Certificate students get jobs! 7 in one week!

We have heard from 6 of last year’s Certificate students this week that they have got jobs as Graduate or Assistant Ecologists! It has been hard to get jobs over the winter with lockdown as well but these students have been persistent and it has paid off! Well done everyone!!

Milla’s story:

Before starting the Certificate with Ecology Training UK I had undertaken a Master’s in Wildlife Management and a variety of wildlife volunteering. I had a re think about what to do and came across Ecology Training UK Certificate course. I decided to risk spending my overdraft on the course fees to undertake it, and I’m so glad I did. The wide variety of skills taught on the course are consolidated into a clear direction and this structure has directed my haphazard wildlife knowledge into a specific job and career. I was immediately able to work as a freelance wildlife surveyor as a result of the specific training provided, and the course has paid for itself already through this freelance work. I found it hard to feel good enough to put myself out there, but Sue Searle filled me with confidence to be able to send out emails asking consultancies to sub-contract me, and after gaining a variety of different Protected Species survey experiences, doing more volunteering with the Bat Conservation Trust and a zoom course in Kaleidoscope Bat Sound Analysis software I was able to apply for full time consultancy jobs. Now I have been offered a job as Assistant Ecologist for the upcoming survey season and I can’t wait to get started!

Mark says:

“I have just got a job at Jacobs as an Assistant Ecologist! I am really excited for all the opportunities this new job brings and I would never be as far as I am without your [Certificate in Ecological Consultancy] course.

This course has changed the trajectory of my life and everything I’ve learnt has given me a new lens to look at the natural world and be enthralled by its complexity and beauty and see what else there is to learn.

The Certificate course is also a great welcoming net of people who have been in similar positions to me and become successful too, it is a great boost when networking to have that friendly face that has been through the same things and is able to help out too.

Many Thanks,”

Well done to Casey, Milla, Rachel, Mark, Ella, Amberlea, Robyn, Christine, Katherine and Ollie!

If you are interested in finding out more about Certificate in Ecological Consultancy CLICK HERE

Certificate is fully booked this year but if you want to go on our mailing list for next year email ecologytraininguk@gmail.com. We will be taking bookings in December for 2022!

Corona and courses don’t mix!

As I write this on 18th March 2020 the government, due to Corona virus Covid-19, are about to close schools, ban essential travel and possibly put us into lock-down! It makes sense, we all know that, but the reality won’t really hit us until it actually happens. Life will become even more restricted!!

Image result for hand washing australia

Most of our courses here at Ecology Training UK are field-based and at the moment we are probably going to have to cancel field courses in March and April with uncertainty for May and June. Hopefully by the autumn we may be able to run courses normally again. But we are looking at alternatives!

We will be gradually contacting students over the next few days and weeks to offer alternatives. At the moment we are preparing to deliver the ‘classroom’ bit of our courses via webinar with the field element happening when restrictions allow, possibly in late summer or early autumn. That way people can still start to gain skills and knowledge and would have something to do in this ‘quiet’ period.

We also have a range of online courses already available and we are constantly working on new ones coming online – so if you are in lock-down – get learning!

The webinars will be more interactive and so you can ask questions and we can share knowledge and tips with you, recommend further reading and study and suggest ways to implement your learning with practice.

Keep safe, keep washing your hands, keep isolated where possible!

One good thing about all this is that the wildlife will get some peace and quiet so they will have a great spring summer!

Image result for happy wildlife
Picture courtesy of Polhill Garden Centre

bat course, ecology training, ecology courses

Going ‘Batty’ – spring training courses for bat workers

In February Ecology Training UK is running 3 courses that might be of interest to anyone who already has some bat experience and wants to learn even more!

3rd February – How to write an EPSL for bats (your tutor Sue Searle, has written over 70 EPSLs in her career and will share some tips and take you through the process). Devon

4th February – Getting to know the planning system – every wondered how the planning system works and what the ecologist’s role is within it? Then join us for this interesting course. Devon

10th February – Surveying trees for bats – learn all the terms and techniques for surveying trees and try out your new skills with a field visit. Devon

17th February – Bats and Developments – learn about bat mitigation techniques for various species. Devon

Go to our Courses section and book your courses there. https://ecologytraining.co.uk/book-a-course/

reptile survey

Reptile Surveys – A Brief Guide

In the UK there are 6 different species of reptile; three snakes and three lizards. These animals play an important role in proper ecosystem functioning through controlling insect and rodent population numbers. Reptiles are also a source of food for many animals including hedgehogs, badgers and birds, but unfortunately all populations in the UK are in decline to some degree. Reptiles are protected under the UK judiciary system and it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill or injure each of the species.  The sand lizard and smooth snake, which are very rare, are further protected and require a licence when carrying out a survey in an area with known populations of each species.

The Ecology Training UK reptile course is designed to provide you with all the information to carry out a survey. There are also field visits and a chance to handle reptiles. You can find out more HERE.

Carrying out a survey

Initial Preparation

When preparing for a survey the first thing which needs to be determined is the type of investigation you wish to carry out. There are three types: presence/absence, population numbers, and monitoring.  This guide will focus on presence/absence surveys, which as the name suggests aims to determine whether reptiles are present on the site. Once the survey type is established, permission must be obtained from the land owner or manager of the site. It is a good idea before visiting the site to carry out a desk based study of reptile populations in the local area. This may have been undertaken at the preliminary Ecological Appraisal stage. The local records centre holds records and there will also be records on resources such as MAGIC map.  Preparing a map of the site and a survey form, in which sightings can be recorded (dates, species, number, location etc.) is also essential before carrying out the survey.

Survey Procedure

Surveying for reptiles is challenging because they are highly secretive and often camouflaged, with relatively low population densities. The time of year and day are restricted when carrying out surveys, as activity levels in the winter and hot months of the summer are low, making reptiles difficult to detect. It is a good idea before carrying out a survey to familiarise yourself with the basic behavioural ecology of each of the 6 UK reptile species, as this will make finding and identifying them much easier.

Reptiles are active from March to October. May, April and September the best times of the year to spot them, and during this time lizards bask in the morning from around 8.30 – 11.00 am, then from 5.00 – 6.30 pm (depending on the weather).

There are two methods for carrying out a presence/absence survey and these are designed to work in conjunction with one another– Direct Observation and Establishing Refuges.

Direct Observation

Direct Observation is the process of searching for reptiles on site. Reptiles can be found in a wide range of habitats from grass and heather heathland to suburban wasteland, but following some general rules can increase your chance of identification. Reptiles are ectotherms, this means that they require energy from the sun to warm them up in order carry out their general activity. They bask in the mornings and evenings; identifying these ‘Basking Spots’ is key to finding reptiles on a site.

‘Basking Spots’ are generally covered in short vegetation and are close to places of refuge where reptiles can hide, such as hedges or banks. When searching for reptiles tread lightly and slowly, ideally with the sun in front of you (shadows falling on lizards can scare them away immediately), and listen out for any rustling sounds. Binoculars which are able to focus in a close range can be very useful for species identification.

Establishing Refuges

Creating artificial basking refuges is a method used to increase the chance of determining the presence of reptiles on a site. These provide suntraps so to allow the reptile to warm up, therefore need to be made from materials with good conductivity such as tin or black bitumen sheets. The recommended size of a refuge is 0.5m2; these should be placed on potential ‘Basking Spots’. The number of refuges set up will depend on the size of the site under investigation. When carrying out a presence/absence survey 5-10 refuges per hectare is considered adequate. It is often more for consultancy, and depends on the project.  Seven visits are the minimum number required to determine with reasonable confidence the presence or absence of lizards, and can also indicate the size of the population (low-high). Visits should be carried out when the weather is most conducive to spotting basking reptiles. The weather should be warm and dry with little wind, ranging in temperature from 9-18ᵒC, long periods of cold followed by warm weather are ideal. To check the refuge lift one side up vertically, wearing gloves if adders are likely present, be sure to be sure to place the refuge back in the same spot. Peek underneath and record what you see.

What To Record

Record the location of each reptile sighting on your map, the species, number of each species, and the amount of time spent searching. You also need to record the life stage (adult/juvenile) and the sex, to establish if there is a breeding population on site. Determining absence of reptiles on a site is very difficult, the term ‘likely absence’ is therefore commonly used instead.

We run a reptile surveying course at Ecology Training UK that will teach you how to carry out a survey, as described above. You will also learn how to identify each of our reptile species and how to age and sex them. The Exeter course includes snake handling too! Take a look to find out more.


Preliminary Ecological Appraisal PEA Acorn Ecology

What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)?

A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, or PEA, is the initial scoping assessment of an area of land, for its potential to support protected species, based on the habitats it supports and signs of protected species.  PEA’s are required to inform what further surveys for protected species are required, as part of the planning process.  The aim of a PEA is to gather as much information about the site and the surrounding area, so that the potential impacts of the proposed development on designated sites for nature conservation, protected species and habitats can be assessed.  This is achieved through a two-part process: a desk study and a Phase 1 habitat survey.  

A desk study involves obtaining historical ecological records, so that, as an ecologist, you can assess the likelihood of protected species being present on site and the impacts of the development on ecologically important sites and habitats in the surrounding area.  By contacting the local biodiversity records centre, records can be obtained (usually no more than 10 years old) within at least 1 km radius of the site.  The data search will provide you with a list of statutory and non-statutory designated sites and a list of protected, notable and invasive species, with a 4 or 6 figure grid reference. 

JNCC Handbook What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal

The next step is to visit the site and conduct a Phase 1 habitat survey.  It is important that prior to visiting any site that you have permission from the land owner to be on site and you have a full risk assessment in place.  A Phase 1 habitat survey provides a ‘snapshot’ of the current conditions of the site and is a technique used by ecologists to map habitats and record species as a baseline for further survey work, in accordance with Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) guidelines ‘Handbook for Phase 1 Habitat Survey’.  These guidelines list the different habitats, which can be found in the UK and a definition for each habitat.  Ecologist can use these guidelines to effectively identify which habitats are present on site.  Once identified, the habitats need to be outlined in a map to provide a visual representation of the site. 

Phase 1 map What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal
JNCC PHase 1 codes What is a preliminary ecological appraisal PEA

The JNCC handbook also provides a key for each habitat type with their own colour coding, making mapping the habitats transparent and consistent.  The objective of a Phase 1 habitat survey is to also record the dominant flora and signs of protected species present on site.  The ecologist can then assess the site for its potential to support protected species.  For instance, kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) could be recorded on a calcareous semi-improved grassland which could attract breeding small blue butterflies (Cupido minimus) which are a species of principal importance.  Even though the small blue butterfly may not be recorded during the survey, the site itself has potential to support them.  Similarly, it is important to record any features, which could support protected species such as log piles or woodpecker holes in a tree.  These should be noted as a target note on the map.  Further information on what a Phase 1 habitat survey is can be found on our website.     

Blue butterfly Acorn Ecology

The final step in the process is to present your findings to the client in a report and inform them of any further survey work, recommendations and mitigation, that are required.  If the site has potential to support protected species, then further protected species surveys are required to fully establish if protected species are present and whether they will be impacted on by the proposed development.  The results of these further surveys and subsequent assessment are required to inform the planning application.  Further information on protected species ecology and survey courses can be found on our website.  

CIEEM Guidelines what is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal PEA

A PEA is an essential scoping survey that ecologists undertake regularly and is the first step in understanding the sites nature conservation value.  Further information on the CIEEM guidelines for PEA’s can be found on their website.  Here at Ecology Training UK, all of our ecologists are experienced in carrying out PEA’s and offer introductory courses at each of our branches for anybody who wishes to learn how to carry out a PEA. You can find them, along with our full range of courses on our website.  

Acorn Ecology book

Ecology Book Reviews

As an ecologist you are going to need some reference books. But with SO MANY books out there, how do you know where to spend your money and get the most out of it?

Number one on our recommendation list is How to Become an Ecological Consultant by Sue Searle. It’s full of tips and advice on how to make it in this competitive business, with plenty of career advice too.

Free downloads

Here’s some good news – you don’t need to break the bank or have an endless book budget (although that WOULD be fantastic, wouldn’t it?!). You can get digital copies of lots of useful reference material for FREE! It includes some of the most important, such as the Bat Surveys: Good Practice Guidelines, produced by the Bat Conservation Trust, The Dormouse Conservation Handbook, The Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook and the Phase 1 Habitat Survey Handbook, amongst others. So that’s a good start! Follow the links to download them.

ID books

Botany books are all a bit different, and most people tend to prefer one over another.  Here are some of our favourites:

Collins Pocket Guide – Wild Flowers, by Fitter, Fitter and Blamey. Very easy to use, with a good introduction to flower shape and colour. This is usually our first port of call if there’s something we don’t recognise.

The Wild Flower Key, by Francis Rose. This book offers a key at each section to help you identify the plant with beautiful illustrations. His book on Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns is also good, for when you’re ready to advance a level.

There are plenty of ID books on trees out there, but the Collins guide hasn’t failed me yet!

The Beginner’s Botany course (run in Exeter and Hampshire) can give you a good grounding in plant ID as well as training you in the best way to use your ID book. Learn the families and recognise their characteristics so you can go straight to the right section in your book, rather than flicking through all of it.

The RSPB have published a number of books. Go for one that suits your level of knowledge and tells you what you need to know. As with many of these books, as you get better, you may want to replace your basic ID book with something a bit more technical.

There are so many books on bats. There are a few very good ones. We would recommend what may seem like a simple starting point – the FSC chart. It gives you loads of information on the back and when you come to ID, it does the job and it simple to use.

A good tracks and signs book can be very useful. There’s an FSC chart, which covers most eventualities! Explore tracks and signs on our Survey Techniques for Protected Species course in Exeter.

We have a range of the FSC charts in our training room in Exeter, so you can pick them up while on a course with us.


If you think you may end up doing a significant bit of sound analysis, a worthy investment is Bat Calls by John Russ. It is in almost constant use here during the summer when the students are learning sound analysis! It’s what we recommend during our Introduction to Bat Sound Analysis course.

Amphibian and Reptile Habitat Management books are available, again, as you’ll be glad to hear, as free downloads. These are published by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. They give information about the species you will find, and information on how to create and manage habitats to support them. For field visits to sites, have a look at our Ecology and Surveying courses for reptiles or great crested newts.

Remember, an ID book in your pocket is a great start, but unless you know how to use it, it can only help you so far. Get a helping hand from an expert ecologist on an Acorn Ecology Training Course. See our range of courses HERE.

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 gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reference-to-support-a-protected-species-licence/protected-species-licences-guidance-on-getting-references-to-support-applications.  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: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-crested-newts-survey-or-research-licence-level-1

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