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.

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!