What employment sector do you work in?
How long have you had a green job for nature?
£25,001 – £30,000
Please describe the work that you do.
As a Biodiversity Technical Officer, I sit within the Biodiversity & Geomorphology team in the East Midlands. My main responsibility is to ensure works in and around rivers are compliant with ecological legislation and policy. As a team, we assess planning and other types of consultation applications, and act as consultants to our own internal field teams who approach us regarding proposed river maintenance works.
What do you most like about your job? Any dislikes?
There are lots of things I enjoy about my job. Firstly, I work in an incredibly supportive team who are always keen to help each other out. Working with great people makes it easier to do a job well. Secondly, I enjoy the variety. Knowing that you have a day in the field, after a day in the office, aids productivity and makes the week more enjoyable. Thirdly, the Environment Agency promotes a healthy work-life balance, offering employees a flexi-time policy which allows employees to spread working hours in a week to suit individual lifestyles.
Like with any job, the position does come with a few frustrations. As expected, sometimes there are conflicts with internal teams regarding proposed works which could be delayed due to the presence of protected species or invasive non-native species. Projects each have their own time and funding pressures, and we always advise teams approach us at the earliest opportunity so that mitigation measures may be implemented smoothly.
What inspired you into this career?
As with most environmental professionals, my interest in the natural world began at a very young age. At school and at A-Level, I selected subjects in environmental sciences, including Geography and Biology, and volunteered with various local environmental groups.
In October 2010, I began reading Geography BSc at Durham University. Three years later I had graduated with a very broad degree and wanted to spend some time thinking about which career path to pursue. In the year between completing my undergraduate degree and beginning my Masters degree, I volunteered for the Forestry Commission and Durham Wildlife Trust. During this time, I assisted with bat box checks and enhanced my flora ID. Fascinated, I began looking for jobs working with and surveying protected species and habitats.
Have you faced any challenges in progressing your career so far?
In September 2015, I graduated from Newcastle University with an MSc in Ecological Consultancy. Like with most Masters degrees, the course ended in autumn/winter, coinciding with the end of the busy ecology season. As such, the demand for Graduate Ecologists in consultancies was low until the following spring. I was lucky, however, as I had been working as a subcontracted ecologist for two seasons at a consultancy based in Northumberland. After my Masters course had ended, I was offered full-time, temporary work in their office, undertaking bat sound analysis and GIS mapping for three months over the winter. By the time I had accepted a full-time permanent Graduate Ecologist position in March 2016, I had only been out of work for three months.
Like with anyone trying to start a career fresh out of university, finding and securing a job has its challenges. I remember filling out and submitting countless job application forms. Some I did not receive a response, others confirmed I was unsuccessful, and where I was successful at application stage, I was turned down at interview. Rightly or wrongly, I even pulled out of application processes when positions did not seem right. Perhaps I was still undecided about which direction to head in as I had also applied and interviewed for a few PhDs.
After a couple of months applying to jobs and sending speculative CVs to various consultancies, I was offered a Graduate Ecologist position, based in Leeds. I accepted and relocated to West Yorkshire – a region which was completely alien to me at the time. Over the course of two years, I gained valuable experience undertaking ecological surveys and report writing. However, whilst the life of a consultant suits some, I struggled with the pressures and expectations of the job, and my mental health declined. My main worry was potentially moving to a different consultancy, to find myself in the same situation. Finally, I secured a position at the Environment Agency.
I get asked a lot if I would change anything. My answer is always ‘no’ as without those life experiences I would not be where I am now.
What education/training did you have?
In 2010, after leaving school and Sixth Form, I went to Durham University to read Geography BSc (3-year programme). In September 2014, I enrolled onto the Ecological Consultancy MSc course at Newcastle University. My post-graduate ‘Project’ (thesis) was “Characterising the bat communities in Wallington, Northumberland with a focus on Natterer’s bat Myotis nattereri and other Myotis spp.” I was lucky enough to be able to assist a PhD student at the time undertake harp trapping, mist netting, and radiotracking, in addition to nocturnal survey.
In June 2014, I joined Durham Bat Group, whilst beginning work as a subcontracted ecologist for two ecological consultancies in the North East of England. These consultancies provided in-house training surveying for bats and Great Crested Newts, whilst providing a valuable networking opportunity. I continued working as a subcontracted ecologist alongside my studies so that by the time I had graduated, I was offered full-time, temporary work undertaking bat sound analysis and GIS mapping, by one of the companies, over the winter.
Whilst working as an ecological consultant, I developed a working knowledge of survey techniques and report writing. The job itself was a valuable, but intense, training opportunity. In addition, I was also given the chance to attend training courses on Winter Tree ID, First Aid at Work, and passed various courses to receive a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card which permits competent individuals to enter construction sites.
Altogether the training and experience I gathered over the years helped me secure my current position at the Environment Agency where I have continued developing survey skills and an understanding of the water environment.
What advice would you give to someone coming into the profession?
As a member of the CIEEM Early Careers Special Interest Group (SIG) committee, I would strongly encourage students, graduates, and those looking for a career change to attend the Early Careers SIG events.