CIEEM Bursary Awards – by Amy Basford and Leah Farquarson
I was very pleased to have been awarded the CIEEM bursary and although the year did not go as planned, the bursary has been very beneficial. It has helped pave the way for me to develop my career as an ecologist through providing additional training, reference books and equipment. The bursary has helped me to broaden my knowledge and whilst all in-person training was unfortunately cancelled, I was able to participate in useful online training courses. These also afforded me opportunities to engage with professional working ecologists.
I completed two informative online courses by Ecology Training UK. The first was a self-study botany course which comprised of plant structure and habitats, plant families and tree and grass identification. This also included identifying plant and tree samples from video sources and identifying my own collected plant samples. Despite this format being a challenge, I am now better able to identify plant species. I also completed their course on Protected Species Surveying which covered the ecology and surveying of all UK protected species. I am now more confident in identifying droppings and tracks.
To complement the courses, the bursary also enabled the purchase of reference material such as the book Harrap’s Wild Flowers by Simon Harrap. This has since been a useful guide to which I refer to in the field.
Since Biodiversity Net Gain is now gaining more prominence and shall be mandated within the forthcoming Environment Bill, I attended CIEEM’s courses on ‘Calculating and Using Biodiversity Units with Metric 2.0’ and ‘Biodiversity Net Gain Through Development’. These were both well structured, very informative and increased my practical knowledge on current principles within this sector.
To further broaden my knowledge, I also completed additional training on using the UK Habitat Classification. This provided a comprehensive overview of using the Habitat Field Key, how to describe habitat features using secondary codes and how to map habitat types.
By having the opportunity to attend these courses, I not only gained a greater understanding in this sector from a practical perspective, but they also afforded me the opportunity to participate in group discussions and share ideas with experienced ecologists.
Following these courses, the bursary then enabled me to purchase the Plants and Habitats book by Ben Averis. This has been an invaluable guide for grouping plants and their associated habitat types.
I have developed a particular interest in studying bats and their habitats. I was therefore very grateful that the bursary afforded me the opportunity to purchase an Echo Meter Touch Pro to identify bats through listening to their calls whilst also showing a real time spectrogram and recording locations. I have used this for both surveying bats in my own local area and when carrying out surveys for my local bat group. During lockdown I was able to detect bat activity in my immediate vicinity and submit the results to the Birmingham & Black Country Bat Group for them to collate. The British Bat Calls: A Guide to Species Identification book by Jon Russ has been a very informative resource with clear explanations about bat calls and their identification. It includes sonograms for each British bat species and useful information about their social calls.
In May 2020, the Bat Conservation Trust hosted a Big Bat Skills event online. This was engaging and very enjoyable whilst also providing a wealth of useful information. The bursary enabled me to attend three workshops covering surveying buildings, surveying trees and hibernation surveys. These greatly improved my knowledge on bat survey techniques which I have since been able to implement when carrying out bat surveys.
The bursary has afforded me opportunities that I would not otherwise have received and as such has helped provide a foundation for me to establish my career as an ecologist. It has helped me become a Qualifying member of CIEEM and I shall be looking to progress towards Associate status during my career.
Receiving the 2019 Bursary Award has been essential in my progression from student to environmental professional. Having completed my master’s degree (Environmental Management and Conservation) in 2020 and securing professional employment as an ecologist, my career appears to have gathered momentum just as the world has slowed down! Working as an ecological and environmental manager requires a wide and variable skill set that goes beyond academic learning. Being awarded this opportunity to access and attend additional training, advice and support through CIEEM whilst studying has been essential in my transition from student to employment and I could not be more grateful.
At the beginning of 2020, I attended a CIEEM led Winter Plant ID course in Perthshire funded through the bursary award. The course was highly educational and provided participants with the necessary skills in botany for continued learning and progression. It was taught by a leading senior ecologist who had an in-depth knowledge of the local vegetation and habitat types. Being able to identify certain species during winter months out with general survey timetables certainly gave me an edge on my CV and highlighted my commitment to botany and species identification. Outwit the educational aspect of the course, I was also able to network with other environmental professionals and become involved in conservation projects in my area which greatly supported my applications for consultancy roles.
The whole experience has clearly proved valuable, having recently secured employment with my local authority as an ecologist. During interview, I was able to draw on the resources provided by CIEEM and the CPD tool, and the interviewer was especially impressed that I had been awarded the bursary and my commitment to continued training and self-development.
The position involves surveying and designating areas as Local Nature Conservation Sites for the updated version of the Perth and Kinross Local Development Plan. Assessment includes both desktop appraisal of habitats and species using land cover and satellite images, as well as scheduling and conducting Phase 1 habitat surveys and a full NVC species and habitat list through collaboration with landowners, volunteers and various conservation and wildlife charities working in the area. Growing up in Perthshire, I have a personal appreciation of the local wild spaces and I am delighted to be involved in the protection and enhancement of the environment surrounding my home.
The pandemic did ultimately have an impact on my initial plans for the training bursary with most of the courses I had applied to attend in 2020 cancelled. This delayed my use of the bursary funds, however it also provided me with an opportunity to reassess my skills base using the CIEEM Continuing Professional Development tool, particularly in respect to my new job role. I identified gaps in my current knowledge base and researched courses and training events to attend in 2021 that will continue to develop my skills as an ecologist.
Going forward, I will complete my ecologist position with my Local Authority which is currently a 9-month post. I will then be completing research fellowships in central America at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and The Institute of Tropical Ecology and Conservation, training in Canopy Access Techniques which will be part funded by this bursary. I will be undertaking research in liana ecology, assessing changes in liana abundance and composition in response to climate change and how this will influence overall forest structure and survival.
Receiving this bursary has given me the confidence and resources to continue to develop my professional skills and consider which areas I would like to specialise in. As an organisation, CIEEM has been fundamental to me as an early career and student ecologist and through their support I have been able to stand out during application and interview processes and break into the industry.
One piece of advice I would give to other early career ecologist and environmental managers is to think ahead in terms of career and skills planning. I found it useful, especially using the CPD tool, to develop an understanding of the required, preferred and specialised skills for various job roles and build on professional training from there. Find a niche and work hard to develop these skills. For me this has been botany and plant ecology, which thanks to CIEEM, has led to professional and paid opportunities in the sector.
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