Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an ecologist is actually like? Read on to find out how Molly got on during her 2 week work experience placement with us.
I undertook a two-week work experience placement with Clarkson & Woods in May 2021. During that time, I learned a lot about what it takes to work successfully within the ecological consultancy profession. I was able to experience a range of different elements of the job, from office-based tasks to surveys in the field.
Across the two weeks, I gained many useful skills and participated in a wide variety of different tasks; I’ve reflected on my ‘Top 5’ placement days below:
Staff Training Day (17/05)
My first day of the placement coincided with a staff training day, involving a series of skills workshops in which all staff members participated. This allowed me to meet all of the team and highlighted the benefits of working as part of a large group; I was able to collaborate with and learn from more experienced ecologists, with varying interests in specific fields.
The first workshop session explained how to use and maintain different types of bat detectors, including Batbox Duets, Echo-meter Touch 2’s and static detectors. Having never used a bat detector before, I found this session really informative and it proved very useful in the following days as I participated in several bat surveys and deployed a number of static detectors.
For the second workshop session we travelled to Thurlbear ancient woodland nearby and I participated in woodland botany training. All of the staff members were really knowledgeable, and the diverse woodland habitat provided lots of opportunity for me to learn from others and improve my botanical identification skills.
In the evening we travelled to Westhay Nature Reserve and applied the theoretical knowledge we had learnt in the morning session by using bat detectors in the field. Linking the two sessions helped to consolidate my knowledge, and being able to identify different bat calls whilst seeing them fly overhead was a rewarding end to a very informative first day.
Quotation Writing and Evening Bat Survey (18/05)
The majority of the second day was spent gaining experience of the other key aspect of the consultancy profession as I carried out a number of office-based tasks. I was asked to prepare a quotation for an upcoming project, and write a brief letter to the client outlining the proposed survey work. Writing the quotation was a useful exercise as it helped me to understand the process behind the field work, breaking down each step and accounting for all the possible costs and timings, e.g. equipment, travel, survey effort.
In the evening, I attended a bat emergence survey for an on-going project. Despite rainy weather conditions, it still allowed me to practice and build on my skills from the training day; I was able to detect calls from Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, as well as Noctule and Seretine bats.
Report Writing, Roman Snail Survey and Evening Bat Survey (24/05)
On this day, I was assigned the task of writing an updated ecological report for an on-going project, following some recent survey work. For this, I needed to adapt my writing style to suit the more formal document and learned that the piece needed more complex understanding of Phase 1 surveys than I had previously thought. I collaborated with other staff members who were very helpful in guiding my writing and bringing my work up to the expected level of detail.
The second-half of the day was spent in the field, conducting a survey for Roman snails in Ham Hill. I was not aware before the survey that snails were a protected species and were accounted for in ecological mitigation for developments, so it was an entirely new experience and set of survey skills for me. I found the afternoon really interesting, as both of the colleagues I was working with had extensive invertebrate knowledge and so were able to point out many different species while we surveyed for the snails. We did find one live Roman snail; searching for such a small creature for three hours made finding one even more rewarding.
In the evening, I assisted on another bat survey, and practiced on a different detector type, the Batbox Duet, to try to increase my skillset. This heterodyne detector didn’t have automated ID, so I had to identify the different bat calls by ear which was really challenging; however conferring with my colleagues to confirm what I had heard helped me to become more confident.
Report Writing and Sonogram Analysis (25/05)
In the morning, I continued writing the ecological report I had been assigned earlier in the week. I began to feel more comfortable with both the format and the level of complexity, and continued collaborating with colleagues which helped to add valuable insight. I was very proud of the finished report, and it felt like a useful tool to combine knowledge from my degree and skills I had picked up during the placement.
In the afternoon, I was shown by a colleague how to analyse bat data collected during the surveys. I used two software programmes; Adobe Audition and Kaleidoscope. This exercise allowed me to confirm my attempts at identification during the surveys, and provide me with an understanding and visual representation of the different call ‘shapes’ and how different bat species use echolocation for different purposes. The continuity between different tasks (bat training, survey work and analysis) allowed me to build my skills across each stage of the survey process, and it was really satisfying to have made notable progress in this survey technique by the end of the experience.
Dormouse Survey and Quotation Writing (26/05)
During the morning, I assisted on a dormouse survey in Charlton Adam, checking nest tubes for signs of dormouse activity. As the checks were conducted fairly early in the season, no dormice were found. However, the colleagues I was working with provided lots of information on hedgerow plant species as well as dormouse behaviours. This helped add another level to the botany skills I had picked up earlier in the placement, and I have since been practicing these skills when observing hedgerows on local walks in my free time.
As a final office-based task I was asked to prepare a quotation for a large site, on which the client was seeking planning permission for a development of 80 houses. This task required me to draw on my knowledge of different survey types and apply my new practical understanding of survey scope and timing constraints. Whilst challenging, the task allowed me to see the progress I had made in just two weeks; I was able to prepare this quote more comprehensively and work more independently than the first quotation I prepared on my second day. I felt a definite sense of achievement when sending the quotation to the client.
My two week placement gave me a valuable insight into the career of an ecologist, as well as what it means to work as part of a successful, cohesive team. Picking up new skills, in both field work and administration, has certainly inspired me to broaden my skillset in my spare time and has demonstrated why a career in ecology is such an attractive one for those passionate about wildlife.
Update: Molly is now with us permanently as an Assistant Ecologist and continues to learn and develop her skills in the role.