Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019

Certificate Core Week 2019

I can’t believe it’s over already! This week has flown by. We have a super group of students. They all have skills to bring to the week and it’s been great getting to know everyone. They are an inquisitive lot, always asking questions, which is fantastic. That is what Core Week (and the whole course) is about. Learning!

They’ve come a long way in 5 days. On Monday they learned what a Phase 1 habitat survey was, and this morning they have been out to a site to do a full Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, finding and correctly identifying a whole range of field signs and plant species.

As I write this, they are all back in the training room, starting to put their survey findings into a report.

Over the week we have been out looking for dormice and reptiles. We’ve surveyed a main badger sett and left camera traps up for a couple of nights (no luck this time). Last night, after a meal at the pub, we sat in wait for bats to leave the roost. We saw five bats emerge and fly around the building. The detector we left out revealed 3 species were in the area overnight. On our field trips we have found a variety of bird pellets, lots of tracks and signs and had lots of fun sniffing poo!

Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019 PEA
Having fun during the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal!

I can say on behalf of all the staff and tutors that we have really enjoyed this week, and we hope that all our 2019 students have too.

We are really excited to see how this group get on this summer. I am sure they will go a long way!


You can see what our placement students get up to this summer by checking reading their blog posts which we will post over the summer.

Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019 PEA
Hmm, what’s this?
Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019 PEA
Just checking our maps are right!
Acorn ecology certificate course 2019 reptiles
Found a juvenile slow worm!
Acorn ecology certificate course 2019 dormice
What made this nest?
Great Crested Newt Acorn Ecology

How do you get a Great Crested Newt Licence?

Getting a great crested newt survey or research class licence level 1 (CL08) is an important qualification for an ecologist as it enables you to work closely with one of the UK’s rarest amphibians without any legal implications.  Here’s some advice from Martin Roche, a previous Certificate student.

Photo 1 – Are GCN present?

Although great crested newts (GCNs) are widespread throughout most of England, Scotland and Wales their population numbers have declined dramatically in the latter half of the 20th century.  GCNs, their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are, as a result, fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).  This makes it illegal to kill, injure or disturb GCNs as well as damage, destroy or obstruct their habitat or eggs.  GCNs are also a species of principal importance as they are listed under Schedule 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006. 

Photo 2 – GCN egg

GCN presence/absence surveys are performed by an ecologist to determine whether a pond, that has potential to support GCNs, supports GCNs (Photo 1).  These surveys involve using high powered torches, nets, bottle traps and searching for eggs to find for signs of GCNs in a pond (Photo 2).  The surveys may also involve handling GCNs to examine them.  GCN eDNA surveys can also be performed by ecologists to determine GCN presence/absence which involves analysing water samples in a lab to find GCN DNA (Photo 3).  Without a GCN survey or research class licence these survey techniques would be illegal. When applying for a GCN licence there are two key aspects that Natural England are looking for: knowledge and experience. 

Photo 3 – eDNA testing!

Natural England need to be provided evidence that the applicant can correctly and confidently identify a GCN and the difference between GCNs and the other amphibians that are native and invasive to the UK.  The applicant also needs to show they have been educated on GCN biology, ecology and habitat preference and therefore understand the conservation threats and legislation surrounding GCNs.  The GCN Conservation Handbook, produced by Froglife, provides information about their ecology, mitigation and survey techniques.  The Amphibian Habitat Management Handbook, produced by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, provides information about amphibian habitat management, diseases and translocation (Photo 4).  Here at Acorn Ecology we offer a GCN Ecology and Survey course which provides the information you need for your licence. There is an option to also receive a reference from the course tutor for your licence (after a test at a small additional fee and at the tutor’s discretion).  

Photo 4 – Useful reading!

Natural England also need to be provided evidence that the applicant has had hands on experience surveying GCNs and know how to correctly survey them using each of the following survey techniques: torching, netting, egg searches, bottle trapping and eDNA (Photo 5).  We recommend contacting consultancies and volunteer to help them with their GCN surveys and let them know that you are trying to obtain your licence. 

We also recommend creating a logbook in Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers that details every training course you have attended as well as every hands-on experience you have gathered.  Then this logbook can be provided to Natural England as part of the application for your licence. 

Photo 5 – Results from trapping

The most challenging task in applying for a GCN licence can be finding two people who are willing to provide you with a reference for your application form.  These referees must have a valid GCN licence and have direct knowledge of your work with GCNs.  More information on reference can be found on the website:  At Acorn Ecology we have ecologists in all our offices who possess GCN licences and welcome anyone to join us on GCN surveys to gain hands-on survey experience and may be willing to provide a reference for a GCN licence (please note, however, that GCN are quite rare in Devon).  

For any ecologist looking to start their career in ecology, obtaining a GCN licence is an impressive qualification to have on you CV and will therefore greatly increase your chances of employment.  To apply for your GCN survey or research class licence level 1 (CL08) click to following link to find the application form:

Hannah Whitfield

My Journey to Ecological Consultancy

Hannah is the Assistant Ecologist in the Bristol Branch of Acorn Ecology. Hannah started out volunteering in the office. With a boost from the Certificate Course she then was taken on as a seasonal ecologist and is now permanent. Hannah is just one of the many success stories from our Certificate Students. Here she writes about how she got to where she is now.

At the beginning

From a young age, I always knew that I wanted to work with wildlife but didn’t know exactly what jobs were out there and what I needed to do to end up working in one. I knew that I wanted to help animals, have a job that was interesting and variable and the chance to work outdoors. I dabbled with the idea of veterinary nursing, wildlife education, working in an animal sanctuary and working as a ranger or warden on a wildlife reserve.

Gaining an education

Hannah Whitfield caimen
An exciting education!

Even without having an ultimate goal, I always knew that education would be a vital thing for me to have and that for many of the career options that I was considering, a degree was a necessity. Knowing this, I decided to undertake a Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation Biology.  This degree allowed me to gain practical and theoretical knowledge in the field of conservation and improve upon my ability to study independently. I was also able to build up transferable skills such as report writing, research and the ability to analyse, assess and critique my own work. During my degree I decided to undertake a placement year to gain more practical experience within the field. For this placement I spent ten months working within the Peruvian rainforest monitoring wildlife such as camains, macaws and giant river otters and assisting PhD students with data collection. This was a challenging and demanding yet incredible role that taught me about the practical and physical elements of field work and researching and made me fall in love with wildlife even more.

When leaving university I felt that I had a good understand of theoretical elements of conservation and biology as well as knowledge on different ecosystems and the conservation methods put in place to protect them. I knew that this degree could help me move into areas such as local or international conservation, research, academia or even areas such as wildlife film making. However, I also knew that in the majority of careers, employers were looking for more than just a degree and that I would have more success in my long term career once I had gained some more practical experience.

Voluntary work

Hannah Whitfield bird
Learning bird skills with the RSPB

After graduating in 2014, I spent the next few years in a range of voluntary positions in the fields of ecology and conservation. These positions ranged from carrying out turtle conservation in Costa Rica to carrying out habitat management on an RSPB reserve in the UK. All of these positions were invaluable to me and not only gave me a wealth of knowledge and experience but allowed me to focus and concentrate more on what career I ultimately wanted to go into by trying out different roles.

It is worth noting that volunteering is unpaid and not everyone is in the position to take weeks or even months off to gain this experience. However there are often ways to volunteer that are not time consuming and can be worked around a full time job. It is worth contacting wildlife trusts and local wildlife groups that often run plant and wildlife monitoring schemes that volunteers can get involved in and simply drop in on the odd days that you are free. Local bat groups often run a variety of activities from bat hibernation checks to activity surveys. It is possible to find programmes that run on weekends and always worth looking into voluntary bat monitoring which will normally be carried out at dusk or dawn and for most people can be carried out outside of normal work hours.

Certificate in Ecological Consultancy

After spending time volunteering in several different job roles within ecology and conservation, I was able to make the decision that I wanted to move into ecological consultancy.

Hannah Whitfield volunteering
Hannah working hard, volunteering

I knew that this job would be exciting and variable and would present an opportunity for continuous growth and learning within the field. Although I had experience in the general field of ecology, I still lacked the specific UK knowledge of ecological survey techniques, legislation and planning applications required to give professional advice on the impacts on wildlife from developments projects. I searched for professional ecological courses and foundCertificate in Ecological Consultancy. It was an eight month course that covered vital topics and skills such as how to carry out Phase 1 habitat surveys, how to write Preliminary Ecological Appraisals and information on a variety of protected UK species. The course is run as a mixture of classroom and field based courses, online classes, optional courses and marked assignments which allow you to cover everything that you need to know when starting out in ecology consultancy. Wanting to get the most out of this experience as possible, I also signed up for the optional four week placement which would be carried out at the Bristol Office. This placement would involve essential on-the-job training and allow me to immerse myself in the field of consultancy and see what was really involved. After signing up for the Certificate course and placement I was keen to start learning as soon as possible. I contacted Steph, the Bristol Branch Manager and enquired to see if there would be any possibility of me volunteering ahead of my placement. To my delight, she arranged a casual meeting at the office to run over my past experience, my suitability and to see what work I could get involved with at the office. We organised for to come in one day a week and help out her and Jo (an ecologist in the office) with surveys and report writing.

Starting in a consultancy

One of the first surveys that I went out on was a Phase 1 Habitat survey. This survey involves visiting a site and assessing what habitats are present, what species are on the site and what potential there is for protected species such as bats and badgers to be using the site. I was amazed by the amount of knowledge that you needed to have to carry out one of these surveys and how much Steph and Jo could decipher from a site. Walking around what looked to me like an ordinary field; Steph was able to list off 30 or more plant species as well as signs of badgers and potential habitats for bats and dormice. I felt quite daunted by how little I knew in comparison but was excited for the opportunity to start learning. Over the next few months I went out on more and more surveys and was soon able to understand different surveys methods as well as how to interpret data and how to use wildlife legislation to decide what outcomes are required for different projects. Working within the office also allowed me to gain valuable experience in seeing how reports were written, how electronic data was obtained and what kinds of queries and questions were normally received from clients. The work was incredibly varied. We would speak with homeowners planning a small loft extension in one phone call and nuclear power stations who were carrying vegetation clearance in the next call. Each case would present its own unique features that required consideration and thought. There is no real typical week in this field and the opportunities to learn are endless.

Job offers

Hannah whitfield dormouse nest
The Acorn Ecology dormouse course

After spending several months undertaking the Certificate in Ecological Consultancy and volunteering part-time within the office, I felt that I had enough experience to begin looking for jobs. In ecology, most survey work is seasonally constrained to the summer months. Due to this, many companies increase their staff workforce over these months and it is common for people to start their ecological careers as temporary field surveyors. It is worth keeping an eye out for jobs around February onwards as companies begin searching for new recruits. I was lucky enough to receive several job offers including one from Acorn Ecology as a temporary assistant ecologist. Every company will offer a different experience. Larger companies may require large amounts of travelling and the opportunity to gain field experience in a range of habitats, whereas smaller companies may offer survey work that is closer to home and more time within the office gaining experience with reporting.

As a side note, it is worth stating that for every consultancy, one thing that is necessary is a car and I found myself having to buy one before being offered any work. Consultancies will require you to be able to drive to sites to meet clients and carry out surveys. Bicycles can be impractical due to the long distances we are often required to travel and the amount of equipment that we need to take and public transport is inadequate due to the remote locations of many sites and the unsociable hours that surveys are often carried out in. When first asking to volunteer with Acorn Ecology, I did not own a car and made it a priority to purchase one over the next few months in order to be able to carry out surveys independently.

Working as an Assistant Ecologist

Having been offered a seasonal job with Acorn Ecology I was happy to accept the position and excited to increase my hours and become even more involved in projects that the company was working on. Going from part-time to full-time was a big jump and I immediately found that I was much more useful as I was present at every stage of a project from the initial client contact to the survey work and reporting and had a much better understanding of how these processes worked. This understanding was crucial when meeting with clients or contractors. They would often have many questions about our work, our time-scales and what outcome we predicted for their site.

Most people are fairly interested in the work that we do and I have met people who are quite excited to find rare and interesting species within their land. However, for many people, the news that they have protected species on their land is very unwelcome. In these cases the work that we do is seen as an inconvenient delay to their project and we are sometimes met with negative attitudes. In these moments, good people skills can often help diffuse unpleasant situations. Clients may have a limited understanding of wildlife and wildlife legislation and can become frustrated by unexpected delays or changes to their project. It is worth reminding people that you are trying to assist them and that it is part of your job to ensure that their planning permission and project go through smoothly by ensuring they do not breach any wildlife legislation. Often people are more understanding when can appreciate the significance of the bat roost or dormouse nest on their land and the reasoning behind your recommendations. However, in this job you should be prepared for the fact that you will not be everybody’s favourite person. It is important therefore to have confidence in your knowledge and decisions and to know that you will have backing from the law and your colleagues when you need it.

Hannah Whitfield trees
You need to love being outside!

In my first season in ecology, I found my colleagues to be a tremendous support to me, taking the time to train me and having the patience and kindness to guide me through the beginning of my career. In this role you will spend a lot of time working very closely with your colleagues, often spending a weeks at a time in shared accommodation working on projects far away from home. It is important that you all have good relationships and trust and respect each other as the work can be tiring and demanding. When you are on your 7th bat survey in a row and are climbing over barbed wire fences in the middle of the night carrying chairs and detectors halfway across a field it is good to know that you can at least have a laugh with the person that you are working with and that you are all in it together.

Gaining a permanent position

After reaching the end of my first season, I unfortunately had to be let go over the winter due to the lack of survey work available at the time. Again, this is quite common and people will often spend one or two years in a temporary position before a company is able to offer them permanent work. 

Steph felt that as I had already spent six months working full time for the company I had a good understanding of how the office was run and had built up a good rapport with her and Jo and offered me a permanent position starting the next March, which again, I happily accepted.

Working within a small company gives unique benefits and I am able to be heavily involved with many parts of running a branch and am able to get a well rounded experience as an ecologist. Over the last year I have gained a vast amount of specific ecological knowledge as well as the experience in the practical elements of surveying and organisational skills required to carry this surveying out successfully. I consider myself very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time when it came to finding the course in ecological consultancy and applying for both my voluntary and paid work. However, I also recognise and am proud of the amount of work that I have had to do get into this position. Getting into ecological consultancy can take time and a great amount of effort but it is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying career and I look forward to the continued opportunities for growth that I know it will offer me.

Acorn Ecology, Field Ecology Courses

What Qualifications do I need for Ecological Consultancy?

I recently gave a career talk on Ecological Consultancy and thought it would make a good subject for a blog. I was asked about qualifications, backgrounds and experience. They are questions we get asked quite regularly so hopefully we can answer a few of them here.

Firstly, there are many roads into this career. As you may know from her book, How to Become an Ecological Consultant, Sue switched careers in her 40’s from being a nurse and a midwife. Our ecologists have come to us straight out of university, after a decade of conservation and from the certificate course.

What qualifications do I need to be an ecological consultant?

Let’s start with the academic qualifications first. Almost every consultancy will look for a degree in a relevant subject, such as biology, zoology, environmental science or ecology. This will let your employer know that you can think a project through and write a report. A scientific background is good, as ecology reports are laid out in a similar way to the reports you would produce in a degree.

What if you don’t have a degree? Or your degree is in something totally different? This will be harder as you will need to evidence your experience elsewhere. You may need to do some work experience or volunteering. This can also be a good way for you to find out more about consultancy and whether you like it enough to put in the hard work it’s going to ask of you!

Work experience

Work experience can mean many things, from voluntary work to courses and events. It’s a list of your different relevant experiences. Much of it is likely to be voluntary, so you will need to decide how long you want to volunteer for, and you need to make sure that you are getting the most out of it. Working for a fantastic organisation, but only ever doing the filing is not going to be any help to you!

How to get work experience

Decide what you want out of your experience. Whether it’s a couple of days or a few months, you need to focus on what you want from it. You can read our blog post about this here.

With a consultancy

Every consultancy is different. Ask around. Find out what sort of jobs you can help them with and what you might get out of it too. You might help them collate all their species records to send to the local records centre and in between you will hopefully get out on a few surveys and learn what’s involved in the job.

Some consultancies have specialities, such as bat work or newts or habitat management. Find out what they do and what you can get involved in.

Wildlife Groups

Every county will have some sort of wildlife group. There are plenty of bat groups, mammal groups, bird groups, the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, and other organisations and charities big and small who will have volunteering opportunities. Some are big commitments, others might be ad hoc. Go along to meetings, chat to other members and join in. Some are far more active than others. As well as leaning from events, it’s a great way to meet people and can often open doors to other opportunities.

Acorn Ecology Bat Licence Training


There are plenty of courses out there. Make sure, if you are paying for a course, that you attend one from someone reputable such as PTES, The Mammal Society, FSC and of course, Ecology Training UK who have been providing training courses for over 10 years (also as Acorn Ecology). There are some free courses and events run by wildlife groups. Ask whether your local group runs these and how you can take part.

Other requirements

A question that comes up often is about driving. It is important to be able to drive to sites. Many sites are remote with no public transport. Plus, often you need to be there at unsociable times of day. If you don’t drive it isn’t always a problem, as many companies send ecologists out in pairs, but it does mean that you are always reliant on someone else. If you can learn to drive, than I would really recommend doing so. If you can’t drive for some reason then you will need to discuss this with potential employers.

Good computer skills are also very useful. Being out on surveys is great, but your survey notes will need typing up too. A good knowledge of Microsoft office is required. You could impress potential employers by doing a touch-typing course. There are plenty available on the internet. Something to keep you busy! Additional skills, such as qGIS or R-stats is always a bonus.

Being able to work long, strange hours, keep positive and motivated and remain professional at all times are all key personality traits. It can be a difficult job in that way. Whether you work with a big consultancy or a small one, you will need to keep going. Remember to look after yourself!

acorn ecology Student blogs

Ecology Training UK’s Certificate Course

10 years ago, Sue launched the Certificate Course, whilst running Acorn Ecology, to be a real alternative to a MSc. You will learn the key skills in courses run by experienced, practising ecologists and get careers advice too. By the time graduation comes along, it is always great to see how confident the students are in their abilities, and to hear about how many of them have already taken steps in their careers and been employed. Students who do the PLUS course and spend 4 weeks in one of the branches always benefit from the experience.

If you would like to find out more about our Certificate Course, take a look on the website.


Even when you are an ecologist, there are always new things to learn. As you progress in your career you will start working towards and gaining your protected species licences, preparing mitigation and getting more specialised. Ecology Training UK runs a handful of advanced courses, looking at the development side of protected species, on the understanding that students are already experienced in survey techniques.

However you get there, we wish you luck embarking on your career as an ecologist. Give luck a helping hand and sign up for an Ecology training course!

Other posts you might like: “How to Write Ecological Reports

Acorn Ecology Online Course

Online Ecology Courses

Winter is here and the field courses are over for another year. That doesn’t mean you have to stop learning! Winter is a great time to tackle your background and baseline knowledge of ecology. Get yourself ready for next survey season with some of these titles.

Acorn Ecology Online CourseWhy do an online course?

Online courses are all the rage at the moment. You can study from the comfort of your own home, at your own speed. Sounds good! But with so many courses out there, you need to be sure you are getting a good one.

Why chose an Ecology Training UK Online Course?

Our courses are written by professional ecologists who have been working in the field of ecology and can draw on their experiences. Their experiences provide the quality course content you expect from Ecology Training UK and it all aims to help you with your field work.

About our coursesecology online courses

We have a range of online courses, which are great if you are starting a career in ecological consultancy or conservation, or if you just need to brush up on a few topics. Each course has a number of modules and a quiz to help you consolidate what you have learned. Complete the quiz and send it back for marking and your certificate. It’s as easy at that.

So, stave off the winter blues by learning to tell Japanese knotweed from Himalayan balsam; how to manage woodland; the basics of population ecology or even why stoats are “stoataly different” from weasels! Treat yourself to an Ecology Training UK Online Course today!

Our course titles are:

Habitat Management (6 modules)

Habitat Restoration (6 modules)

Introduction to Ecology (10 modules)

Invasive Species (9 modules)

Mammal ID (3 modules)

Reptile and Amphibian ID (3 modules)

Click on the links above to get more information about each course.

We’re working on some new courses. Sign up to our newsletter to hear about them as soon as they are available!

Some testimonials from our online courses:

“I absolutely loved this course and am looking forward to doing some further courses!”

“Very good introductory course to learn general ecology ready for Certificate course”

“The course content was excellent and the topics covered were very informative. Anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of ecology would benefit immensely from taking this course. I would highly recommend it!”

“A thought provoking and enjoyable course.”

“I found this course a great introduction to habitat management; the skills needed and the numerous organisations involved in conservation”

I really enjoyed this course. Good value for money. After studying Module 2 I had the confidence to volunteer for three different flora/fauna surveys which is good experience and an opportunity to contribute.”

“This course has given me a good grounding in the theory of practical habitat management. It has allowed me to build on what I already knew and has encouraged me to continue learning about the topic”

otter, ecology courses

Otters – “Otterly Great!”

Otters have had a troubled time over the last few decades but have seen an increase in numbers in recent years. If you are doing any surveys near a riverside environment, it is essential that you know how to identify the signs that an otter is present in the area.Otter course testimonial

Signs may come in the form of spraints or footprints on a river bank, as well as a number of other clues otters leave behind. We run an Otter Ecology and Surveying course in Exeter (see details) where you can learn all about these signs. The course is run by an ecologist who is experienced in all manner of riparian surveys.

The course will cover otter ecology in the training room and then a field trip out to the river to find signs of otter. A student last year described the day as “otterly great!”

About Otters

Acorn Ecology swimming otterOtters (Lutra lutra) are an elusive semi-aquatic species which were once widespread in Great Britain and Europe.  In the 1950s and 1960s the populations of otters declined rapidly and drastically.  It is thought that the use of pesticides such as DDT and Dieldrin, and pollutants such as PCBs, was very common at this time and this resulted in the population declines.

Thankfully the otter population has increased over the last 25 years and their range has expanded across much of England.  Today it is estimated that the population in Great Britain as a whole is 10,300 (Scotland 7,950; England, 1,600; Wales; 750)*.  It is thought that otter population recovery has been most successful in the South West and along the Welsh borders where they had a stronghold during the decline years.

Otters and the Law

Otters are fully protected in the UK by Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) as well as the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (which makes it a European Protected Species). They are protected against killing, injuring, disturbance and their habitat and resting places are also protected. Due to this protection, it is highly important that land owners and developers are aware of the presence of otters, particularly where rivers are present.  If otters are thought to be present on your site or in any surrounding areas then surveys need to be carried out by someone who has training and experience.

Otter surveys

Acorn Ecology otter on bankSurveys for otters can be carried out all year round, but they are most successful in the spring when evidence is usually easier to see as water levels tend to be lower and wet mud is exposed, therefore signs such as tracks may be visible.  Spraints (dung) are also definitive evidence of presence and they are usually deposited on prominent places such as rocks and fallen trees in order to mark their territory.  A number of other indicators are used as well including feeding remains, otter slides (into the water), holts (underground dens) and couches (above ground sites where otters rest during the day ).

*Data from PTES.

Book onto our Otter Course today!

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Smarten up for the Survey Season!

Looking for ecology jobs and want to make a good impression? Heading back to a seasonal job and want to take on more surveys and greater responsibility? Make use of the early training dates and get your extra skills in place before survey season starts.

Here are our courses in March:

Bats in Trees – 29th March in Bristol

bats in treesA great course for anyone wanting to add to their bat ecology skills and knowledge. Perfect if you are working towards your Class licence.

The course will cover bat legislation, use of trees by bats, survey methodologies, how to recognise trees used by, or potentially used by bats, and mitigation that can be used when bats are found to be present.

We will cover assessing trees from the ground and when aerial tree climbing is appropriate.

Bat Sound Analysis using Analook – 4th March – Exeter

Bats use echolocation to get around. Each species makes a slightly different call. Analysing bat calls, by looking at sonograms is a typical element of any ecologist’s work. This course gives you an introduction to one of the software packages used for this – Analook. You will need to bring a computer for the workshop element. You could follow it up with Bat Survey Data: Analysis and Presentation to learn how to present your findings in a report (5th March in Exeter).

Badger Ecology and Surveying – Date TBC near Guildford

acorn ecology badger courseBadgers are starting to emerge from their setts more regularly now, so it’s a great time to start surveying.

The course will cover urban and rural badger ecology and field signs, as well as looking at techniques used for surveying badgers.

During the course we will take a visit to an extensive badger sett where you can practice identifying field signs and mapping a sett.

It’s really easy to book courses through our website.

All our courses are taught by experienced ecologists. To find out more, meet our team.

If you have any questions about our courses, get in touch.

acorn ecology badger course

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 – 29th March 2019

Badger Ecology and Surveying – Guildford – Date TBC

Dormouse Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 3rd May 2019

Otter Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 23rd April 2019

Reptile Surveying and Handling – Exeter – 29th April 2019

You can find details of all these courses HERE.

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.

Phase 1 exeter

What is a Phase 1 habitat survey?

A Phase 1 habitat survey is a system of mapping habitats as a baseline to further survey work and is the industry standard used by ecologists throughout the UK.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has written guidance to the classification of each habitat type. This often refers to the landscape structure (e.g. pH of the soil) and the vegetation present. Each habitat type has a standard definition, an alpha-numeric code and a standardised colour scheme for the map. Target notes are used to provide additional information, or where there is a feature that can’t be mapped.

The JNCC handbook for Phase 1 habitat surveys, which explains all the codes, can be downloaded for free HERE.

What is a Phase 1 Habitat Survey used for?

Phase 1 habitat survey mapThe Phase 1 survey is incredibly useful to identify the habitats on site. In consultancy, we usually carry out an extended Phase 1, as part of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal*. An extended Phase 1 doesn’t just map the habitat types, but includes additional information such as more detail on hedgerows, the potential for protected species to be on site, or a species list of the plants on site.

(*A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal or PEA is a survey that records and maps the baseline ecological conditions of a site and identifies any constraints to a development, such as the presence of protected species. From this, further survey can be recommended where necessary.)

How are they carried out?

The survey consists of a walkover survey. The site is covered by the surveyor, identifying the species on site and assigning the standard codes. The survey needs to be thorough for an extended Phase 1, with anything that may require further survey identified.

Equipment needed for the survey is minimal. An accurate map of the site and a pencil is a good start. A camera, a pair of binoculars and a compass are also invaluable. Many ecologists (including at Acorn Ecology) have taken to using digital recording devices (tablets) and apps to quickly map habitat on site.

Phase 1s are best carried out in the period April-September. This means you will be able to pick up more species, as many plants will have died back over the winter and a true species composition is harder to see.

Experience always helps with these surveys, as with all ecological surveys! Good ID skills are required. You need to know if a plant is rare/common/invasive. If you see animal tracks, do you know what they are? What are the birds on sight, and did you see them or just hear them call?

Why do I need to know this?Phase 1 exeter

A Phase 1 survey, as part of a PEA, should be the first survey on every development site. It will identify the current ecological conditions, before any development occurs, and also flag up any potential impacts the development may have on the wildlife present on the site. It is the base on which all further surveys are built. That makes it pretty important in consultancy! Knowing how to carry out a Phase 1 Habitat Survey, and being able to understand the techniques and maps is a must for any budding ecologist. It helps to have some botany ID, but you can learn the Phase 1 technique while you build your ID skills.

Phase 1 habitat surveys, preliminary ecological appraisal and report writing all form a substantial part of the core week of our Certificate in Ecological Consultancy. They are that important, and form part of the ‘core’ knowledge you will need in consultancy.

Course: Phase 1 Habitat Survey

Courses in Exeter, Bristol and Guildford in 2019

This introductory level course will greatly enhance your understanding of Phase 1 habitat surveys and give you confidence in carrying them out. The field experience gained will be relevant to both consultancy and conservation. Please note, this course usually runs in Bristol, Exeter and Guildford each year and the classroom based part of the course will be the same at all venues.

Course: Preliminary Ecological Appraisal and Report Writing

Courses in Exeter, Bristol and Guildford in 2019

Why not also do the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal Course? This will build on your Phase 1 habitat survey technique and teach you how to turn your survey findings into a comprehensive and professional report.

See what else you could learn with one of our ecology courses.