The Job and What's Involved

Ecologists study plants, micro-organisms and animals, and their interactions with one another and the non-living components of the environment.

They carry out a wide range of tasks relating to their specialist area of knowledge, for example freshwater, marine, terrestrial, microbial systems, fauna or flora.

The work can include:

  • Field survey and assessment work - examples include the routine survey of plants, animals or micro-organisms, monitoring protected areas and assessing the impact of air, land and water pollution on ecology.
  • Practical countryside and site management - this may involve managing nature reserves, country parks or recreation areas.
  • Advising government, land managers or the general public - for example on nature conservation strategies or urban and rural development.
  • Providing advice on civil engineering projects, such as on the likely impact of a new road scheme on ecosystems
    Advising on land restoration and water use - including projects for restoring land that has been contaminated.
  • Developing computer models of ecosystems, to formulate predictions and research questions.
  • Interacting with scientists from other disciplines to provide a more complete picture of the way the planet works.
  • Maintaining and monitoring standards.
  • Research on, for example, the ecological impact of climate change.
  • Teaching in universities, colleges, schools and field study centres.

Ecologists may also be involved with science communication, which includes writing about the environment for newspapers, magazines and journals, and making films, radio and television programmes.

Some ecologists work indoors, assessing data on computers or working on specimens in a laboratory. Others spend most of their time working outdoors, in all weather. Ecologists need to be physically fit to undertake fieldwork activities.

Working hours vary considerably, depending on the exact nature of the role.

Depending on their job, ecologists may spend some of their time traveling to sites or meetings. Some overseas travel may be required.

Starting salaries may be between £15,000 and £24,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Ecology is a growing field. A wide variety of jobs exist across the UK in a range of organisations. However, competition for jobs is usually intense.

Potential employers include:

  • Government and statutory bodies - including central and local government departments, and environmental agencies.
  • Industrial and business companies - including companies that deal with mineral extraction, food, timber, energy, water, waste disposal, and holidays and tourism.
  • Environmental consultants - providing a service to industry, government agencies and other organisations.
  • Universities and colleges - where ecologists carry out pure and applied research, and teach higher education courses.
  • Book, journal, magazine and newspaper publishers.
  • Radio, television and film companies offering opportunities in environmental journalism.
  • Commercial and government research institutes, museums, botanic gardens and national park authorities.
  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - including societies and trusts working to protect wildlife and the environment.

There are also jobs with:

Wildlife bodies, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife and the Woodland Trust.

Campaign or pressure group organisations, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Learned societies such as the British Ecological Society.

Vacancies for ecologists are advertised in the national press and in sector publications, such as New Scientist, Nature, Farmers Weekly and Horticulture Week. They are also advertised on the websites of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM), and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).

Education and Training

The minimum qualification for an ecologist is usually a first degree in a biological or environmental subject such as ecology, conservation biology, environmental biology, environmental management or marine biology.

Many employers also look for postgraduate qualifications.

Experience as a research assistant or a conservation project volunteer is also advantageous.

Membership of a professional body such as CIWEM or IEEM is helpful for developing contacts, keeping knowledge up to date and gaining qualifications. Student and graduate membership is often available, and ecologists with sufficient qualifications and experience can become full members. They may then be able to work towards becoming a chartered environmentalist (CEnv) or chartered scientist (CSci).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

For a first degree, candidates usually need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), usually including English and maths. Requirements for specific subjects vary between courses and institutions. Biology, chemistry, physics, maths and geography are useful.

Universities also offer a variety of postgraduate courses relating to ecology. They usually last one to three years full time (four years in Scotland). Applicants to postgraduate courses usually need a relevant first degree (typically a first or upper second).

Applicants should check specific course requirements with individual universities and colleges.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Ecologists need to be:

  • Analytical and creative.
  • Good at grasping technical concepts.
  • Able to see the whole picture, and view things from the perspective of others.
  • Attentive to detail.
  • Good at problem solving.
  • Effective at working as part of a team.
  • Skilled communicators, in person and in writing.
  • Comfortable working with IT.
  • Good with numbers, especially statistics.

Get Further Information

The British Ecological Society (BES),
26 Blades Court, Putney, London SW15 2NU
Tel: 020 8871 9797

Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM),
15 John Street, London WC1N 2EB
Tel: 020 7831 3110
Websites: and

Environment Agency Website:

Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM),
45 Southgate Street, Winchester SO23 9EH
Tel: 01962 868626

Natural England,
Northminster House, Peterborough PE1 1UA
Tel: 0845 600 3078

The Science Council, 32-36 Loman Street,
Southwark, London SE1 0EH
Tel: 020 7922 7888

Society for the Environment,
The Old School House, Long Street,
Atherstone, Warwickshire CV9 1AH
Tel: 0845 337 2951

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