Smarten up for the Survey Season!

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

Here are our courses in March:

Bats in Trees – 29th March in Bristol

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

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

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

Bat Sound Analysis using Analook – 4th March – Exeter

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

Badger Ecology and Surveying – Date TBC near Guildford

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

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

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

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

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

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

acorn ecology badger course

Career guidance: Specialising and how to do it

Have you just started out on your ecology path? Perhaps you already have a job as a Trainee Ecologist or Assistant Ecologist, or a couple of seasons of experience under your belt. It is always a good idea to assess your progress at least annually and see what gaps you have in your knowledge.

great crested newt, ecology coursesIt might be a few years down the line until you are a specialist, but it’s worth considering it now, at this early stage in your career, so you can get the groundwork in.  Eventually you will find yourself becoming an expert in a certain area or several areas anyway, driven by your own interests or the major workload of your consultancy. Most teams have a range of specialists in their ranks. So how do you choose one and work towards it?

A good starting point for developing a specialism is to ask yourself ‘what am I really interested in?’ The next question should be ‘is that specialism good for my career? The bulk of consultancy work is with mammals, reptiles, plants, birds, or more specifically bats, badgers, dormice and great crested newts. Specialising in a protected species, or protected group of species, is going to be most beneficial for your career.

In this blog we’ve taken another extract from Sue Searle’s book – How to Become an Ecological Consultant. There is a whole chapter on specialising. Here’s the introduction:

Chapter 10 – Specialising

Although you will probably need to have a go at a bit of everything when you first start, eventually one wildlife subject will catch your interest and you will want to take it further. Many ecological consultants develop a specialism that is the focus of much of their career.

How to become an ecological consultant, by Susan M Searle BSc PGDip MCIEEM (paperback book)Developing a specialism might be a bit beyond the scope of this book, but, as we have just been thinking about goal setting, it makes sense to start thinking about specialising at the beginning of your career. This will help ensure that you will achieve everything you aim for. As long as you are aiming for it, planning it and consistently taking small steps towards it, you can eventually achieve anything you desire.

Some consultants specialise in a certain group of species, such as bats, and can make a comfortable living. However, to work in more diverse environments with a wider range of clients, and even to have a more interesting working life, I think it is good to have general expertise in many fields as well as an in-depth specialism in one thing in particular. In a team it works particularly well to have different specialist areas represented. I advise you avoid specialising too soon though – for instance I know a bat worker who knows no plants. She has always worked only on bats. This concerns me as she may not be able to recognise if she is in an ancient woodland (she cannot identify ancient woodland indicator plants), or even what species of trees are present, and this could be relevant for considering which species of bat may be present and describing the woodland itself for a report. For this reason I think getting a good general grounding to start with is essential. Become an ecologist with experience across species groups when you start out and specialise later.

Book available HERE

It’s difficult to be a really good ecologist if you only know about one thing. So, as a junior you should work on having a good base knowledge of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. With this grounding your specialism may naturally emerge. You might already be passionate about a species or species group, if so, great! Keep learning and gaining experience and in no time you will become an expert.

How can you do this?

Courses are a great way to kick start a new passion or gain skills and knowledge fast so that should be your starting point. Also attend talks, field trips, conferences and seminars, and join local groups – bats, birds, mammals, herps etc. Take an interest in everything ecological and immerse yourself! Wildlife is a lifelong fascination and passion.

Once the spark of a passion is ignited you will progress fast because you are interested, fascinated, motivated and moved to know more.

Here are a few of the courses we think are really important for specialising:

Surveying Trees for Bats – Bristol – 29th March 2019

Badger Ecology and Surveying – Guildford – Date TBC

Dormouse Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 3rd May 2019

Otter Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 23rd April 2019

Reptile Surveying and Handling – Exeter – 29th April 2019

You can find details of all these courses HERE.

If you have any questions about our courses, please get in touch with our team, who are happy to answer your questions. Call us today on 01392366512.

Phase 1 exeter

What is a Phase 1 habitat survey?

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

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

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

What is a Phase 1 Habitat Survey used for?

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

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

How are they carried out?

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

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

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

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

Why do I need to know this?Phase 1 exeter

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

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

Course: Phase 1 Habitat Survey

Courses in Exeter, Bristol and Guildford in 2019

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

Course: Preliminary Ecological Appraisal and Report Writing

Courses in Exeter, Bristol and Guildford in 2019

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

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

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.

 

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!

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?

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