We are in a world where environmental consciousness is rising, and demand for ecological expertise is reaching new heights. If you’ve ever found yourself captivated by the intricacies of nature and wondered if it’s too late to turn your passion into a profession, you’re not alone. We regularly get asked, am I too old to get into ecology? In this blog, we’ll explore the realm of ecological consultancy and other conservation careers and whether it’s a viable career option for those considering a career change in later life.

The growing importance of ecology and conservation

Climate change, biodiversity loss and habitat degradation are at the forefront of many minds nowadays. With its diverse landscapes and commitment to Environmental Conservation, the UK provides many opportunities for ecological and conservation careers. Legislation in the past few decades has created many jobs in the environmental sector. With increased pressure on our natural and wild spaces, ecologists have never been more important. It is the job of ecological consultants, for example, to ensure that developments, projects and business practices align with the law and either minimise damage to wildlife or enhance spaces for nature.

The day-to-day life of an ecologist is wildly varied. One day, you might be examining an old building for signs of bats, and the next, surveying plant species in a field. Our job takes us to some beautiful and exciting places. So it’s unsurprising that more and more people are answering the call of the wild and seeking jobs in ecology. 

Am I too old to get into ecology?
Am I Too Old To Get Into Ecology?

Am I too old to get into ecology? 

The short answer is a resounding NO! With enough determination, you can successfully change careers at any point in your life. Our Director, Sue Searle became an ecologist when she was 45, having been a nurse and midwife previously. The field of ecology is incredibly diverse, with people from all walks of life. Many people do not come into ecology until later in life. They often find that the skills they acquire from life experience and other careers stand them in good stead to be excellent ecologists. So, whether you are a recent graduate or seeking a career change, you can find your niche in ecology. 

What are the requirements for a career in Ecology?

Ecological consultancy and some conservation roles can be quite physically demanding. You need to be mobile and have a reasonable level of physical fitness. If you have problems with mobility, it is still possible to work in ecology. Still, you might want to consider a more accessible type of ecology, such as research, data handling, report writing and working with planners. 

There are other requirements for a career in ecology, such as knowledge, skills and experience. The main problem that you will face is competition. It is a competitive field, and there are often a lot of candidates for one job. Most employers will seek a candidate with hands-on skills, experience, and a commitment to learning and developing themselves. 

Transferable skills

If you’re worrying about not having a formal background in ecology, fear not. Like any career change, it will take some commitment, courage and recognition of the valuable skills you already have that you can bring to the table. These are known as transferable skills. One rather obvious transferable skill many of us have is the ability to drive – this is very useful in ecology when you are often called upon to access remote and unusual locations. Another skill you might have learned, possibly without even knowing it, is organisation. For example, if you have been a stay-at-home parent for the last decade, you have likely been organising the lives of your entire family. This probably means you’re far better at organisation than the average new graduate. Think about what you have that could set you apart from other candidates.

What qualifications do I need to be an ecologist?

Many places will tell you you need a degree to become an ecologist, but this is not strictly true. Having a degree in a relevant topic will give you a head start. But you need more skills to gain employment. Increasingly, employers are looking for people with a wide range of experiences and knowledge and more and more are employing non-graduates. If you don’t have a relevant degree, we recommend starting with our Certificate in Conservation Management. This course is designed to give you a solid foundation without having to go back to university. It is a faster and more cost-effective route by far.

Whilst doing this, we recommend you try to get as much relevant experience as you can. We advise on this. Once you have completed this course, you can take our Certificate in Ecological Consultancy. This will give you plenty of skills, experience, and confidence to start your own consultancy or work for someone else. 

How much does an ecologist make in the UK?

Ecology is a career of passion rather than wealth. However, ecologists can earn well if they are highly trained and highly skilled. Particularly if they choose to work for themselves. You will likely begin your ecology career as an assistant ecologist earning between £18,000 and £22,000pa, however this can be higher with people with useful transferrable skills. Once you have a few years’ experience, your salary will increase. A senior or principal ecologist will earn around £35,000 – £60,000, depending on experience. If you are a determined self-starter, you can gain skills and experience relatively quickly, acquiring survey licences and tools to make yourself an indispensable part of any consultancy. 

What A Levels do you need for ecology?

If you are planning your career in ecology and taking A levels[SS1] , the most relevant courses are Biology, Environmental science, Natural Science and Geography. Not all further education establishments will offer all of these courses. If you want to take a degree in ecology, it is worth finding out the requirements for the specific degree course that interests you. 

However, if you are returning to education because of a career change, you do not need to take A-Levels to be an ecologist. Hands-on and practical experience will be much more helpful to you in finding a job, so we recommend focussing your attention on gaining skills and experience useful in your day-to-day life as an ecologist. You can do this through getting some relevant training and then working as a subcontractors or volunteering. 

How can I work in ecology without a degree?

As we mentioned, employers will seek candidates with hands-on skills and experience as well as relevant qualifications. If you demonstrate good commitment to learning and developing these skills through volunteering, studying and getting involved with conservation projects, you will immediately become more appealing to an employer. You may want to consider working towards your bat survey licence through our Bat Licence Training. This is a valuable asset for an ecologist, and you don’t need to be an ecologist to acquire a licence. Similarly, other protected species licences, such as Dormouse and Great-Crested Newt, will help you stand out from the crowd. Many employers will also want good species identification skills, particularly with plants and birds. You can study these yourself to get noticed. 

Am I too old to be an ecologist?

So, in conclusion, you are still young to be an ecologist. Age might even work in your favour as you will have acquired many transferable skills during your lifetime. If you want to change your career and change your life, there is no better time to start than right now. With some grit and determination, you can have your dream career. 

We would love to help you reach your career goals. Our blog is full of helpful information to get you off to a good start. We have a wide range of online and face-to-face courses to help you gain the skills and experience you need to get started right away. So, what are you waiting for? 

If you need some specific advice on which courses you should take with us, then get in touch. email us on [email protected]

If you are serious about getting into this sector then we have two comprehensive courses on offer:

Certificate in Ecological Consultancy – you will need a relevant degree and experience for this one.

Certificate in Conservation Management – ideal if you want to get into conservation as a career.

Check out some of our other blogs on getting experience and survey licences.