Richard Wilson | Principle Ecologist | Richard Wilson Ecology Limited
Welcome to the latest in a new series by Ecology Jobs where we uncover what it’s like to work ‘Inside The Industry’. These are a growing series of short interviews with professionals working inside the Ecological Consultancy sector. Today we’re speaking with Richard Wilson, Principle Ecologist at Richard Wilson Ecology Limited.
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Why do you work as an ecologist?
I was inspired by the natural world as a young child: my early memories are my Year 3 Primary School teacher (Mr. Overall) who took us on nature walks and suggested I studied the birds in my parent’s back garden to write up in ‘project time’; my parents who encouraged this and took me out to nature reserves and other greenspace; of course Sir David Attenborough documentaries (I got special dispensation to stay up beyond bedtime to watch); and the Willard Price ‘Adventure series’ of books, originally published between 1949 & 1980 also allowed me to dream of foreign travel and exploration of our natural world.
What are the main activities in your current role?
I am a specialist ecologist, focussing on invertebrate ecology. My work is mostly, but not exclusively, surveying sites for their invertebrate assemblages to inform ecological impact assessment. This would typically involve three or four visits spread evenly between April and September; collecting material for identification (where this cannot reliably be undertaken in the field) and subsequent analysis and evaluation to inform the mitigation hierarchy. I also work with nature conservation NGOs, statutory authorities and National Park Authorities. Of course, there is all the week-to-week running of a company such as accounts, health and safety, networking and working with my professional body (Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management) on various policy matter that interest me.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I work in a specialist field, so I tend to get involved with the more complex and ecologically interesting sites. I routinely work with other recognised specialists, so I am fortunate to regularly interact with colleagues who are widely respected and recognised globally as being highly experienced and competent ecologists. So I learn an awful lot through project work, conversations and general interactions. I am a national specialist myself (I am an arachnologist (a specialist in spider taxonomy and ecology)) which has opened up opportunities to work in some fairly amazing places in Britain which I would otherwise not have done.
Working for myself (after about 10 years being employed in ecological consultancy) has provided a fantastic work-life balance. I am very lucky; but I have worked hard for it.
What is it like to work at Richard Wilson Ecology Limited?
Fantastic! The freedom to determine my own pathway, take on projects that I find interesting and work on a diverse portfolio of projects. No one year is the same as a previous. And the work-life balance is great. But there is a substantial responsibility attached to this.
What key steps in your career you have taken?
Lots of volunteering from A-level through to graduating from my first degree – mostly with a local conservation group associated with a local nature reserve where I grew up (Luton, Bedfordshire) and subsequently the RSPB. A keen interest in birding and then a desire to put a name to everything I saw (in today’s terminology, pan-listing).
This evolved into a very strong interest in invertebrates and through happenstance, spiders. It is a long story as to why spiders, but the right person (Bedfordshire County Recorder) agreed to identify spiders I collected and when he wrote to me with the species (all scientific names), I wanted to know what Tenuiphantes tenuis (a widespread money-spider) looked like. He showed me down his microscope and I was hooked. That was 30 years ago this year!
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t expect to achieve your goals unless you (a) persevere and (b) persevere. By this, what I mean is that it is a journey and there will be a lot of competition for the same (or similar) destination. So you need tenacity. Of course, you need a good education – I would say a relevant degree is necessary (as much to gain experience in report writing, research skills, and opportunities that possibly only arise in academia that broaden one’s horizons) but equally, you need to acquire taxonomic skills that regrettably are not formally taught at university.
So, this is a vocation; not a career. I don’t think it is necessarily important which faunal or floral group you select – it could be birds, mammals, fish, flies, lichens, fungi or springtails – but become reasonably competent at it – say become sufficiently familiar with the assemblage in a local nature reserve. Join a local natural history society and go on their field trips.
Volunteer at a local biological record centre or Wildlife Trust; or if you live in a bigger city, a museum with a natural science department (though outside the capital cities, they are few and far between admittedly). This way, you’ll get to know the right people in your region and get to hear about opportunities that may arise – plus gain local knowledge – which will be relevant elsewhere in the country.
I’d say knowing who to know, is as valuable as having the experience – indeed, I’d suggest it is possibly better to know more relevant people and not quite enough technical skills (which can be learned/ acquired quickly (if you have the right aptitude) than have the right technical know-how but poor networking.