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Mar 2024
Career of the Month
ecologist sampling a river bed

Key Facts

Starter Salary
Experienced Salary
Working Hours
39-41 hours a week


Ecologists are concerned with the plants, animals and microbes within a particular habitat. There are complex relationships between all these elements and their environment.

The exact role of an ecologist depends on where they are employed. They may work for conservation agencies, charities, scientific institutions and environmental consultancies, for instance.

Ecologists assess the nature of the relevant components of an ecosystem and analyse how they interact. This enables them to suggest ways to improve the ecosystem, or restore it to an earlier state and to predict what might happen given certain changes. With a large-scale construction project, for example, they might assess the species that will be impacted, how these may be re-sited with minimal reduction in the population, and also help design the development to have a positive impact on the quantity and diversity of natural life within the scheme. Other ecologists study how to minimise the impact of climate change on specific species.

Ecologists often specialise in, for example, terrestrial, marine or freshwater systems. Field work includes observation, surveying and recording numbers and behaviours, mapping habitats, and identifying species. Laboratory or office work may involve the examination of organisms, statistical analysis, producing impact assessments, report writing, and liaison with clients/policymakers.

Ecologists need analytical, problem-solving and project management skills. They must be patient, methodical, and able to work in a team and independently.

What it takes

What it takes:

  • scientific and mathematical knowledge
  • analytical thinking skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • excellent communication skills
  • the ability to use your judgement and make decisions
  • patience, persistence and determination
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently
  • complex problem-solving skills
  • project management ability
  • the ability to work in a team and independently

Day to day

Day to day:

Your duties could include

  • carrying out fieldwork - surveying and recording information on plants, animals, environmental conditions and biodiversity
  • researching the impact of human activity, like housing and intensive agriculture, on the environment
  • building computer models to predict the effects of development or climate change
  • managing wildlife conservation areas, woodland and meadows
  • managing staff and volunteers

You could work in the countryside, at a university, in an office or in a laboratory.

Your working environment may be outdoors in all weathers.


You will need
  • An A Level (or equivalent) in maths, science, geography, or geology
  • A GCSE (4+/A*-C) (or equivalent) in English
  • A GCSE (4+/A*-C) (or equivalent) in maths
  • GCSEs (4+/A*-C) (or equivalent) in at least 2 science subjects (or double science)
  • A degree related to ecology or environmental science
You may need
  • An A Level (or equivalent) in chemistry
  • An A Level (or equivalent) in biology
  • An A Level (or equivalent) in geography
  • A GCSE (4+/A*-C) (or equivalent) in geography
Academic and Vocational Notes

Ecologists are usually graduates of relevant subjects. Some have a specialist first degree in a subject like ecology, conservation/wildlife biology or environmental science, whereas others have a broader-based science degree.

Having a relevant postgraduate qualification can improve your employment prospects and may be necessary for those who have not specialised in ecology in their first degree.

When researching higher education courses, check course content and entry requirements with individual universities before you apply.

It is possible to train in this area of work through a relevant apprenticeship. Vacancies may be advertised through training providers, employers and on the Government's apprenticeships website.

This is a very competitive area of work so gain as much experience as you can, for instance in voluntary conservation work or through a sandwich course, as this will help when applying for vacancies.

Work Based Training Notes

Employers may offer graduate training programmes or apprenticeships. Some ecologists start in assistant-level roles in order to gain experience before applying for more responsible positions.

You may be encouraged to continue with your studies at postgraduate level on a part-time basis.

With the necessary experience, skills and qualifications, it is possible to achieve Chartered Ecologist or Chartered Environmentalist status through a relevant professional body.

Other Routes

Whilst these are the usual routes to this career, there can be alternatives. You will be able to discuss these with your adviser.

Some data provided by NCS. May contain public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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