In January, our graduate ecologists attended a course at Wildwood Ecology to enhance their knowledge and understanding of multiple ecological disciplines, all based on the latest standards, methodologies and developments within the industry.
One of the many benefits of working for Arbtech is that all employees are given an unlimited CPD budget. With it, they are handed an opportunity to gain as much knowledge and experience as they wish, assisting their own personal and professional development alongside their effectiveness carrying out ecological services on behalf of the company.
Using the unlimited CPD budget, our surveyors can attend courses and gain qualifications to widen their knowledge, improve their skills, broaden their horizons and increase the number of subject areas they are proficient in. Most recently, the perk was used by Arbtech’s graduate ecologists to sign up for a course at Wildwood Ecology – an ecological consultancy with branches in the Cotswolds and Caerphilly.
Wildwood Ecology’s Training Programme
Proudly the first ecological consultancy to certify as a B Corporation – a certification created to ensure the highest possible standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability – Wildwood Ecology launched training courses in 2020 with the intention of educating ecologists in a number of industry fields.
Training programmes from Wildwood Ecology specifically focus on graduates that either recently left university or found employment but want to learn more about ecology in the early stages of their professional career.
Over the five days of learning, the course covered a selection of relevant topics, such as:
- Active wildlife legislation and planning policies in the UK
- Biodiversity net gain (BNG)
- Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) using the UK Habitat Classification System (UKHab)
- Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA) using the bat survey guidelines methodology
- Report writing
If you are considering signing up to the course yourself or encouraging your colleagues or employees to undertake it, check out the section below, as we have provided feedback from each of our graduate ecologists that were in attendance:
The training course was really good!
We had three days online and two days in person. The online stuff was pretty good, and it’s accessible for the rest of the year, which is helpful, as we rushed to get through it on the day but could benefit from it in the future.
I found the online information about legislation and planning policies, and the online and in person BNG information, especially helpful. I previously knew nothing about BNG stuff, but now, I have more of a basic understanding.
The report writing stuff I think is more helpful for anyone not experienced in writing reports. For instance, I am used to using the Arbtech template for writing reports, so moving across to using the template provided was confusing. If I didn’t have experience report writing, however, it could be crucially important to learn such a fundamental part of the assessment process.
The people teaching the training course were all really great – easy to talk to, approachable, and happy to answer any and all questions. Unfortunately, Richard – who was meant to be teaching the course – couldn’t be there for personal reasons, but the others were all fantastic. That said, Richard did all of the online stuff, and he was great!
Having the practical days doing PEA and PRA was also super helpful. I only wish I’d done them sooner to be honest! But even at this stage where most of us are already doing the surveys, I still found it really insightful, and it was really interesting looking at the different dead bat species and droppings to get a sense of size and appearance.
The PEA and PRA training on the last couple of days was really helpful, although I would have liked to be out and about a bit more rather than in the office, but that’s only minor.
The legislation lecture on Monday was fine, but the BNG day was very fast-paced and tried to fit in a lot in one day, making it somewhat hard for me to follow. As a result, I would like to make time for a few more days of training on this.
In total honesty, I found the report writing day to be kind of ineffective for me personally, as it used their report format and we had all already written a lot of reports.
As a whole, I do think that the training helped me to improve as an ecologist.
I thought the course was really useful, but I definitely feel that it was geared more towards beginners on the PRA section, as they were discussing making assessments to buildings, which almost all of us had already done.
However, during the PRA portion, they brought out dead bats and poo samples of loads of species. I had never seen any of these bats up close before and thought that was a super exciting experience.
For the PEA portion, I thought it was all very helpful, as I needed some more training on what to look for and think about while on site. Following the course, I definitely feel that I can now handle PEAs.
The BNG portion threw all of us – except Miche – through a loop, as it is complex and there is a lot to learn. I’m still not 100% certain on calculating it, but I’m sure that with time and practice, I will get the hang of it.
All in all, I am very glad that I signed up for it and would recommend it to any newbies!
I thought the days in person were helpful, as it was good to go through the process of the PEA and PRA with different ecologists and ones that work in alternative areas to me.
I think the report writing module was a bit too beginner for us, as a lot of us are already writing reports. But I thought the BNG stuff and everything else was helpful and informative.
From my perspective, the course did not seem beneficial to most of us, as we’d already been on the job for a few months. That said, I know that some members of the team found it to be useful, and on top of that, it was good opportunity to bond with the graduates.
I like how the course materials are available for up to a year after the training, as it gives us some leeway to refer back to things that are important. I did not personally, however, find the course materials to be entirely useful.
The first day involving legislation was good to have, but I think I would have preferred if it focused a bit more on the actual planning process, as that’s what clients are mostly after when they grill us; questions such as ‘can I submit for planning permission now before the follow-up phase two survey?’ are asked frequently by clients. It would also be really helpful to get an overview of the entire bat process. For example, once BERS are done, the developer can submit for planning permission and then licencing comes after, etc.
The second day involving BNG stuff may have been a bit too much too soon for graduates in my opinion. I’m aware that legislation changes will soon require BNG assessments for all developments beginning November 2023, but if the main goal of this course was to teach beginners who have never set foot in ecological consultancy, BNG is 100% too advanced and confusing for them. They need to get the basics of PEAs and PRAs and QGIS mapping first before trying BNG. I think the general consensus was that it was confusing and not taught in an effective manner. They did, however, do a decent job of trying to explain the metric and why BNG is needed, but I felt that everything after that sort of fell short in my opinion. The best way to go about teaching it is probably using a step by step walkthrough because it does get quite confusing.
The third day involved report writing. I’m not going to lie – I didn’t even do it because people who did do it said that they weren’t using our templates, and I felt that it was adding unnecessary confusion to instruct fresh graduates to use a different template from our own. I definitely remember him saying during the first morning session that we’d be using our own templates though, so I’m not sure why that changed later into the course.
The fourth day involved a field study, looking at PEAs and protected species surveys. It was the best day of the programme. Even though the morning session was quite slow, the field session in the afternoon was super helpful. It’s really hard to learn these things from behind a desk, so I’d say that the best way has always been to go out to a site and develop a hands-on understanding of the process. It was a really helpful afternoon with plant ID, where we were walked through the different considerations to keep in mind for various species. It made me realise that it could be useful for us to utilise data sheets for all the species during relevant surveys moving forward, detailing their preferred habitat, what distance to start considering their impacts (until now, I wasn’t aware that otters and water voles may be present even if there aren’t any nearby waterways), what types of mitigation are needed, etc. I did also like how they included condition assessments during PEAs, as that’s probably something that we will need to start doing if BNGs will be required regularly from now on.
The fifth day involved further field study, but with a focus on PRAs and bats. I think I enjoyed the morning session of this day because of the instructor. He was good and spoke with us rather than at us, making us feel more involved in the process. He had photos of different habitat suitability houses, which we could then classify together. He drilled in the fact that we’re not just looking for bats, but a PRA is more about how suitable the building/habitat is for bats. I’ve rewritten the priorities of a PRA to reflect that, because nine times out of ten when clients get angry about needing BERS, they don’t understand that it’s because the building itself and the surrounding habitat are suitable for them. We got to see some dead bats and bat poop, which was cool. I just wish they’d found a site for a confirmed roost because the buildings we looked at were bat free despite having low/moderate values.
In short, this programme would’ve been beneficial if more of us hadn’t done any shadowing or ecological consultancy related work beforehand. But, as most of us already knew what to do out there, it wasn’t as effective as it would have been for someone with little to no experience.
It was really good. The practical element was very useful and a fun exercise to complete.
I learned new things, and going to an example site that had evidence of protected species was a good learning experience.
I would say, however, that the BNG online element could have contained a little more information – maybe a step by step or an explanation of the outcomes in the video, as some of us got confused and Miche had to explain it to us.
Overall, the people at Wildwood made it a great experience. They were good teachers, especially considering they don’t usually get involved with the training; I definitely think that they should do it more!
We had two days of online seminars that we are given access to for another year, which is really helpful, as I didn’t get around to watching them before the training simply due to having too much work to do.
The two days on site were really useful, particularly the PEA section, as it helped to narrow down a good physical survey methodology, along with getting a good idea of the common species of plants that were there.
The PEA was on a typical site that we would normally get – i.e. a big field in an urban area – making it realistic but lacking the potential real-life circumstances and variables that we would benefit from learning how to deal with.
The PRA bit was really cool, even though we weren’t lucky enough to see any bats!
Three days of online training:
- Monday = Legislation training
- Tuesday = Summary of biodiversity net gain (BNG)
- Wednesday = Report writing
These sessions were all self-guided and consisted of online modules where we would work through different resources and take the occasional test to check your understanding.
We then did two days of in-person training:
- Thursday = PEA training
- Friday = PRA training
The in-person training consisted of morning sessions in the office where we would discuss the surveys and what was important to look for. Then, in the afternoon, we would do a site visit to put theory into practice.
We had a site visit each day to practice skills like habitat identification, botanical identification and tips for identifying bat roost features. We were also shown some examples of bat droppings and actual dead bats to gauge size.
- I found the in-person sessions to be really useful. It was very good to get out and practice skills alongside others in the field and learn from one another.
- The staff were all knowledgeable and engaging.
- It was great to meet the other graduates.
- The BNG session on Tuesday didn’t really work for me as a self-led session. It is a very difficult concept to understand, so I would have preferred this as an in-person session.
The course was good.
I found the practical side in Stroud to be really helpful and interesting. The people working at Wildwood were really great, and it was good to take in all of the knowledge they have. I definitely learnt a lot over those two days.
I found the online part to be less helpful. It was all pre-recorded and sounded as though it was being read off a script, which I personally found hard to follow. I also found it tricky that we couldn’t interact with the lecturer or one another, so it was just reading off PowerPoints – a problem especially during the BNG work, which I think really needed to be a live lecture, as it’s confusing and would have been good to be walked through it all.
The report they used for the course is their own report, and from my perspective, it was a little bit too confusing, as I am just about getting my head around Arbtech’s report.
Overall, the practical two days in Stroud were highly beneficial, and it has definitely made me feel more confident in carrying out PRAs and PEAs. The guys at Wildwood Ecology were fantastic, and I feel like I learnt a lot from them. I would have just liked a bit more interaction in the online aspect, as I find it much easier to keep myself engaged and learn this way.
- The fieldwork parts for both PRA and PEA were very helpful. I personally learn a lot better being out and in the field and through hands-on learning.
- It was interesting seeing some species identification skills in person.
- The presentations were easy to follow and – with access to the source materials for a year – we can go back to them even now the course is over.
- The staff at Wildwood were friendly and approachable, and they didn’t mind the dozens of questions we all had.
- Some of the course felt more like a refresher than new information, as some of us have already had months in the role; it would benefit someone a lot more who was just starting out.
- I personally didn’t learn too much from the report writing aspect, as their style of doing things wasn’t the same as Arbtech’s, and Arbtech already has a solid layout to its reports.
- I felt like I needed something more interactive to follow with BNG, or a video-style presentation to show exactly what they did, as it still confuses me with how you input things. That said, I expect it will come with time and experience.
The training was really useful.
The report side of it was also helpful, although it would have been more beneficial to me if it was tailored specifically to Arbtech’s reports, but nonetheless, a good overview of report writing.
The in-person sessions were good, particularly the on-site field surveying skills for PEAs. They chose an interesting site, however, as I would have liked to have learnt more about grasses. Then again, maybe that would have been too detailed for an introductory training week.
The trainers seemed highly knowledgeable and the whole week was very enjoyable. BNG seems tricky and would probably require me shadowing or doing a BNG assessment with someone prior to taking on any BNG jobs, but the training was effective as an overview and introduction to it.
A very good training course overall for new starters to PEAs and PRAs.