How To Get Ahead In Ecology: Tips & Advice For Graduates Part II

How and where can I make myself noticed to potential employers? 

Becoming a graduate isn’t easy. University can wrap you in a comfort blanket where you can study but also have money provided for you from your student loan. Losing that sense of comfort can often seem very daunting. However, it also means that there is a variety of exciting and new opportunities ahead. It’s now time for you to really show the employment world what you are made of and why employers should take notice of you and your work.

How can you make employers notice you? And where are the best places for you to find your new and potential employers?

 As our first graduate blog received a great response and further questions from graduates, enthusiastic but also anxious for employment. Here at Acer Ecology, we have compiled some more advice and tips for you to achieve that highest success after your studies:

Research the latest natural history events – The local record centres, local naturalist societies and wildlife trusts run an array of events for ecology and environmental enthusiasts. In addition, some of the National organisations including the Botanical Society of the British Isles, the British Trust for Ornithology and the Wild Flower Society also run regional events. Courses run by the Field Studies Centre, the Species Recovery Trust or local Universities are also a great place to learn new skills. Attending training courses and events are also very beneficial not only to your CV but also help you to make important contacts. Many people who already work in the ecology and environmental studies industry take these training courses. The courses are often taught by ecology experts who can offer the best advice and also, possible connections for you. Here at Acer Ecology, we run a variety of one-day and evening training courses to help enhance and develop your ecology skills.

Local societies are also a great way to make yourself noticed, not only through the work that you can do but through the people within the societies that you meet. Networking is very important when it comes to employment. If you know or are in contact with people who specialise in your field, just one email requesting for some work experience or even a reference could help you to find that job you’ve been working for.

Find a local patch and invest in some good field guides – Find a local patch with a few different habitats and complete a Phase 1 habitat survey and visit regularly, recording the fauna and flora. Invest some money in a good field guide and get yourself out there and learn to identify the common plants and animals.

Protected species licences – Gaining protected species licenses will make you much more employable. To obtain a licence you will have to demonstrate to the statutory agency (Natural Resources Wales, Natural England or Scottish National Heritage) and two referees that you have sufficient knowledge of the species in question, survey methods and the legislation requirements etc. Ideally, you would be in contact with a trainer/mentor to lead you through the process, but this isn’t always possible. It is advisable to maintain a log-book of all of the protected species work that you undertake. This can be used to help demonstrate your experience which you can submit as part of your survey licence application, and also show your referees that you are suitably experienced.

Professional training standards have been drawn up for some groups such as bats, whilst guidance is also provided by the Statutory Agencies on the standards which will need to be met before a licence can be issued (e.g. great crested newt and dormouse). The Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) has also produced a series of guidance notes detailing the competencies required by professional ecologists. These can all be used to guide your training plan. Experience can be built up by joining and getting involved with your local amphibian, bat, mammalbird and botanical groups, as well as by attending formal courses such as those run by the Barn Owl Trust,  the Mammal Society, the Bat Conservation Trust, the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK, The Freshwater Trust, Froglife, the Field Studies Council or CIEEM.

Training doesn’t have to cost a fortune though and the Local Wildlife Trusts and Natural History Societies also run low-cost courses and training on protected species. You could even take your log book and certificates from any courses attended along to job interviews to show that you are working your way down the path of securing your protected species licences.

Training and Travel Grants – A variety of grants are available to support the training and development of students and recent graduate from organisations including the British Ecological Society, the Botanical Society of the British Isles and the Wild Flower Society.

Charity organisations – such as Operation New World help the young and unemployed gain new skills and develop better learning in outdoor employment through fieldwork schemes and outdoor training.
Zoos and Museums – Several zoos offer exotic animal health and husbandry courses, as well as offering exhibitions and animal talks as well as internships, work placements and courses. Don’t forget to research into places such as your local museums. Museums can offer essential work experience and skills for graduates through apprenticeships.
Volunteering  and Work Experience- Unfortunately, ecology and nature conservation jobs are very popular and there are much more candidates than there are opportunities. As employers have such a large pool of talented individuals to chose from volunteering is often required to gain experience before you will land your first paid job. There are many relevant volunteering opportunities which will provide you with extra experience and knowledge, and possibly even memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

All Wildlife Trusts, most Local Authority Countryside departments and Local Record Centres offer voluntary opportunities. Alternatively, the National Trust, the Conservation Volunteers and the RSPB offer volunteering holidays, as well as longer-term voluntary placements, where you can help manage reserves to enhance and maintain their wildlife value. If you fancy a sample of island life you could also volunteer on Skomer Island, Flatholm Island or Lundy Island or if birds are your thing you could spend some time in a bird observatory. The British Antartic Society also offer work experience placements, whilst the British Ecological Society Summer School  provides training in field survey techniques for aspiring ecologists.

Some of our staff members volunteer with the Foresters Forest project in the Forest of Dean. As part of this project, volunteers can gain valuable survey experience but also contribute to our understanding of the distribution of newt species within the Forest. Further information can be found in our newt surveying article.

Similarly, a number of our staff members volunteer at the Howardian Nature Reserve undertaking dormouse monitoring, further details of which can be found in our dormouse monitoring article. Other members of staff undertake bat care.

In addition, some ecological consultancies offer work taster or work experience placements where you can gain experience by shadowing ecologists, improve your identification skills and get an idea of what is involved in consultancy work.

Sub-contracting/Freelancing Opportunities – From April to September many ecological consultancies, particularly the smaller ones, offer opportunities for sub-contractors/freelancers to assist with field survey work especially, bat, reptile and great crested newt surveys. It is worth making contact with consultancies local to you to see if the work of this kind is available. We also offer work of this kind, assisting with bat surveys. We have written a guide for new surveyors.

Joining the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) – Joining the CIEEM will signify your commitment to professionalism and high standards and is particularly important if you are planning to work in ecological consultancy.

Don’t be afraid to ask your University for help

University has unleashed your reins but they’re also still there to help and guide you even after you graduate. Most universities provide Careers and Employability services and will be able to offer help and advice in finding that right job. They will help you prepare for job interviews, to help you create a more professional CV and also offer general help and advice such as website links to job sources specifically catered for graduates.

Try to Equip Yourself with Key Skills

If you are considering working in Ecological Consultancy, it would be beneficial to set yourself a training plan and try to equip yourself with the following skills:

 Botanical skills including phase 1 habitat surveying. Skills can be gained by attending phase 1 habitat survey training events, joining and attending meetings with the wildflower society, local BSBI group, national BSBI meetingswildlife trust events or taking part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. Alternatively, you could buy a few tree/wildflower books and teach yourself. There are two basic approaches to learning to identify plants: the plant families approach and the habitats approach, whilst in reality you would actually use both of these, even if subconsiously.

In terms of the plant families approach, in a wildflower book, you could read through the introductory section on each plant family and make notes on the characteristics of the family and the most commonly encountered species. In terms of the habitats approach, you could read through the main habitats within the phase 1 habitat manual, combined with a field guide and start to get a fix on some of the main indicator species. Alternatively, the  NPMS video guides or the Field Studies Council habitats guides are really helpful. The University of Leicester, Aberystwyth University or Manchester Metropolitan University all offer relatively low-cost plant identification courses. Acer Ecology regularly run courses on winter tree identification. You may also find the Acer Ecology Plant Identification youtube playlist helpful.

Bat Surveying skills are important for consultancy work. An important first step is to join your local bat group. The knowledge and experience you will pick up will be invaluable. Key skills for early career consultancy are the experience of undertaking dusk emergence/dawn re-entry surveys and subsequent bat sound analysis. Acer Ecology runs various bat courses and have produced various blogs including undertaking Dusk Emergence and Dawn Re-entry Surveys, Bat Droppings, Books for Bat Ecologists, the Bat-YearArchitectural Terms for Bat Surveyors, Guide to Bat MitigationHorseshoe Bat Mitigation and Brown Long-Eared Bat Mitigation. The Bat Conservation Trust organise several surveys as part of the National Bat Monitoring Programme that you could become involved in. In addition, advanced bat surveying courses run by Wildcru or bat licence training courses are provided by a number of organisations including Wildwings Ecology, Greena Ecology and Bats Research and Training Services. You may also find the various webinars run by Wildlife Acoustics or Acer Ecology Bat Surveying youtube playlist helpful.

Great Crested Newts and Reptiles Surveying Skills. You could consider getting involved with your local Amphibian and Reptile group, undertake one of the great crested licence courses run by Oxford Brookes University, or alternatively attend a course run by the Field Studies Council or the Berkshire Amphibian and Reptile Group. the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation(Arc) , NARRS or Back from the Brink. You could also try to get experience with a local ecological consultancy undertaking either survey work or assisting with a capture and translocation scheme. The training material produced by NARRS and the Freshwater Habitats Trust are also really valuable resources. You may find it beneficial to familiarise yourself with the Great Crested Newt Mitigation Guidelines and Froglife’s Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook. You may also find the Acer Ecology Amphibian and Reptiles youtube playlist helpful.

QGIS is used by large numbers of consultancies. You could attend a training event like one of the ones we run: Acer QGIS day course. You can self-teach yourself this program without too much trouble by looking at videos on youtube, Vimeo or the LinkedIn learning (a monthly free trial is available). A Gentle Introduction to GIS  is a great place to start, but there are many valuable resources including QGIS for ecologists facebook group, the DMAD – Marine Mammals Research Association training material and Klas Karlsson youtube pages. You may also find the Acer Ecology QGIS youtube playlist helpful.

Desktop Studies – It is useful to familiarise yourself with the desktop studies that are undertaken prior to undertaking fieldwork on a site.  CIIEEM’s guidance on using biodiversity data is a useful starting point to getting to grips with the process. The Magic website is often used to look for designated sites near a survey site. Some local records centres such as SEWBReC offer a free non-commercial search for students.  It is also a good idea to get to grips with searching local planning portals to see the kind of information that is submitted as part of planning applications. Planning guides that have been produced for most local authorities provide useful information on trying to get to grips with how planning applications work. See the guide produced for the Vale of Glamorgan as an example.

Report Writing is a key skill. Guidance is available from most universities, there are courses on LinkedIn learning or Open universities courses that can be undertaken. The formal guidance provided by CIEEM is also helpful.

– Administration Skills – General administration skills are very useful. You will find it helpful to get some general office-based employment either through temping or other routes to pick up really useful transferable skills.

– Driving Licence – Holding a driving licence is essential for many ecological consultancy positions. If you don’t currently hold a driving licence but have aspirations to set yourself a clear goal to achieve this.

Beyond all of this, in a graduate ecologist, most employers are looking for someone with a positive attitude, a keenness and willingness to learn, a growth mindset and a can-do attitude.

Rebecca Cresswell-Davies graduated in 2017 and has subsequently worked as a Graduate Ecologist with Acer Ecology Ltd. In this video, she provides some advice on how to enhance your CV and build your employability skills.

How To Get Ahead In Ecology

Acer Ecology Youtube Playlists

Online Webinars

FSC Virtual Meetups

Wildlife Acoustics


Links to South Wales Organisations:

Gwent Wildlife Trust

• South and West Wales Wildlife Trust

Brecknock Wildlife Trust

Cardiff Council Guided Walks & Park Events

• Cardiff Naturalists’ Society

Llanelli Naturalists’ Society

Friends of Forest Farm

Valleys Bat Group

Cardiff Bat Group / Cardiff Bat Group Facebook

Vale and Bridgend Bat GroupVale and Bridgend Bat Group Facebook

Glamorgan Bat Group Facebook

Monmouthshire Bat Group / Monmouthshire Facebook 

Gwent Aphibian Group

Glamorgan Bird Club

Gwent Ornithological Society

• Gower Ornithological Society

• Cardiff & District Local RSPB Group

Glamorgan Botany Group / Glamorgan Botany

Monmouthshire Botany Group

Butterfly Conservation South Wales Group

Glamorgan Moth Recording Group

Cwmcarn Forest

Caerphilly Countryside & Landscape Services Events

Ruperra Conservation Trust

Foresters Forest (Forest of Dean)

West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre

Biodiversity Information Service for Powys & Brecon Beacons National Park


Organisations Slightly Further Afield

Back from the Brink

• Save Our Magnificent Meadows

• National Plant Monitoring Scheme

Aberystwyth University Continuing Learning Courses (Ceredigion)

Avalon Marshes

Bristol Naturalists’ Society

• Gloucester Naturalists’ Society

Denmark Farm Conservation Centre (Ceredigion)

Kingcombe Centre (Dorset)

• Blackdown Hills (Natural Futures)

Exmoor National Park

Plas Tan y Bwlch Environmental Studies Centre (Snowdonia)

Sea Watch Foundation

Cofnod North Wales Environmental Information Centre

• Edge Hill University Lifelong Learning

• Manchester Metropolitan University Biological Recording Course

• Leicester University Lifelong Learning

Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre

• Oxford Brookes Great Crested Newt Licence Course

BCT List of Local Bat Groups

List of Local Mammal Groups

• Herefordshire Mammal Group

• Devon Mammal Group

Oxfordshire Mammal Group

• Somerset Badger Group

Shropshire Mammal Group

Nottinghamshire Dormouse Group

• Gloucester Bat Group

• Somerset Bat Group / Somerset Facebook Group

• Birmingham and Black Country Bat Group

• Bat Cru

• Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project

• Distributed European School of Taxonomy

• European bat Meetings & Events

• List of Local Amphibian and Reptile Groups

• List of Botanical Recording Groups

• Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Group

• Kent Amphibian and Reptile Group

• Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group

Snowdonia Society

Careers in Conservation Across Europe

Links to National Organisations Offering Ecology Courses and Training

Botanical Society of the British Isles

• Plantlife

Wild Flower Society

Species Recovery Trust

Field Studies Council

British Trust for Ornithology

Butterfly Conservation

• Bumblebee Conservation Trust

• BCT List of Local Bat Groups

• Hawk & Owl Trust

• Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Links to Relevant Facebook Forums


British Ecologists

Wildwood Ecology Training Academy


QGIS for Ecologists


UK Bat Workers

Bat Call Sound Analysis Workshop

Wiltshire Bat Group


Shropshire Dormouse Facebook Group

Nottinghamshire Dormouse Facebook Group

Plant ID:

Plant ID UK

Mammal Groups:

South Wales Mammal Group

South Wales Otter Trust

Bird Groups:

Gwent Birders

Rumney Birders