Science and Research

Research into ecology and environmental management covers a very wide range of topics and ecologists are employed as researchers in many of the employment sectors listed previously.

Academic institutions and research centres carry out much of the baseline research, working to contracts awarded by organisations such as the Research Councils, countryside agencies, Government departments and industrial clients. Other research is done as personal projects, carried out alongside other aspects of the job, such as university teaching. Results of research are published in scientific journals and specialist magazines. Some of the research data generated are published and used by the media to create awareness or to lobby and persuade.

The Work

Junior scientific positions are often laboratory based or involve fieldwork. Senior staff act as team or project managers and as strategic planners. Opportunities exist for working abroad on some projects. There are also academic jobs available, offering support to research scientists. Examples include laboratory technician work or practical work in zoos and botanic gardens. The following are examples of work in this area:

Pure and Applied Research – Pure ecological research is carried out mainly in universities and by specialist organisations such as the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), although some takes place in other Government funded institutes, museums, zoos, botanic gardens and large companies. Much of the work carried out in universities for higher degrees is pure research. Most of the organisations already mentioned also carry out applied ecological research.

This may investigate the population dynamics of species that are either too numerous or are under threat; the ecological impacts of agricultural policy, climate change, genetically modified crops, pollution, implementation of legislation or introduced species; or methods of habitat restoration. Some applied research involves the testing of products on species or ecosystems; some are concerned with campaigns to create awareness (e.g. the effects of stress on hunted animals); some are directed towards monitoring the quality of air and water.

Biological Recording – A huge amount of data on species distribution is collected, mainly by amateurs in botanical, ornithological, entomological and similar specialist societies. Some NGOs, such as the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), hold their own information and employ staff to handle the data. Others pass data to local Biological Records Centres (often run by provincial museums) or to the National Biological Records Centres, operated by the CEH for analysis and dissemination. Biologists are employed in record centres and the information is used in nature conservation, planning and applied research.

Conservation Work in Zoos and Botanic Gardens – Zoos and botanic gardens are important employers of biologists and ecologists and many are deeply involved in conservation projects. Some zoos are now running captive breeding programmes in which the release of endangered species back into the wild is the major objective. Parallel studies aim to determine the habitat requirements of endangered plants and animals. The international seed bank at Kew is the most important in the world and is making a significant contribution to the conservation of threatened plants.

Editorial Work for Scientific Journals – Publishers of scientific journals, such as Biological Conservation and Journal of Ecology employ editorial staff, often on a part-time basis. Journal editors are experienced scientists, whose job includes sending proposed papers to referees and, in the light of their comments, making a judgement on the suitability of the contributions for publication. Some organisations employ staff to compile databases of references and abstracts on scientific topics, including ecology, for publication in electronic form.

The Employers

The main employers in this field are:

  • Universities
  • Research organisations, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), including:
    • the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
    • the National Oceanography Centre (a joint venture with the University of Southampton)
    • the British Antarctic Survey (also see ‘Local Government and Statutory Agencies’ section).
  • Organisations that carry out environmental and biological research for government departments dealing with agriculture, for example:
    • the Institute of Arable Crops Research (Rothamsted); and
    • the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research and the Scottish Agricultural College.
  • Government agencies (also see ‘Local Government and Statutory Agencies’ section);
  • Museums (both national and local), zoos and botanic gardens;
  • Industry (also see ‘Business and Industry’ section); and
  • Non-Governmental organisations (also see ‘Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) section).