Corona and courses don’t mix!

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

Image result for hand washing australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Picture courtesy of Polhill Garden Centre

bat course, ecology training, ecology courses

Going ‘Batty’ – spring training courses for bat workers

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


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


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


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


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


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

Acorn Ecology book

Ecology Book Reviews

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

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

Free downloads

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

ID books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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

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

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 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.

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.