As the person that answers the phone here at the Acorn Ecology Head Office, I speak to a lot of people who ask me ‘Which is the best course for me to take?’
Well, there’s the million dollar question!
“What is your background?” and “where are you heading?” are the first questions I ask.
Firstly then, what is your background?
If you are coming to us armed with a degree in ecology and a year’s work experience in consultancy, I’d suggest that you work out where the knowledge gaps are and try to fill them. For example, if you spent a year doing reptile surveys but didn’t do a Phase 1 or PEA survey, I’d suggest that that is where you start – doing the initial survey courses that then inform the Phase 2 or further, species specific, surveys.
If you spent a year doing the Phase 1 surveys, I’d suggest you start with a species course or two to give you the background knowledge to be able to go and do the further surveys.
If, however, you have no degree or have been working in acompletely different industry for the last twenty years and fancy a change, will my advice be the same or different?
To a certain extent, it will be the same. Gain some knowledge in a protected species or two and go out and get some experience with it. That might be contacting local consultancies and accompanying them on surveys to gain the skills. It might take the form of joining a wildlife group and learning from them – it will take time but our short field courses offer a great starting point.
In order to work as an ecologist, you need to think like an ecologist. Start a library of relevant books, visit beautiful places and look at what is there, really there.
The core text for our ‘Introduction to Ecology’ online course is a great starting point. Instant Notes in Ecology (Mackenzie, A., Ball, S.and Virdee, S.R.) 2001 can be picked up second hand very cheaply online and, along with our online course, is a good introduction to the world of ecology. Add into that a flower ID book, a couple of FSC charts*, a guide to animal tracks and signs and you are well on your way.
And then onto the second question, where are you heading?
Consultancy? Subcontracting? Conservation? Queen** of the world?!
If you are looking to end up as an ecological consultant,you will need to be an expert in a seemingly endless list including being able to name lots of flowers/grasses/trees (or at least know your way around an ID key to work it out), protected species and how to deal with them, survey methods, ID’ing mammals/reptiles/birds/anything that might be relevant to the situation you are in, buildings and roof structures, the planning system including the specific requirements of your local authority planning department and the list goes on! A lot of these will come with time, actually doing the job and learning as you go.
Some people like the flexibility of being self employed and working as a subcontractor, only doing the field surveys and leaving the boring office bits to someone else! If that’s you, start with a protected species that is in your area (geographical as well as interest or expertise) and get out there and do!
If you’ve got a spare £10, our MD wrote a book called ‘How to Become an Ecological Consultant’ – it’s fairly self explanatory! It also looks at the different paths available within ecology including conservation and academia. It’s a useful read if you are at the beginning of your journey into ecology.
*Field Studies Council
Written by Sally, Finance Manager and Admin wizard.