Ben Gardner | Director | Ecology by Design

Welcome to the latest ‘Inside The Industry’ interview from Ecology Jobs. Today we’re speaking with Ben Gardner, Director at Ecology by Design.

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Why do you work as an ecologist?

Until I fell into an ecology consultant role, I did not even know the job existed. I had always been enthused by the natural world and I knew I would always work with wildlife, but it took a roundabout way of getting there. When I was little, I dreamt of being a farmer, zookeeper, wildlife cameraman, probably jobs that many ecologists similarly aspired too. I studied Environmental Science at university against the advice of my school careers advisor who thought I would make a good Librarian or Archivist. Leaving school I was very confused so I searched for a gap year experience but not the normal highly expensive tourist trip but a ‘grass roots’ experience. I read about a charity working with bears in the US, emailed them and they invited me over. Only weeks later I was travelling across the Atlantic for a yearlong gap year working with black bears in the north woods of Minnesota. I fell into ecology after working as a civil servant in a dark, dingy office and fighting the underground in London to and from work every day. I stumbled across an advert for an ecology graduate programme with Carter Ecological (now RSK), applied and somehow got one of the places. I halved my salary moved from London to Banbury and started my new ecology career.

What are the main activities in your current role?

After moving from ADAS to setup my own consultancy in late 2014 I have slowly shifted my role from mostly technical ecology to becoming much more of a business owner, focused on driving the business’s sales and marketing, leading the team and looking at the strategic direction of the company. In the past couple of years, I have almost completely stopped field work to focus on business growth. I still get to go out every so often and particularly for more complicated or licenced jobs but most of my ecology bug is now satisfied outside work.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love ecology but now a days I am really enthused by running the business, forming strategies for growth and providing leadership to the team. Coaching colleagues so that they become better ecologists and consultants and seeing the results of their growth is hugely rewarding.

What is it like to work at Ecology by Design?

When I left my previous employer and setup Ecology by Design I quickly realised I could never go back to being employed. Having the freedom to grow my own business and reap the rewards for hard work are too much of a draw. I setup Ecology by Design with the aim of taking all the good things and dropping all the things I didn’t agree with, and I have stuck rigidly to this principal. In my spare time I read a lot, particularly about business so I like to try and create a superb company culture based on trust and respect. The team works hard for each other and has a high level of trust to deliver projects, generate new work and explore their own interests. Benefits such as no timesheets, managing their own time, unlimited leave just adds to the vibrant place we have created.

What key steps in your career you have taken?

As mentioned earlier I fell into ecology consultancy, but I have taken some key steps to get to where I am now. I started at Carter Ecological (now RSK) and spent a year with RPS before settling at ADAS (now RSK ADAS). I really cut my teeth at ADAS and rose through the consultant levels before leading the Oxford ecology team. Both of my parents were entrepreneurs running an art restoration business and gallery, so I have always been around business owners and very easily made the decision to leave and setup Ecology by Design.

I am a ‘generalist’ when it comes to ecology but with more of a focus to the animal rather than botanical side (botany is a dark art:)). I developed technically through a mix of training courses, mentoring from seniors and a sprinkling of volunteer work. I am a huge advocate of learn by doing so for a lot of things I am self-taught.

What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?

Just do it…..don’t take no for an answer. Be energetic, make goals and seek to smash them. It is not until you are on the other side of an interview that you see what people are really looking for when employing new ecologists. Although I had an amazing gap year experience before university, I would say that for the typical ecologist most of the time I just don’t care about your experience tracking lions or playing with turtles in exotic locations. Yes, some experiences you have had may have given you great life lessons but really, I want to know why you are different to everyone else, why should I employ you and not any of the other candidates applying.

Take the above and let it guide your thinking about how you are going to get that first ecology job. If all of your peers are spending thousands on exotic travel and paid training, then take a different route.  Time working with consultants, shadowing ecologists or working in UK conservation are of much greater interest to an employer. Be proactive and ask those stupid questions. I have lost count of the number of times I have sat in a coffee shop with a fresh-faced undergraduate seeking advice on how to become an ecologist. Most ecologists will happily give their time to help you but only if you ask for it.

If you can gain even some basic identification skills, botanical skills or be working towards a licence such as bats then you will already be head and shoulders above your peers.

Networking in our industry is key, create a Linkedin profile and connect with people, go to conferences and join webinars so you can start learning about the industry and key players. Ecology can be taught but often the wider consultancy skills like networking and communications are a lot harder so take yourself out of your comfort zone and start improving your skills in these areas as early as possible.

To find out more about Ecology By Design, please click here.

If you’d like to be featured, we’d love to hear from you! Click here for more information. 

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