It is quite difficult to describe a typical day as an assistant ecologist, as no two days are ever the same! The work is varied and there is always something new to learn.
Generally, ecology is a nice mix between working in the office and in the field. The main survey season kicks off between March/April and comes to an end around September/October. Surveys range from Preliminary Ecological Appraisals and Biodiversity Net Gain assessments to looking for evidence of protected species such as great crested newts, bats, reptiles, otters, water voles, breeding birds, and hazel dormice just to name a few. An ecologist’s role is to guide and advise developers on what ecological restrictions may occur on their site and make sure that wildlife legislation is adhered to.
During the winter months, things can become a little quieter, however, there is still plenty to do with reports and fee quotes to send out and possibly some Ecological Clerk of Works (ECoW) roles, where you work directly with contractors on a development site.
During the busy survey season, work can start very early. Start times depend on the specific survey you are undertaking and when the sun rises.
In the morning I might visit a site to carry out a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal. This entails walking around a proposed development site and noting down what habitats are there and any signs of, or potential for, protected species being present. I also make note of any invasive non-native species seen. Everything within the site is inspected, including buildings and structures. I take lots of detailed notes and photographs of the site and take grid references of anything that is of a particular interest.
Once back in the office, I begin to write up the report. I alert the client if any further surveys are needed and of the ecological constraints on site.
Whilst in the office, I will plan for upcoming great crested newt surveys. I contact landowners and assistant surveyors, check I have all the correct equipment, torches are charged, organise start times and make sure I know how to access the ponds that need surveying. I print out maps and survey sheets to take into the field and ensure I have the correct documentation on hand.
I meet another surveyor on site a couple of hours before sunset. This allows us to discuss the ponds that we are surveying, get our bearings, put on PPE and make sure the equipment is ready. Meeting in daylight allows us to scope the site before it gets dark and to highlight any health and safety risks. Once at the pond we will carry out a quick egg-search within the pond’s vegetation. We look out for folded leaves that may encase a great crested newt egg, after this, we will deploy bottle traps. These devices are placed into the water to trap newts overnight. These need to be carefully situated and counted to ensure no animals are harmed. Once this is done, we wait till one hour after sunset to scan the pond with high powered torches. Great crested newts are active at night and so can be spotted more clearly after dark. We count how many we see and then head home for the night.
Early the next morning, I head back to the ponds that were surveyed the night before to collect in the bottle traps. It is important that these bottle traps are not left out for a long period of time to ensure the safety and welfare of the animals within them. I arrive at first light before the weather gets too warm. I count the bottle traps to ensure everyone that went out is accounted for. All newts found within the traps are identified and counted before being gently released back into the pond. I then remove the equipment from the site and head back to the office to type up the results of the survey data.
I enjoy the job as it allows me to work in the open air and survey rare and protected species, however it isn’t for everyone. Working at all hours of the day and night can be tiring but Temple ensures that we are not overworked and get the rest we need in between.