I work as an Ecologist and have my own consultancy which I set up with a friend over 10 years ago.
How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?
I have always been interested in wildlife and spent most of my childhood outside watching birds, collecting plants and being amazed and fascinated by nature. No advice was available. I had no idea that Ecology was a profession and no sense that you could study it
What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?
I studied Zoology at University and subsequently a post graduate qualification in Resource Management. I volunteered for the Scottish Wildlife Trust and did a research project on the impact of feral mink on wildlife. I worked in the voluntary sector and at the Nature Conservancy Council (now Scottish Natural Heritage) and eventually set up a consultancy for the Scottish Wildlife Trust to take on commercial survey and assessment work and to raise funds for the SWT. Eventually a friend and I became independent and set up our own business - The Wildlife Partnership.
Talk me through a day in your life... what sorts of things would it involve?
I'll tell you what I am going to do today. First thing is a survey for a local small landowner who is concerned about her neighbour's proposal to fill in an area of land where she thinks water voles might be present. Water voles are a protected species as they have declined dramatically in numbers and distribution. There are also great crested newts in the area and she has noted otter activity. I am going to check for evidence of water voles by searching for field signs including burrows, feeding remains- bitten off stems of vegetation, footprints, droppings and latrines. I am not expecting to see water voles - you rarely see the target species and have to become an expert in field signs. I am also going to search for evidence of great crested newts. This will be more difficult as the cold spring will have delayed their emergence from hibernation. They usually emerge in the 2nd half of March so by early April you would expect to find evidence in local ponds. One survey technique is to search for eggs. Female great crested newts wrap up individual eggs in a little package by folding over leaves with the egg inside and this is what you are looking for at the edge of ponds. I will also look for any otter resting sites. Otters are highly protected and if any of their resting sites - either above or below ground- are going to be impacted or disturbed by human activity then this has to be licensed. Otter signs to look for include paths and footprints, feeding remains like half eaten fish, spraint - droppings which have a very characteristic sweet/fishy smell and holts their underground homes or any resting sites including couches where they make a secure 'nest' in vegetation. Once I have done the field work I will go back to the office and write a report which may be used by the client to influence whether the proposed work is done or has to be modified. I am then going to write a report for another client where a new pipeline in to be installed but there is a massive breeding badger sett precisely on the proposed route and abundant otter activity. I will report on this and make recommendations about how to avoid impacts and if unavoidable then how to mitigate and what the legal implications are in terms of licensing.
Was it your planned career when you were 18?
I had no idea. I studied 2 years of dentistry but this is not where my real interest lay. I then took a year out and went back to study zoology.
What did your mum and dad want you to do?
I got no advice. I don't think they really had any idea of what was available
What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?
Get lots of field experience. Volunteer with wildlife NGOs. Try out some training courses - Field Studies Council. Try and narrow your focus - what are you most interested in - birds/mammals/invertebrates/fish/reptiles/amphibians/bats or maybe environmental education or engaging the public in biodiversity or wildlife and the law and so on. Join the appropriate NGO - all these groups have representative organisations where there will be opportunities to volunteer. Then you need research skills which you will get at university - computer modelling, statistics, survey protocols and so on.
What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?
Work with government agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Environment Agency, Scottish Government, Agricultural Colleges, NGOs like SWT and RSPB, Butterfly Conservation and countless others.