ecologists who are interested in professional development, including information about upcoming ecological events and mentoring programs. From there, you can access their Career Development Resources section to find educational articles, eBooks, and webinars.
If you're interested in exploring the full range of job opportunities available within the field of ecology, you can read their booklet entitled Rooting for a Career in Ecology – a summary of the various careers that are available to qualified ecologists. They also have a single-page PDF entitled Top Tips for a Career in Ecology – a worthwhile read for any ecologist focused on career advancement.
Ecology is a subject that doesn’t necessarily require a formal ecology related degree education, although it does help when applying for jobs. There are many courses typically undertaken some of which are endorsed by CIEEM. There are also some programs that offer internships or placements with consultancies as part of the program such as the University of Reading Masters in Species Identification and Survey Skills.
There are many routes into ecology out of education with many colleagues having a very varied background. There are many who believe that education is far over shadowed by experience, experience gained either through formal training, voluntary posts or through on the job work experience.
Field identification skills is increasingly in demand and in many taxa is a declining science. The demand for specialists as a result of a focus on specific taxa such as bats and newts has reduced the need for professional naturalists that learn detailed skills in many taxa, but this is changing. More and more the sciences cross over each other and require ecologists to demonstrate or have knowledge of various aspects of the natural world and interactions within it.
Training Courses in Wildlife Identification and survey skills
Botanical identification skills are often prioritised less by new entrants to the ecology world but arguably they give you a unique skills set that not only makes you very valuable in the market place, they also help you with all other fauna that rely on plants either as food or habitats.
There are many courses aimed at the volunteer or non-professional with only, some offered specifically for people working in ecology. A good starting point is always the Field Studies Council and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. The BSBI also offer a Field Identification Skills Certificate which is a simple, affordable test that determines your botanical skill level on a scale from 1 (beginner) to 5 (professional) with 6 being awarded in exceptional cases. This is becoming the leading means of benchmarking professional ecologists’ botanical ability. There are some specialist providers that offer excellent class and field based courses such as the Species Recovery Trust and through CIEEM.
The range of fauna training is large with courses being offered by academia, charities and professional bodies. It can be difficult to know exactly what is best so speaking with your peers and getting recommendations is key not to waste your time and/or money. CIEEM, Mammal Society and FSC offer some general courses but the more you look the more you can delve deeper and take intensive courses in specific taxa. Two areas that graduates often look to gain specialist knowledge in is for bats and amphibians and there are lots of courses available for them. Below are just a few:
Volunteering should be an important part of everyone’s careers and is very valuable during education and those early days of your careers. Many small local charity groups are often more than happy to share their knowledge with like-minded volunteers. Local bat groups can provide great mentorships and often give you access to habitats and species you won’t commonly come into contact with during your professional life.
Professional Development (CPD) Bespoke Courses from Specialist Providers
If you're looking to learn a unique curriculum or you're trying to train a team of ecologists on a specific topic and you can't find a course that covers it all, you can contact a bespoke CPD course provider (such as ecologytraining.co.uk) and work with them to have a custom training regimen designed according to your needs. Many of the UK’s niche ecology consultancies also offer bespoke training such as Richard Green Ecology.
There are quite a few providers listed in this article but there are many across the UK. A good point of call is some of the training directories listing courses by many different providers such as Countryside Job Services and your professional institutes.
There's Always More to Learn as an Ecologist
If you're the type of person who likes to stay academically active through ongoing educational efforts, any of the programs, courses, or learning methods mentioned above can help to keep you occupied while also adding a few shiny stars to your resume.
Ultimately, with so many resources and topics to explore, there's no reason for an ecologist to ever stagnate in their pursuit of knowledge. With the upcoming generation facing an unprecedented global environmental crisis, it’s more important than ever for professional ecologists to be heard and to find solutions to a decline in biodiversity.
Instead of settling for an entry-level position or stopping at one specialisation or certification, consider the benefits of taking your career up a notch with some of the training and development resources discussed above.
A little bit about the author
Ben Gardner CEnv MCIEEM is a Director at Ecology by Design.
Ecology by Design is an independent ecology consultancy working nationwide with head office in Oxfordshire. They provide a wide range of ecology services ranging from bat and newt surveys to large ecological impact assessments and mitigation.
Follow @EcologyByDesign on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn