Ecological consultants offer advice to a variety of organisations and individuals on wildlife related issues. This advice is often in response to planning related requests such as for major developments like road building, housing development, wind farms or for new factories, schools or hospitals.
Many surveys are conducted for much smaller developments such as loft conversions or house extensions. The surveys that are conducted by ecological consultants are for protected species and habitats. The types of surveys that are requested by planning officers are generally related to the specific project under consideration.
For example, bats are likely to be the major issue for home extensions or loft conversions but they are also a major consideration in wind turbine developments, as are birds. Great crested newts can also be a major consideration for developers, if works are to be carried out within 500m of any water bodies suitable for great crested newts then survey work should be undertaken.
Many other protected species are also sometimes an issue, for example badgers, red squirrels, butterflies or other insects, water voles, otters, reptiles and plant species and special habitats that have become rare such as ancient woodland or grassland.
The role of the ecological consultant is to identify which issues are likely to be significant for a particular development and to recommend the surveys which will need to be carried out to identify and mitigate any impacts of the proposed development. This is often informed by carrying out an initial scoping or extended phase 1 survey that is designed to give an ecological overview of a particular development and to make recommendations for any further survey works that are required.
Occasionally ecological consultants carry out surveys that are not a pre-requisite of planning regulations and are to inform the landowner or decision maker in an organisation as to the ecological assets that are present on a site. This sort of survey is generally carried out for councils or wildlife trusts or for Natural England, the government adviser on wildlife. However several large organisations have undertaken biodiversity audits and assessments of their landholdings in order to make informed decisions.
Protected species surveys involve long and unsociable hours and are generally carried out over the summer months so ecological consultants can work long hours in the summer including nocturnal survey work for species such as bats and great crested newts.
What do you need to be an ecological consultant?
There are general qualities, such as self motivation, teamwork, computer literacy and communicating and negotiating skills, which are necessary for most areas of work, but special qualities are needed for success in ecological work.
These extra skills include:
An interest in animals and plants.
The ability to work long and unsociable hours during the summer months.
A thorough knowledge of the functioning of natural systems.
Good academic qualifications in biological or environmental subjects.
Expertise in one or more groups of living organisms.
The facility to infect others with enthusiasm about the natural world.
Enjoyment of fieldwork.
The staying power needed to complete tedious and sometimes uncomfortable tasks in field or laboratory, and...
An objective approach to conservation issues.