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Career guidance: Specialising and how to do it

Have you just started out on your ecology path? Perhaps you already have a job as a Trainee Ecologist or Assistant Ecologist, or a couple of seasons of experience under your belt. It is always a good idea to assess your progress at least annually and see what gaps you have in your knowledge.

great crested newt, ecology coursesIt might be a few years down the line until you are a specialist, but it’s worth considering it now, at this early stage in your career, so you can get the groundwork in.  Eventually you will find yourself becoming an expert in a certain area or several areas anyway, driven by your own interests or the major workload of your consultancy. Most teams have a range of specialists in their ranks. So how do you choose one and work towards it?

A good starting point for developing a specialism is to ask yourself ‘what am I really interested in?’ The next question should be ‘is that specialism good for my career? The bulk of consultancy work is with mammals, reptiles, plants, birds, or more specifically bats, badgers, dormice and great crested newts. Specialising in a protected species, or protected group of species, is going to be most beneficial for your career.

In this blog we’ve taken another extract from Sue Searle’s book – How to Become an Ecological Consultant. There is a whole chapter on specialising. Here’s the introduction:

Chapter 10 – Specialising

Although you will probably need to have a go at a bit of everything when you first start, eventually one wildlife subject will catch your interest and you will want to take it further. Many ecological consultants develop a specialism that is the focus of much of their career.

How to become an ecological consultant, by Susan M Searle BSc PGDip MCIEEM (paperback book)Developing a specialism might be a bit beyond the scope of this book, but, as we have just been thinking about goal setting, it makes sense to start thinking about specialising at the beginning of your career. This will help ensure that you will achieve everything you aim for. As long as you are aiming for it, planning it and consistently taking small steps towards it, you can eventually achieve anything you desire.

Some consultants specialise in a certain group of species, such as bats, and can make a comfortable living. However, to work in more diverse environments with a wider range of clients, and even to have a more interesting working life, I think it is good to have general expertise in many fields as well as an in-depth specialism in one thing in particular. In a team it works particularly well to have different specialist areas represented. I advise you avoid specialising too soon though – for instance I know a bat worker who knows no plants. She has always worked only on bats. This concerns me as she may not be able to recognise if she is in an ancient woodland (she cannot identify ancient woodland indicator plants), or even what species of trees are present, and this could be relevant for considering which species of bat may be present and describing the woodland itself for a report. For this reason I think getting a good general grounding to start with is essential. Become an ecologist with experience across species groups when you start out and specialise later.

Book available HERE


It’s difficult to be a really good ecologist if you only know about one thing. So, as a junior you should work on having a good base knowledge of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. With this grounding your specialism may naturally emerge. You might already be passionate about a species or species group, if so, great! Keep learning and gaining experience and in no time you will become an expert.

How can you do this?

Courses are a great way to kick start a new passion or gain skills and knowledge fast so that should be your starting point. Also attend talks, field trips, conferences and seminars, and join local groups – bats, birds, mammals, herps etc. Take an interest in everything ecological and immerse yourself! Wildlife is a lifelong fascination and passion.

Once the spark of a passion is ignited you will progress fast because you are interested, fascinated, motivated and moved to know more.

Here are a few of the courses we think are really important for specialising:

Surveying Trees for Bats – Bristol – 2nd March 2018

Badger Ecology and Surveying – Guildford – 9th March 2018

Dormouse Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 4th May 2018

Otter Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 16th April 2018

Reptile Ecology and Surveying – Guildford – 27th April 2018

If you have any questions about our courses, please get in touch with our team, who are happy to answer your questions. Call us today on 01392366512.

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Acorn Ecology Training

Acorn Ecology is one of the top providers of ecological consultancy courses in the UK. We provide ecology courses and field training for new graduates, career changers, experienced ecologists, developers, architects and conservationists wishing to work in consultancy.