We run a range of online self-study courses (22 to be exact!) for people interested in ecology and wildlife so you can study at home! All our online self-study courses are fully operating so BOOK NOW!! Learn new skills and gain new knowledge with these carefully put together courses prepared by professional, highly qualified and experienced ecologists.
Most of the courses are weekly modules sent out automatically but in the current circumstances we can send all the module links on request so you can study faster. Courses are 1-10 modules and our NEW ones are video based giving you real experiential material!
Phase 1 Habitat mapping
Surveying for Protected species
Introduction to Bats
Surveying Buildings for Bats
Activity Surveys for Bats
Woodland Management for Biodiversity
Introduction to Ecology
Reptile and Amphibian ID and surveying
Bats: Architectural terms for bat workers
Bats: Health and Safety for bat workers
Also separate Ecology and Surveying courses for: Otters, Badgers, Reptiles, Beavers and Dormice
New courses are being added regularly! Book NOW on the Online Courses section of the website.
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!!
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!
Congratulations to our newest Certificate in Ecological Consultancy Graduates! The exam and graduation day yesterday was a great event and everyone passed their exam! Certificates were handed out in the afternoon to cheers and whistles! Five students gained Distinction for their marked assignments and Edward Lim was awarded Student of the Year with the highest overall marks of all the students including 99% in the exam. Well done Ed!
After 8 months of assignments, field courses, self-study courses and the exam the Certificate in Ecological Consultancy 2019 is finally completed! It has been hard work for everyone but they have all gained a huge amount of new skills, knowledge and confidence. Well done everyone!
In the UK there are 6 different species of reptile; three snakes and three lizards. These animals play an important role in proper ecosystem functioning through controlling insect and rodent population numbers. Reptiles are also a source of food for many animals including hedgehogs, badgers and birds, but unfortunately all populations in the UK are in decline to some degree. Reptiles are protected under the UK judiciary system and it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill or injure each of the species. The sand lizard and smooth snake, which are very rare, are further protected and require a licence when carrying out a survey in an area with known populations of each species.
The Ecology Training UK reptile course is designed to provide you with all the information to carry out a survey. There are also field visits and a chance to handle reptiles. You can find out more HERE.
Carrying out a survey
When preparing for a survey the first thing which needs to be determined is the type of investigation you wish to carry out. There are three types: presence/absence, population numbers, and monitoring. This guide will focus on presence/absence surveys, which as the name suggests aims to determine whether reptiles are present on the site. Once the survey type is established, permission must be obtained from the land owner or manager of the site. It is a good idea before visiting the site to carry out a desk based study of reptile populations in the local area. This may have been undertaken at the preliminary Ecological Appraisal stage. The local records centre holds records and there will also be records on resources such as MAGIC map. Preparing a map of the site and a survey form, in which sightings can be recorded (dates, species, number, location etc.) is also essential before carrying out the survey.
Surveying for reptiles is challenging because they are highly secretive and often camouflaged, with relatively low population densities. The time of year and day are restricted when carrying out surveys, as activity levels in the winter and hot months of the summer are low, making reptiles difficult to detect. It is a good idea before carrying out a survey to familiarise yourself with the basic behavioural ecology of each of the 6 UK reptile species, as this will make finding and identifying them much easier.
Reptiles are active from March to
October. May, April and September the best times of the year to spot them, and
during this time lizards bask in the morning from around 8.30 – 11.00 am, then
from 5.00 – 6.30 pm (depending on the weather).
There are two methods for
carrying out a presence/absence survey and these are designed to work in
conjunction with one another– Direct
Observation and Establishing Refuges.
Direct Observation is the process of searching for reptiles on site. Reptiles can be found in a wide range of habitats from grass and heather heathland to suburban wasteland, but following some general rules can increase your chance of identification. Reptiles are ectotherms, this means that they require energy from the sun to warm them up in order carry out their general activity. They bask in the mornings and evenings; identifying these ‘Basking Spots’ is key to finding reptiles on a site.
‘Basking Spots’ are generally covered in short vegetation
and are close to places of refuge where reptiles can hide, such as hedges or
banks. When searching for reptiles tread lightly and slowly, ideally with the
sun in front of you (shadows falling on lizards can scare them away
immediately), and listen out for any rustling sounds. Binoculars which are able
to focus in a close range can be very useful for species identification.
Creating artificial basking
refuges is a method used to increase the chance of determining the presence of reptiles
on a site. These provide suntraps so to allow the reptile to warm up, therefore
need to be made from materials with good conductivity such as tin or black
bitumen sheets. The recommended size of a refuge is 0.5m2; these
should be placed on potential ‘Basking Spots’. The number of refuges set up
will depend on the size of the site under investigation. When carrying out a
presence/absence survey 5-10 refuges per hectare is considered adequate. It is
often more for consultancy, and depends on the project. Seven visits are the minimum number
required to determine with reasonable confidence the presence or absence of
lizards, and can also indicate the size of the population (low-high). Visits
should be carried out when the weather is most conducive to spotting basking reptiles.
The weather should be warm and dry with little wind, ranging in temperature
from 9-18ᵒC, long periods of cold followed by warm weather are ideal. To check
the refuge lift one side up vertically, wearing gloves if adders are likely
present, be sure to be sure to place the refuge back in the same spot. Peek
underneath and record what you see.
What To Record
Record the location of each reptile
sighting on your map, the species, number of each species, and the amount of
time spent searching. You also need to record the life stage (adult/juvenile)
and the sex, to establish if there is a breeding population on site. Determining
absence of reptiles on a site is very difficult, the term ‘likely absence’ is
therefore commonly used instead.
We run a reptile surveying course at Ecology Training UK that will teach you how to carry out a survey, as described above. You will also learn how to identify each of our reptile species and how to age and sex them. The Exeter course includes snake handling too! Take a look to find out more.
A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, or
PEA, is the initial scoping assessment of an area of land, for its potential to
support protected species, based on the habitats it supports and signs of protected
species. PEA’s are required to inform
what further surveys for protected species are required, as part of the
planning process. The aim of a PEA is to
gather as much information about the site and the surrounding area, so that the
potential impacts of the proposed development on designated sites for nature
conservation, protected species and habitats can be assessed. This is achieved through a two-part process:
a desk study and a Phase 1 habitat survey.
A desk study involves obtaining historical
ecological records, so that, as an ecologist, you can assess the likelihood of
protected species being present on site and the impacts of the development on
ecologically important sites and habitats in the surrounding area. By contacting the local biodiversity records
centre, records can be obtained (usually no more than 10 years old) within at
least 1 km radius of the site. The data
search will provide you with a list of statutory and non-statutory designated
sites and a list of protected, notable and invasive species, with a 4 or 6
figure grid reference.
The next step is to visit the site and conduct a Phase 1 habitat survey. It is important that prior to visiting any site that you have permission from the land owner to be on site and you have a full risk assessment in place. A Phase 1 habitat survey provides a ‘snapshot’ of the current conditions of the site and is a technique used by ecologists to map habitats and record species as a baseline for further survey work, in accordance with Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) guidelines ‘Handbook for Phase 1 Habitat Survey’. These guidelines list the different habitats, which can be found in the UK and a definition for each habitat. Ecologist can use these guidelines to effectively identify which habitats are present on site. Once identified, the habitats need to be outlined in a map to provide a visual representation of the site.
The JNCC handbook also provides a key for each habitat type with their own colour coding, making mapping the habitats transparent and consistent. The objective of a Phase 1 habitat survey is to also record the dominant flora and signs of protected species present on site. The ecologist can then assess the site for its potential to support protected species. For instance, kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) could be recorded on a calcareous semi-improved grassland which could attract breeding small blue butterflies (Cupido minimus) which are a species of principal importance. Even though the small blue butterfly may not be recorded during the survey, the site itself has potential to support them. Similarly, it is important to record any features, which could support protected species such as log piles or woodpecker holes in a tree. These should be noted as a target note on the map. Further information on what a Phase 1 habitat survey is can be found on our website.
The final step in the process is to present your findings to the client in a report and inform them of any further survey work, recommendations and mitigation, that are required. If the site has potential to support protected species, then further protected species surveys are required to fully establish if protected species are present and whether they will be impacted on by the proposed development. The results of these further surveys and subsequent assessment are required to inform the planning application. Further information on protected species ecology and survey courses can be found on our website.
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.
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.
We have a range of the FSC charts in our training room in Exeter, so you can pick them up while on a course with us.
If you think you may end up doing a significant bit of sound
analysis, a worthy investment is Bat Calls by John Russ. It is in almost
constant use here during the summer when the students are learning sound
analysis! It’s what we recommend during our Introduction to Bat Sound Analysis
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.
I can’t believe it’s over already! This week has flown by.
We have a super group of students. They all have skills to bring to the week
and it’s been great getting to know everyone. They are an inquisitive lot,
always asking questions, which is fantastic. That is what Core Week (and the
whole course) is about. Learning!
As I write this, they are all back in the training room,
starting to put their survey findings into a report.
Over the week we have been out looking for dormice and reptiles. We’ve surveyed a main badger sett and left camera traps up for a couple of nights (no luck this time). Last night, after a meal at the pub, we sat in wait for bats to leave the roost. We saw five bats emerge and fly around the building. The detector we left out revealed 3 species were in the area overnight. On our field trips we have found a variety of bird pellets, lots of tracks and signs and had lots of fun sniffing poo!
I can say on behalf of all the staff and tutors that we have
really enjoyed this week, and we hope that all our 2019 students have too.
We are really excited to see how this group get on this
summer. I am sure they will go a long way!
You can see what our placement students get up to this
summer by checking reading their blog posts which we will post over the summer.
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.