Ecologists study plants, micro-organisms and animals, and their interactions with one another and the non-living components of the environment.
They carry out a wide range of tasks relating to their specialist area of knowledge, for example freshwater, marine, terrestrial, microbial systems, fauna or flora.
The work can include:
Ecologists may also be involved with science communication, which includes writing about the environment for newspapers, magazines and journals, and making films, radio and television programmes.
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. Ecologists need to be physically fit to undertake fieldwork activities.
Working hours vary considerably, depending on the exact nature of the role.
Depending on their job, ecologists may spend some of their time traveling to sites or meetings. Some overseas travel may be required.
Starting salaries may be between £15,000 and £24,000 a year.
Ecology is a growing field. A wide variety of jobs exist across the UK in a range of organisations. However, competition for jobs is usually intense.
Potential employers include:
There are also jobs with:
Wildlife bodies, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife and the Woodland Trust.
Campaign or pressure group organisations, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Learned societies such as the British Ecological Society.
Vacancies for ecologists are advertised in the national press and in sector publications, such as New Scientist, Nature, Farmers Weekly and Horticulture Week. They are also advertised on the websites of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM), and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).
The minimum qualification for an ecologist is usually a first degree in a biological or environmental subject such as ecology, conservation biology, environmental biology, environmental management or marine biology.
Many employers also look for postgraduate qualifications.
Experience as a research assistant or a conservation project volunteer is also advantageous.
Membership of a professional body such as CIWEM or IEEM is helpful for developing contacts, keeping knowledge up to date and gaining qualifications. Student and graduate membership is often available, and ecologists with sufficient qualifications and experience can become full members. They may then be able to work towards becoming a chartered environmentalist (CEnv) or chartered scientist (CSci).
For a first degree, candidates usually need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), usually including English and maths. Requirements for specific subjects vary between courses and institutions. Biology, chemistry, physics, maths and geography are useful.
Universities also offer a variety of postgraduate courses relating to ecology. They usually last one to three years full time (four years in Scotland). Applicants to postgraduate courses usually need a relevant first degree (typically a first or upper second).
Applicants should check specific course requirements with individual universities and colleges.
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Ecologists need to be:
The British Ecological Society (BES),
26 Blades Court, Putney, London SW15 2NU
Tel: 020 8871 9797
Environment Agency, Rio House,
Waterside Drive, Aztec West, Almondsbury,
Bristol BS32 4UD
Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM),
45 Southgate Street, Winchester SO23 9EH
Tel: 01962 868626
Northminster House, Peterborough PE1 1UA
Tel: 0845 600 3078
The Science Council, 32-36 Loman Street,
Southwark, London SE1 0EH
Tel: 020 7922 7888
Society for the Environment,
The Old School House, Long Street,
Atherstone, Warwickshire CV9 1AH
Tel: 0845 337 2951
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.