Skip Content

Ecologist (Consultant)

Age: 25

Organisation: CH2M Hill

Rachel Fine Grad CIEEM

Why did you decide on a career in ecology/environmental management, and when did you decide?

Since school I knew I wanted to work in the environmental sector, I had a keen interest in geography and biology and loved spending time outdoors learning about the world and nature around me; but at this point I did not know what this would mean terms of a career. I chose geography as my undergraduate degree because it provided a broad knowledge base in my area of interest. After completing my degree I still did not know exactly what pathway to follow. I struggled to get paid work in roles I thought were interesting and as a result I volunteered for 8 months as a Trainee Countryside Ranger. I really enjoyed this voluntary role and it gave me valuable experience, it also helped me decide the pathway which I wanted to follow. Whilst volunteering I applied for paid roles, although I had established the direction I wanted I needed more experience and preferably qualifications. Consequently, I applied for an Ecology Masters. I wanted a course with a strong practical element and so chose one with a consultancy placement. I believe this experience was key to gaining my current role; it gave me experience as a field ecologist and references within the field. After completing my placement my job applications were much more successful and I received many invitations to interviews, giving me the luxury of choosing the role I wanted. I am happy I persisted with working towards an ecologist role because I am doing something that I love and am helping to support a more sustainable future.

How did you get started in the sector? What qualifications and experience did you have? Have you gained any additional qualifications since?

I believe that having a full time placement as part of my Masters Degree was pivotal in getting me started in the sector. On this placement I worked full time as a field ecologist for an ecological consultancy. This gave me experience and knowledge as well as helping me learn the role’s requirements. Having worked a full survey season meant I had many skills which a future employer would want, putting me ahead of people without that experience. Since working in my current role I have gained a Great Crested Newt Licence and am working towards a couple of other protected species licences. I continue to gain experience and skills helping to develop my understanding and professionalism as an ecologist.

How long have you been in your current role?

11 months

What does a typical day involve? What are your responsibilities?

I am lucky to have a job which encompasses a wide range of activities and skills. What I am doing varies depending upon the project and the time of year. In the spring and summer months I conduct a variety of surveys including great crested newt, reptile, and phase 1 habitat surveys. I also support other members of staff with dormouse, water vole and NVC (National Vegetation Classification) assessments. My role is to collect accurate data, produce reports based upon the findings and then support clients through planning and initial stages of works on site. On some projects I work as the acting Ecological Clerk of Works, supervising activities and mitigation. This encompasses wide ranging responsibilities such as supervising habitat works, installation of fencing and hibernacula and facilitating translocations.

What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have?

Working as an ecologist is different from many typical job roles but even so ‘transferable skills’ are vital for the role. In my opinion the three most important are; organisation, enthusiasm and good communication skills. The work is great but summer months can be very hectic: being organised is important and enables me to be well prepared for each task. Each day is different and can bring new challenges on new sites. Good communication skills are important; I encounter lots of people fulfilling a wide variety of roles. For example on a project I may be working with engineers and project managers to help decide a course of action and simultaneously working with contractors who are undertaking the work. All parties need a good understanding of what is required from an ecological perspective and my role is often to ensure they understand what needs to be done. I love my role, but it requires strong commitment and enthusiasm to continually learn. This passion along with sensible decision making has helped me get to the position I am in today.

Describe the aspects of your job you find particularly rewarding and those you find challenging?

As a whole I really enjoy my job, I am passionate about wildlife and I relish the opportunity to learn. In addition, helping reduce the negative impacts of essential development is very rewarding. I feel my role is worthwhile whilst being something I enjoy, and I am very lucky for that. However, as with all roles there are some aspects that are challenging. Working as an ecologist is governed by many things: season, weather, clients and projects. All these factors can result in long days and some periods of year being particularly busy. During these times it can be difficult to balance everything but careful planning and organisation makes this possible. I enjoy the challenge and it has helped me become very organised.

Describe your career progression so far and any plans you have for the future

I have followed a fairly traditional pathway to get to where I am. My initial experience came from extensive voluntary work, I then worked in a seasonal role and was lucky enough to be offered a full time position as an ecologist. I feel that am still at the beginning stages of my career but an important goal for me was to gain a full time position that I would enjoy. Having achieved this, my goals and plans currently are centred on gaining experience and knowledge to help me deepen my understanding of British wildlife. I intend to gain more protected species licences over the next couple of years hopefully through the organic process of accruing both knowledge and experience. To supplement my paid role I will be conducting various voluntary surveys and am hoping to be involved with various wildlife groups.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the sector?

I would recommend volunteering and getting as much experience as possible as early as possible. I wish I had done more volunteering during my undergraduate degree and targeted my efforts into specific species knowledge and experience. Ecology is a wide field with lots to learn, and I continue to learn. However having a head start is very useful.