Ecologists research the relationship between animals and plants, in particular their habitats, and the impact of people on the environment. Ecologists usually work within a specialist area such as freshwater, marine or fauna. The work of an ecologist can be satisfying as it often has a positive effect on the natural environment.
Ecologists are involved in habitat mapping, data collection and interpretation, and identifying areas of conservation value. They may assess the ecological impact of development proposals and produce a report on their findings. They carry out field studies to record data about animal and plant life.
Typical job responsibilities include:
- Helping to protect the natural world by exploring the relationship between animals, plants and their environment
- Carrying out ecological surveys of animals and plants and monitoring the state of urban and rural environments
- Writing reports and analysing statistical data
- Assessing the ecological impact of development proposals
- May be involved in producing bids for funds and grants
- Attending conferences and researching, writing and presenting papers.
Ecologists carry out field work which often involves spending time away from home and working outdoors in all weathers. You will also work in laboratories, research centres and offices. You may be required to work late and some weekends. A great deal of travel is often necessary.
You will work with other scientists and may be required to supervise other staff. The work can be physically active.
Many ecologists work on a contract basis and demand for their services has grown steadily in recent years. Ecologists also work for a range of organisations involved in scientific research, environmental management, conservation, research, teaching and lecturing.
Career progression can depend on which area of ecology you are working in. Conservationists can progress to Countryside Manager roles whilst those working in industry might be promoted to management. It is also possible to become self-employed and to carry out freelance work for business or industry.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for ecologists
- A keen interest in the natural world
- Strong observational skills
- Research and analytical skills
- Methodical and systematic approach to your work
- Ability to undertake practical and outdoor work in all weathers
- Possess a good knowledge of environmental policies and legislation
- Good manual dexterity
- Excellent communication and presentation skills
- High standards of accuracy and attention to detail.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of ecologists
This is still a relatively small profession and competition is fierce. Employers may include:
- Local and Central Government
- Voluntary sector organisations such as the National Trust, Natural England and Historic Environment Scotland
- The Environment Agency
- There may be some opportunities with environmental consultancies.
Qualifications and training required
Most ecologists are qualified to degree level. There are specialist courses in ecology but other subjects may also be relevant such as biological or life sciences, environmental studies, earth sciences, geography, agricultural science or urban and land studies. Entry into a degree course requires a minimum of 5 GCSEs grades 9 – 4 (A*- C) and 2 A levels in biology and usually chemistry.
In Scotland, minimum entry requirements for degree courses are 4/5 Highers (A-C), to include 2 science subjects from Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. National 5 English and Maths required, if not offered at Higher.
In all cases it's important to check individual university prospectuses carefully, as specific requirements may well differ.
Relevant degree courses last for three to four years and can be full time or sandwich. Postgraduate study is an advantage. Work experience, often obtained through voluntary work, is almost essential.
It may also be possible to train through an Advanced Level Apprenticeship which gives you the opportunity to gain work based skills whist studying for a qualification.
Ecologists with relevant qualifications and experience can become members of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM). Short professional development courses are provided by the IEEM, the Field Studies Council and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.