How to become an Ecologist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does an Ecologist do?
As an ecologist, you would study the plants and animals in a particular location, and the way they relate to one another and their surroundings (known as biodiversity). The main aim of your work would be to balance the needs of the environment against the pressure to develop land.
You would normally specialise in a particular type of habitat, for example marine or coastal areas, or study a specific animal or plant species. Depending on the particular job, your tasks could include:
- carrying out fieldwork – collecting and recording data on plants and animals
- researching the impact on the environment of human activity like housing and intensive agriculture
- building computer models to predict the effects of development or climate change
- testing plant samples to investigate factors like the effects of air pollution on growth
- preparing and presenting research findings at conferences
- organising school and community education programmes
- restoring areas such as open-cast mines or quarries at the end of their industrial life
- monitoring pollution incidents, such as chemical spillages in waterways
- advising on and enforcing legal regulations, for example the laws on protected species
- acting as an expert witness during public enquiries
- managing wildlife conservation areas, woodland and meadows.
You may also assess planning proposals and make recommendations for local authorities, government departments and companies on sustainable land use, for example nature reserves or waste management schemes.
For computer modelling and lab work, you would be based at one site and work between 37 and 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You may have to travel to visit other sites or attend meetings, particularly if you are involved with planning proposals.
Research and fieldwork could mean longer, irregular working patterns. You could be posted anywhere in the country, and possibly overseas, for weeks at a time.
How much does an Ecologist earn?
- Starting salaries can be between £23,000 and £27,000 a year.
- With experience, this can rise to between £27,000 and £38,000.
- Consultant ecologists can earn around £46,000.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You would normally need a degree or postgraduate qualification in a subject such as ecology, botany, zoology, biology, environmental science and geography.
To search for degree courses see the UCAS website.
The British Ecological Society website also has information on courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level. You should check entry requirements with individual colleges or universities.
- British Ecological Society – course information
Ecology courses include fieldwork and work experience options. However, it may improve your employment prospects if you do some further work in your own time, for example volunteering for a conservation charity. You can find volunteering opportunities through the Environment Council, Naturenet and the BTCV.
- Environment Council
- British Trust for Conservation Volunteers
Many jobs include travel, so you are likely to need a full driving licence.
You can find more details about careers in ecology on the BES and the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management websites.
Training and Development
It is important to continue developing your skills and knowledge throughout your career. You can do this by joining a professional organisation and taking further training.
The Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM) offers a range of membership grades for both professionals and students.
The Field Studies Council and the Botanical Society of the British Isles also offer a variety of training courses, in partnership with several universities and conservation societies. You may find these useful as part of your continuing professional development.
With experience, you could apply for Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) status with the Society for the Environment. You can find full details about registration and chartered status on the Society’s website.
- Society for the Environment
You could take postgraduate courses with many universities, and the Natural History Museum also offers training, ranging from Masters level up to PhD. You can find more details on the Research and Curation page of the Natural History Museum website.
- Natural History Museum – Research and Curation page
Skills and Knowledge
- a methodical approach to work
- the ability to gather and interpret data
- a knowledge of environmental policies and legislation
- an objective outlook and good negotiating skills
- good presentation and report writing skills
- project management skills
- good IT skills.
- the Environment Agency
- national parks
- local authorities
- research institutes and universities
- conservation bodies, such as the Wildlife and Woodland Trusts
- campaigning organisations like Greenpeace and the WWF.
As an experienced ecologist with membership of a professional association, you could progress to senior ecologist, leading a team of researchers, developing biodiversity plans or acting as a consultant on sustainable development projects.