botany course

Time to Review

How to Become an Ecological ConsultantAt the start of this season we posted a blog about setting your goals for 2017. In fact, it’s such an important subject, we wrote two! The first blog gave you suggestions on what you could do over a summer to improve your skills. The second encouraged you to set your goals, both short term and long term, with an extract from Sue’s book – How to Become an Ecological Consultant.

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 – Specificdormouse, ecology training

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.

Sue Searle Acorn EcologyWhat could you do differently next year? Boost those skills with an Acorn Ecology course. We have introductory courses on a wide range of ecological topic, advanced courses on protected species and development and online courses too!

If you’re not sure what course is right for you, get in touch with our friendly staff on training@acornecology.co.uk, or give our Exeter office a call on 01392 366512 for some advice.

 

Diary of a Guildford placement – Kathryn

Kathryn has just finished her 4 week Certificate course work placement in the Guildford office … as you will see, she had a very busy four weeks, but finished smiling, having confirmed that this is what she wants to do! Continue reading “Diary of a Guildford placement – Kathryn”

Acorn certificate student

Bats and “snakes”!

Natasha, one of our first Certificate students this year has been on her placement, here in the Exeter Office, for three weeks now. Here she talks a bit about her experiences and what she’s been up to.

 

A month in the life of an ecologist

Acorn Certificate Course Bats in loft
Natasha and India with brown long-eared bats

Small brown bodies huddle against the rafter. Long ears hang down. Small inquisitive eyes peer in the red torch glow. We get the callipers ready and carefully measure the tragus (the inner part of the ear): 4.3 mm. It’s a brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus). Relatively common but an exciting find for our first ever roost visit – up inside an old primary school loft. “It’s not often you find live bats. Usually just the droppings” Colin says. It’s our lucky day!!

 

Back in the office, we map the bat locations, droppings, and potential entrance/exit points. There’s a lot to think about. These maps and notes will inform the next steps: emergence surveys and mitigation options.

Acorn student slow worm
Natasha with the “snake”

A few days later, we are out in a field. Long grass. Brambles and nettles biting at our ankles. We are on a reptile hunt. It’s our second visit to this site and I have high hopes after our first survey with toads and a short-tailed vole. Not the target species we were hoping for… but nonetheless exciting finds for an amateur. Lifting the square black reptile mats slowly, my eyes dart over the ground looking for movement. Nothing. Next mat, nothing. Next mat, “snake” my brain shouts. A legless brown reptile lies curled on the grass, half the length of my arm. Jess comes running over and laughs at my mistake. It’s a pregnant slow-worm (Anguis fragilis). I can’t stop smiling. I found something cool under the mat.

 

Stars shine brightly overhead. It’s 3am and I am waiting in a carpark. Fridays are dawn survey days. Another car pulls up and I clamber in, armed with coffee and lots of layers. 4am. We arrive at the coast and stop in front of a house. Everything is silent. We glide up the path and across the lawn. Two of our team wait out the front, while me and Colin head for the back. Out come our detectors, and right on schedule, we are set up and ready for any incoming bats. The wind whistles and the faint calls of seagulls break the silence. No bats. It’s getting lighter now. A bird swoops past. We look up to see a tawny owl perched on the neighbouring house. My first wild owl in this part of the world. It more than makes up for a bat-free bat survey.

Office time again. Patterns of dots and lines flit across the screen. We are getting our first lesson in Analook. Finding order in the chaos is an art. Slowly but surely, we skim through the sound files. Looking up sonogram patterns and matching the bats. A few thousand more and it’ll be easy. It’s a work in progress but we still have time.

Acorn certificate student bat detector
Natasha setting up a static detector

Natasha has one more week to go on her placement. She is doing really well and has learnt loads in the last three weeks. Next week we have more bat surveys for her to be involved in and lots more reptile work. We haven’t found an actual snake yet, but there’s a few more days to go!

Pipstrelle bat sound analysis

Bat Sound Analysis

What is bat sound analysis?

On every bat survey a detector is used that will record the calls of passing bats. This can be during an emergence survey, to confirm the species of the emerging bat, or during an activity survey, or very often as a static detector, which will record all bat passes over a number of nights. The data is not stored as sound files, such as you might hear through a heterodyne detector, but in a way that produce sonograms. A sonogram is a representation of a sound on a graph.

Each species produces different sounds and all look different when on a graph. Sometimes these differences are extreme, sometimes very subtle. Bat Sound Analysis is the process of looking through these data and seeing what species are on site.

Here at Acorn Ecology we use the software Analook. This is software that is used by many consultancies.

Why learn bat sound analysis?

Much of your time as a Trainee or Assistant Ecologist (and beyond) will be spent analysing sonograms of bats from your survey sites. There can be as many as 3000+ sound files recorded in one night, by one static detector. Multiply this up so that you have two or three detectors on site, for five nights at a time. Then put these out on site on a monthly basis throughout the summer and you suddenly have a LOT of sound files – and that’s just one site! Having the skill to analyse them is a real advantage in what is a very competitive job market.

What do these files look like?

Pipstrelle bat sound analysisHere’s a couple of examples: Pipistrelles at the top, and greater horseshoe below.

GHS bat sound analysis

So if you want to be able to tell your Myotis from your barbastelles, and your horseshoes from your noctules, come on the Acorn Ecology Introduction to Sound Analysis Course!

This course will teach you how to get started with Analook, one of the most common pieces of software. (The fundamentals of the course are easily transferrable to other software packages too).

The course covers:

  • How bats use sound
  • An introduction to using Analook
  • Recognising typical UK bat species sonograms
  • Produce statistics for your report
  • Practice sessions on your own laptop

Much of the course is a practical workshop. We want you to go away feeling confident in your identification skills!

We have expanded this course and we now run a second day, Bat Survey Data: Analysis and Presentation. This course will teach you how to present your data in reports and analyse how bats are using your site. It usually runs the following day from the bat sound analysis course.

Give us a call on 01392 366512 or visit www.ecologytraining.co.uk today for more information.

Acorn Ecology Logo

New grey long-eard bat roost record

Did you hear our news?Acorn Ecology Logo

As you may have read in our previous blog post on our website, we found a grey long-eared bat in a roost in East Devon and confirmed the species with DNA analysis. We are pleased that yet another record, some miles away, has been found.

There are thought to be only between 1000 – 3000 grey long-eared bats in the UK. This species is rarely recorded, giving it a very rough population estimate. There is little data about their range, but records show that they are confined to coastal areas in the extreme south of the UK, with a couple of records from South Wales.

Conducting DNA analysis of droppings at long-eared bat roosts is important for discovering more about this rare species. Grey long-eared bats (Plecotus austriacus) and brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus) are very similar in many ways and can be difficult to distinguish from one another under normal survey conditions.

Read the full article HERE.

Acorn Ecology course view

How to make Volunteering work for you

Acorn Ecology Online CourseVolunteering is a particularly valuable way to gain experience to prepare for a career in ecology. However, a word of caution, it may be easy to find a volunteering job but make sure it works for you and your objectives. It is no good working for a wildlife organisation when you are only stuffing envelopes! As a volunteer you need to focus on the results you want to achieve. For consultancy you really need to be getting involved in surveying and developing field skills.

You can use your spare time wisely and enjoy yourself too! If you are still at University really focus on the time you have off to get some valuable experience under your belt rather than just working or doing nothing. It is amazing how much experience you can accrue in your free time.Acorn ecology field work

Your time is precious and you must be sure that the volunteering is giving YOU something in return. Good organisations to get in touch with are local Wildlife Trusts, Bat Groups, Amphibian and Reptile Groups, National Trust, RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology groups, and any other local wildlife groups. Not only do you get the opportunity to get some valuable experience and help the conservation effort in your local area but also you are in a key place to meet other like-minded people and people of influence. This will come in handy when you are looking for jobs – there is that old saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ The conservation world is a small world!

Acorn Ecology course viewIdentify your objectives for the volunteering – is it to increase knowledge, gain a new skill or make new contacts?

You can also make up your own volunteering. For example, offer to do a wildlife survey of a local site for the landowner, or maybe contact local ecological consultancies and offer to lend a hand. Here at Acorn Ecology we have interns here most of the year and now we have two new branches we have capacity for many more!

Try not to see volunteering as just ‘working for nothing’ but as a valuable free way to get some much needed experience. Many people find this is the only route into ecology coupled with training courses.

You could take a training course and bring a skill to your volunteering. For example, many consultancies need help with bat sound analysis over the year. Why not do our introduction to bat sound analysis course, then volunteer your skill to a consultancy and keep learning? After a while you’ll be great at it and it’s a brilliant skill to have on your CV!

Need some help starting on that site survey for a local landowner or charity group? A Phase 1 survey might be just the thing. We run a Phase 1 habitat survey course from all our branches. Learn the technique with us and then put it into practice by volunteering. They will be getting a survey for free, and think about the identification skills and confidence YOU will be gaining from it!

For more hints and tips on getting into Ecological Consultancy as a career why not read ‘How to become and ecological consultant’ by Sue Searle, Principal Ecologist at Acorn Ecology Ltd.

Acorn Ecology courses, Certificate course

Set Your Goals – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago we posted a blog about starting your training – setting your goals and making plans. How are you finding it? Here at Acorn Ecology we know how hard it can be starting out on your career as an ecologist. There’s just so much to learn and so much to do. It never feels as though there’s enough time to do everything! Be focussed. Know what you want to achieve. Set your goals for this week and for 5 years time. You may find this extract from Sue’s book, How to be an Ecological Consultant useful:

Make a plan

Most people do not have much of a plan for their careers. In fact it is said that people spend longer planning their holidays than their lives, longer planning the birth than the childhood, and longer planning the wedding than the marriage!

Where do you want to be in 10 years? For example – running your own consultancy could be your 10 year goal. Then a 5 year goal, to get to that 10 year goal, might be – senior ecologist specialising in bats and badgers. Write it down. Starting with the end in mind makes you far more focused.  Once you have a clear picture of your destination your journey is much more rapid and directional, you can then start to plan and achieve the steps to getting there – it is like going on a car journey, knowing where you are going and taking a map. Without a destination in mind you would not even know which way to turn out of the drive!  As we have already discussed in the CPD section*, you can now plan your training each year to align to your long-term goals.

I have a technique for planning the various aspects of my life and since I have been using it I have achieved 100 times more than before and have become totally focused on achieving those goals.

Start by writing down your 5 year goal and then write down your assumptions and where you are right now.  Then start to work out where you will need to be in 4 years, 3 years, 2 years, 1 year, 9 months and 6 months. Finally write down what you need to do in the next 3 months to start getting you to that end goal. Although your 5 year goal may seem massive and difficult to achieve, you simply need to take small steps consistently over time in the right direction to achieve your goal. Set the goal, plan the steps, then work the plan by taking action.

*CPD is continued professional development. There is always more to learn in ecology and you will continue learning through your career.

Sue’s book is available to buy from us. Email us on training@acornecology.co.uk or call us on 01392 366512 to order.

Acorn Ecology Training Courses, ecology trainingHere are some tips to setting goals:

  1. Be specific. Vague goals are hard to stick to.
  2. Be able to track your progress and make sure you monitor it!
  3. Make your goals achievable (aim high, but not out of reach).
  4. Give yourself a time limit and stick to it!

Make your goals manageable, measureable, and achievable. You can check yourself every few weeks to see if you’re on course. You’ll be there before you know it.

How can Acorn Ecology help?

Whatever your goal, one of our courses can help you achieve it. We have a large range of courses on all aspects of ecology, whether you need to up your survey skills, or your reporting skills. Have you identified that gap in your knowledge? What can you do this week to get on your way?

reptile course

Set Your Goals For This Year!

What do you want to achieve this year? Here are a few tips on what you can do if you are just starting out in the world of ecology.

You could book onto our Certificate in Ecological Consultancy Course. We look forward to welcoming this year’s students to their core week in April, where they will start by learning about phase 1 habitat surveys, protected species surveys and report writing.

This year, as usual, we will be following the progress of our students in our blogs and photos, in which they will share their experiences of making their first footsteps into the world of ecology.

Are you just starting out as an ecologist? What can you do to get that all important practical experience? Now is the time to start thinking about what you need to do. Why not sit down and make a plan. Write a list of what you want to achieve this year; pinpoint your weaknesses; formulate a plan of how you can reach your goals. Here are a few tips:

Join your local wildlife groups

There is a wealth of experience and knowledge in local wildlife groups. Look up your county bat group, mammal group or bird group. You may also have botany or reptile groups in your area. Get in touch and see what they do. From talks to field trips and days out they can help you build up your knowledge.

Volunteerbotany course

As well as going to events organised by local groups, why not see if there is a volunteering scheme? The Wildlife Trusts, The National Trust, RSPB and other organisations often run outdoor volunteering groups. These can help you with habitat management and species identification, while giving something back to your community.

Study

It’s early yet, but as the year progresses get a plant ID book and go and identify everything you can! It’s daunting, but the more work you put in, the better you will get. Until it warms up a bit outside, why not go to your local library and see what books they have? There are loads of great books written about British wildlife.

Why not check out our bookshop.

Take a course

Where can you find great courses about ecology? Here of course! We have a range of short courses and longer online courses to help you fill in the gaps in your knowledge and experience. Whether you need to learn about protected species surveys, dormouse ecology or bat surveys, we can help. Look at our selection online or get in touch with us if you’d like to know more.

Good luck. We hope to see you on a course with us soon.

bat course, ecology training, ecology courses

Trainees at work – your first job

Testimonials from our students at Acorn Ecology TrainingAs a trainee you are likely to get the time-consuming surveys such as reptile surveys, newt surveys and bat activity surveys (after training of course). If you have a problem with reptiles – snakes in particular – you may need to get yourself desensitised by just doing it and getting experience, or having a re-think.  Could you catch an adder?

We run a reptile surveying and handling course that has cured many of snake phobia – it’s amazing how quickly something scary becomes routine after you’ve done it a few times. These surveys often require basic skills and don’t require licences but give you the feeling that you are learning a new skill, doing something useful and generating income for the practice. For the senior staff it means that they can concentrate on more complex tasks or projects.

Hopefully you will also be given the opportunity to go out with more senior consultants and will quickly pick up information and experience that will stand you in good stead for developing your career.  Obviously if you are interested, enthusiastic and willing to put in some time to do background reading you will get a lot more from this experience than if you just do the minimum and don’t ask your colleagues questions.

Don’t forget that you MUST spend as much time as possible developing your identification skills (particularly botany) – colleagues can help but in the end this information has to go into your head and only you can put it there. This is where some personal effort and dedication will pay real dividends.

You will often be taken out on surveys just for health and safety cover. For example bat work at night, working around water, or maybe to help carry equipment. This is an excellent time to chat to your colleagues and find out about how they developed their career, ask any questions about the survey method, what you are finding, what they might advise and any other burning questions you have.

If you are working for a big consultancy you may be required to travel a lot too, again a good time to talk to a colleague.  Maybe discuss the legal aspects of findings and what advice will be given. Getting to grips with the legal side of our advice is one of the most difficult things to master and takes time.

We have developed templates for our survey reports and this ensures a consistent product and also saves time. In your first job you may be asked to complete simple reports at first and gradually do more and more complicated ones.  Good drawing and IT skills are useful as most reports have some sort of sketch map or you may need diagrams of mitigation suggestions. New trainees often start by doing the map and preparing a results table to go into the report. Some ability to use a digital camera, download photos and re-size them helps as most reports also include photos.

As you gain more experience, under the guidance of your senior colleagues, and backed up with your own studies, you will soon be able to tackle more varied tasks.  Remember your senior staff should want you to gain as much experience as possible – you will then be far more useful!

The great thing about this career is that there is always something new to learn!

You might find it useful to read CIEEM’s student documents at: http://www.cieem.net/students-careers

Excerpt fromHow to Become and Ecological Consultant by Sue Searle BSc, PGDip, MCIEEM available from our shop

How to become an ecological consultant, by Susan M Searle BSc PGDip MCIEEM (paperback book)

How to Become an Ecological Consultant

How to become an ecological consultant second editionPrinciple Ecologist and Managing Director of Acorn Ecology Sue Searle has written a career guide: ‘How to become an ecological consultant’ and we will be producing some blogs with excerpts from the book.

Sue started her career as a nurse and midwife and then did her ecology training…

A typical week:

There is no typical day, or even season, in my career now. Ecological consultancy has got to be one of the most interesting, varied, intellectual and challenging jobs around. Last week, for instance, I closed a badger sett, carried out a dawn and two dusk bat surveys, did a ditch dipping session with some local children, found a dormouse in a hedge and explained to a client the implications of having a bat maternity roost in their loft if they wanted to demolish their house. I also wrote several reports and, as part of the running the business, spoke to clients, did quotes, accounts, correspondence, marketing, paid bills, VAT and wages and helped my staff with their work. Quite a week! Each day is just as interesting, challenging and varied. I would not give up this career for the world, it’s great, and it certainly doesn’t seem like work most of the time. I have been an ecological consultant since 2003 when I set up my own business, Acorn Ecology Limited.

Why ecological consultancy?

One burning question you may have at this point is how or why did I decide to become an ecologist? I will cover this later as we explore what might motivate you to become an ecologist. Simply, I was always interested in wildlife, particularly plants, mammals, reptiles and insects and I love being outdoors. My early years were spent in Africa and as a child my mother could not get me to come indoors!

When I left school in 1976 ecology was not on the radar as a career. It was not until much later, in the 1990s, that I realised I could make a career of wildlife and what I needed to do to get there. Ecological consultancy became a more precise goal towards the end of my first degree, but more on that later.

What will you gain from this book?Sue Searle book 2018

As a person who is presumably thinking of becoming an ecological consultant I hope that by reading this book you will gain some insight into what the job entails and what challenges you might expect.

This book is written to help you make a start in a career as an ecological consultant. You may have just completed a degree or may be looking for a change in career like I did. Finding a job in this sector can be hard, especially if you have no experience.

This book will tell you what you need to know to get started as a professional ecologist; what academic skills you will need; how to learn the valuable skills you’ll need to work with wildlife; how to gain the right kind of practical experience; and how to demonstrate your knowledge in the right way to impress employers. I will also cover how to present your CV and yourself, when job hunting. It covers what to expect in your first job, goal setting, career planning and, later in your career, specialising.”

The book is was published in April 2011, and thousands of copies have been sold! It is back with a second edition (2018). You can order yours from Amazon, or from our book shop.