Thinking of becoming an ecologist?

Ecology is the branch of biology associated with relationships of organisms to one another and their physical surroundings. Ecologists study the connection between plants, animals and their environment.

To do this job you will need to identify species, be aware of endangered species and the current environmental legislation and issues, as well as carry out research and understand data. You’ll also need to manage projects and have great presentation and report writing skills.

As an ecologist you would normally specialise in a particular type of environment, for example upland or coastal areas. You could study a specific group or species of animal or plant. Depending on your role, your tasks may include:

  • Carry out fieldwork – species identification and survey work
  • Results analysis and report writing
  • Presenting results to conferences or clients
  • Restoring areas such as open-cast mines or quarries at the end of their industrial life
  • Habitat creation
  • Advising on and enforcing legal regulations, for example the laws on protected species
  • Creating maps and plans on computer packages

How to become an ecologist

To become an ecologist you would typically need a degree. Some employers may expect you to have or be working towards a postgraduate qualification such as a master’s or PhD. Regardless of your qualifications, it is nearly always essential to have gained pre-entry experience in either a paid or voluntary position. Volunteering is priceless as you can learn new skills and it may improve your chances of finding work. It can sometimes lead to additional training and support, as well as giving you the opportunity to make contacts.

Field-based work experience is often included in some degree courses, if not, try to take as many practical modules as possible. Additionally, join any relevant societies that may provide opportunities with ecological projects and look for voluntary posts through job websites. There are many ways to gain relevant and quality experience:

  • Volunteer at a local wildlife trust or nature reserve
  • Undertake voluntary surveys for bird groups
  • Volunteer at your local environmental records information centre
  • Join your local bat group
  • Ask if you can volunteer at your local ecological consultants carrying out seasonal survey work. This may lead to paid subcontracting work after sufficient training
  • Increase your own knowledge, by taking a plant or bird identification book to your local nature reserve and learning something new
  • Carry out skills-based courses, bat survey techniques or GIS methods

It is also useful to join your local Wildlife Trust and/or become a member of a relevant professional body, e.g. the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) or the British Ecological Society, which have substantially reduced membership and conference rates for students.