Volunteering 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.
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!
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.