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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Why 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 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!
“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”
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.
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!”
Otters (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.
Surveys 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 ).
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.
A 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.
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
Badgers 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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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.
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
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?
The 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?
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.
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.
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.
But here’s the thing. Setting goals isn’t difficult. Reviewing them and measuring progress is a lot harder. So now that we’re well into November and the survey season is feeling like a distant memory, it’s time to review your goals.
Dig out that “to do” list. How did you get on with your short-term goals? Did you attend the training courses? Did you join those groups? Can you ID your target number of plant species?
If you did, then well done! If not, then don’t despair, you won’t be alone in this. Either way, you still need to review your plan.
Here’s how to review:
Work out what did and didn’t happen on your list. Add anything you achieved that wasn’t on there (an extra training session you attended, or a last-minute conference).
Look at what’s left on your list of goals and check they are still relevant. You need to be flexible. Maybe you discovered a passion for bats and you now want to become a bat specialist! Keep the central points of your plan the same, but don’t be afraid to change the details.
How hard were these goals to achieve? A bit easy? Make next year more challenging. Too hard and you only managed half of them? Don’t get dispirited, make next year more achievable.
What did you cover? Have you become an expert in dormice, but only learnt a dozen new plants all year? Spend some time working out why and what you can do to fix this imbalance next year. Even dormouse experts need botany!
Write up your goals for 2018. Learn from your achievements this year and go forward. Stick with the SMART method of goal setting.
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound
Remember to set goals that are enjoyable! Have fun, keep learning and remember to review regularly to stay on track.