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Consultancy work for ecologists – putting sustainable into development

Posted by on September 11, 2014

Dr Graham Hopkins is a principal ecologist with The Ecology Consultancy. An entomologist by training and persuasion he has been the lead ecologist on a number of important development projects, including the largest housing scheme ever to gain consent in Norfolk. Graham will be speaking about ecology and consultancy careers at our Life Sciences Careers Conference at the University of Liverpool and Staffordshire University.Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

After a spending much of a three-year postdoc field working in rural Costa Rica my perspectives on applied ecology in the real world had changed. While I enjoy nothing more than catching and studying bugs, for me it had become clear that the real challenge for ecology is to understand how to balance development and prosperity with biodiversity conservation.

As a consultant, much of what I do is for developers: they hire us to help get planning permission, but we also balance this ‘client need’ in the context of planning and environmental law with the wider objectives of trying to get net gains for biodiversity.

While I am the company’s invertebrate ecologist, I have a good all round understanding of natural history and can apply it to individual problems. On top of this is the need for commercial awareness, being able to explain environmental issues in simple terms, guide projects through planning and legal hurdles and also representing clients in planning meetings and explaining their work to stakeholders.

I enjoy my work. On many projects I have been able to make real differences to reducing ecological impacts and also making sure that nature conservation benefits as much as possible, through good design and other mitigation. At a personal level I also enjoy the challenge of learning about other disciplines and applying our work into their arenas, be it European law, drainage design, visitor recreation or public relations.

I am also lucky in having specialist survey skills so that I also get to visit some fantastic sites as part of conservation projects: this year I’ve spent several days surveying trees at a rather famous stately home and in the past I’ve surveyed the chalk grassland above the White Cliffs of Dover. On the down side, I also survey inner city sites and am close to losing count on the number of redundant sewage works I’ve visited.

I can’t emphasise enough how important identification skills are, with all consultants needing at least a basic grasp of field botany and then a specialism: many of these field skills are things that consultants can only learn through experience and commitment in their own time. For junior field staff in particular, the hours can be long and involve night-time surveys for bats and newts. That said, for ecologists who enjoy learning and like to see the practical application of their work then consultancy offers a great career.

Life Sciences Careers Conferences (LSCCs) showcase the breadth of careers available after studying the life sciences. The conferences consist of talks from top speakers covering a wide range of biology-related subjects, such as careers in academia, industry, teaching, biomedical science, environmental sector and others, in addition to CV and career planning advice, and a chance to mingle with the experts in our exhibition and ask informal questions over refreshments. Bookings are now open for conferences in Liverpool, London and Staffordshire.

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