Ecologists study the complex and delicate relationships between animals, plants, people and their physical surroundings, commonly referred to as an ecosystem or the environment.
They carry out a wide range of tasks relating to their specialist area of knowledge, for example freshwater ecology, marine mammals, birds, fauna or flora.
This job role is diverse and is dependent on the employer and the nature of the work. It can include:
•field survey and assessment work
•practical countryside and site management
•advising government, land managers or the general public
•providing advice on civil engineering projects, such as the impact of a new road scheme on ecosystems
•liaising with those associated with a survey, e.g. site managers and engineers
•using specialist computer software programmes to develop computer models of ecosystems.
Working hours vary, depending on the exact nature of the role. Some ecologists work indoors, assessing data on computers or working on specimens in a laboratory. Others spend most of their time working outdoors in all weather conditions.
Salaries may range from around £20,000 to £45,000 or more a year.
An ecologist should:
•have a good knowledge of UK flora and fauna
•be able to interpret and explain ecological data
•have good observation and analytical skills
•have excellent communication skills
•understand how human activities interact with and affect ecological systems.
A wide variety of jobs exist across the UK in a range of organisations in both urban and rural areas. However, competition for jobs is usually intense. Employers include government and statutory bodies, industrial and business companies, environmental consultants, universities and colleges, publishing and broadcasting companies and non-governmental organisations. There are also jobs with wildlife bodies and campaign or pressure group organisations.
The minimum qualification is usually a first degree in a biological or environmental subject, such as ecology, conservation biology, environmental biology, environmental management or marine biology. The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may be relevant for this area of work.
Some employers, particularly in the consultancy sector, look for postgraduate qualifications. Experience as a research assistant, either paid or unpaid, and/or volunteering experience, is essential.
New employees will be expected to have a range of skills, including basic survey and identification skills and an understanding of a range of habitats. Further training is given whilst employed and further courses can be undertaken.
Membership of a professional body is helpful for developing contacts and keeping knowledge up to date. With sufficient qualifications, experience and competence, ecologists may be able to work towards becoming a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv).
In most large organisations, ecologists have the opportunity to progress to senior and principal level. Movement between employers is common in order to progress. Promotion may involve working in a more specialist area, and usually leads to greater management responsibilities which can lead to less time spent in the field. There are good opportunities to work abroad.