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Working lives

Mike Wells, 39 is principal ecologist and an associate with Bath-based Nicholas Pearson Associates, environmental planners and landscape architects.

Route to the job

My route to environmental consultancy was set by a lifelong interest in the natural world and a preoccupation with the environment. After A Levels, I went on to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, with an open exhibition in natural sciences. I later obtained a senior scholarship and majored in Zoology. After securing my BA in 1982, I went on to study wildlife in the Galapagos Islands for the University of Michigan and then to the Outer Hebrides. I obtained my PhD in 1991 and decided to broaden my ecological base in combination with work in the world of construction and development.

Expections

I was not sure what to expect from environmental consultancy. I was prepared for the commercial and political aspects, but did not know what to expect in terms of pay and conditions. I was also worried about knowing enough to be able do the job to my own high standards.

Reality

I found I had much to learn. I started on a low salary, which quickly increased as it became apparent that I was suited to the singular mixture of science, politics and commerce that is ecological consultancy work. I have been pleased with the range and scale of projects in which I have been involved. Over the past three and a half years I have been English Partnerships' project ecologist for the redevelopment of the Greenwich peninsula, while my role in designing a £1M wetland in North Wales helped me secure membership of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management. A particular 'high' in my career has been working in masterplanning teams led by architects like Richard Rogers, Michael Hopkins and John Assael. My interest in this area has led to my delivering a regular lecture course at the Bath School of Architecture entitled 'The architect, ecology and sustainable development'.

I now co-ordinate a team of ecologists and take an active role in the Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management. About 80% of my time is office-based, but I still get out into the field to see sites and occasionally even to survey them.

Advice

Try to obtain a placement, whether paid or unpaid, with a consultancy firm. Adhere firmly to sound scientific method and objectivity, and continually increase and reinforce your field survey skills and theoretical knowledge. Keep fully up to date on environmental issues and those relating to wider environmental science; local, national and international policy; sustainable development and the construction industry.

Make sure you can see the 'big picture', not just the detail of your own discipline. Be sympathetic and genuinely interested in the aims and discipline of your client and of consultants in other disciplines, and remember that the shortest and best distance between two points is not always a straight line!

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