Celebrating 20 years as a Consultant Ecologist and I still feel like I have so much to learn.
Most of you do not know that prior to going to university and starting my ecology career, I worked as a qualified florist, but my passion for flowers and wildlife started much earlier. As a child I was amazingly lucky to have parents who enjoyed caravanning and spent much of my youth exploring the outside world and walking in beautiful landscapes. With a father who had a life-long interest in wildlife and an inspiring high school geography teacher Mrs Calverley, there was little chance of me remaining a florist for too long.
In 1997, I went to University as a mature student, studying an environmental degree and I worked hard, although I still did not know what I wanted to do professionally, but I did know I was following my passion. In my second year at University, I attended a lecture on ecology by Dr Ray Gemmell and I knew that very second, that this was the job for me. After the lecture I eagerly asked; how do I become an ecologist? and that is where it all started. From that point forward, my dissertation and my modules were all focused on assisting my future career in ecology.
In 2000, I graduated with a degree in Environmental Management 2.1 (Hons) and went straight into freelancing for a couple of years, and for Dr Ray Gemmell at ERAP. In 2002 an opportunity arose to take on a big contract for BAE Systems at their former Royal Ordnance Factory in Euxton, which resulted in Ecology Services Partnership being formed, eventually becoming Ecology Services Ltd. It was difficult at first starting a business from scratch. Trying to speak to the right person within a company and asking for a meeting or chance to tender for work is not easy without sales experience. But with perseverance, doing a good job at every opportunity, working very long hours and word of mouth recommendations from clients, the company prevailed and within a couple of years we had our first employee. The company is still small, I like it that way and we have some really amazing specialist, all with different skill sets. The team are all very friendly, help and look out for one another and value being with a company that not only cares about them, but the environment too.
Over the past twenty years, I have had many laughs and thoroughly enjoyed my experiences, often in remote beautiful places. I will always cherish the darkness and silence of caves where hibernating bats spend their winter, hearing natterjack toad calls among the sand dunes at Sefton and the joys of a dawn chorus during bat re-entry surveys, recording otter returning to the River Hodder for the first time in years and finding rare bat species in Lancashire, not forgetting; getting lost in a wood for hours and hours, frequently falling in ponds. I even won a prize for being chased by a charging bull! (luckily, I made it over the fence).
I have had the absolute pleasure of working with some superb people, especially my team, whom without their expertise, support and passion I could not run the company, “thank you”, you all know who you are. I have attended the most fabulous training courses, the best of which has to be the Bat Licensing Training Course/Complete Bat Training course, it was just awesome. I was so sad to finish the second week of the course, please can I go on it again? Closely followed a CIEEM Barn owl training course when I got to hold a fledgling barn owl.
When I look back at the thousands of jobs, the company has undertaken over the past twenty years, we have been very privileged to work on many interesting sites, for some amazing clients whom we continue to work with to this day. One client described us as their “favourite ecologists”, which is very rewarding and good to know we do a great job. One of the most memorable jobs was working on a 100k linear pipeline scheme in 2006, surveying over 500 ponds for great crested newt in a single season. What an achievement for a small company, supported by a team of specialist sub-contractors! On another occasion we designed a method of working on highly sensitive saltmarsh habitat along the River Ribble Estuary, where just a few weeks later, you could hardly tell anyone had ever been there. We have carried out endless great crested newt surveys and many mitigation schemes under European Protected Species Licence with some surprising results ‘Shock horror great crested newts everywhere!”. Working as a team is important and we frequently work alongside planning consultants and other disciplines, assisting in obtaining planning permissions. One recent site at Woolton Manor had been refused planning permission on two previous occasions. However, working closely with other disciplines to achieve a common goal, we successfully balanced ecology alongside the sites development needs by incorporating sound ecological mitigation and by being innovative.
There have been many personal highs too, including; obtaining my GCN Low Impact Class Licence; my bat Class Licence; achieving a distinction for my NEBOSH Occupational Health and Safety; achieving ISO9001 (2015) Quality Assurance status and going Carbon Neutral by off-setting. Most recently I became a specialist panel advisor to Natural England on District Level Licensing and let’s not forget, all those Christmas parties and work outings.
There are occasional minor negative points to being an ecologist, such as crawling out of bed at 2:30am when you have only had a few hours’ sleep, because you were worrying all night that you would not wake up in time for the dawn bat survey. My real low point has to be the sad and untimely loss of a colleague and good friend Sean Hough, who brought much joy to our team for a good number of years and we will always miss him. Covid19: “to furlough or not to furlough, that is the question?”, luckily, we had enough work to keep us all going and fingers crossed, this continues.
So what does the future hold? I will continue learning, working hard and with some passionate and amazing people. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming Biodiversity Net Gain opportunities and more beaver reintroductions would be great…yes please!
For anyone starting their career as an ecologist, my advice is do not give up…it is a great career. Work as seasonal ecologists to gain experience, choose good companies that have high standards, work hard and pass on what you have learned. This is not a profession to go into unless you are passionate about ecology and conservation. Listen to what people have to say, you might learn something, be polite, kind and always treat everyone with respect. Last but not least, if you do not know something please do not be afraid to ask. There isn’t an ecologist out there that knows the answer to every question. I am still asking questions.