A new study has revealed a worrying shortfall in the availability and breadth of skills of qualified ecologists and environmental managers as individuals and organisations race to keep pace with the many challenges presented by climate change, sustainable development and rapid biodiversity loss.
The research, commissioned by the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM) questioned over a 1000 respondents from across the sector including ecologists and environmental management professionals in Government statutory agencies, local authorities, NGOs, academia and ecological consultancies.
The findings reveal that while many core areas of knowledge and skills are covered by existing higher education courses and continuing professional development, there are urgent gaps that need to be addressed in knowledge, specialist expertise and transferable skills.
Knowledge gaps include those relating to environmental economics, environmental legislation and policy and spatial planning systems. Deficiencies in specialist skills include ecological surveying, ability to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments and an understanding of new technologies such as IT, mobile technology and genetics.
Transferable skills fall short in activities such as influencing and stakeholder engagement, which is believed to be of increasing importance if the vital role of biodiversity is to be communicated effectively in the future.
Baroness Barbara Young, a patron of IEEM, said: “A profession is defined by the specialist knowledge and skills of its members. New approaches to understanding and valuing the importance of biodiversity, as so clearly set out in the TEEB study led by Pavan Sukhdev, recipient of this year’s IEEM Medal, challenges our profession to develop new skills and techniques to do just that.
"The IEEM Ecological Skills Research is a critically important step in ensuring that we take the necessary action to meet that challenge.”
One example of the urgent nature of the skills gap and shortages is illustrated by the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper which was launched last month. The White Paper included biodiversity offsetting as one its headline proposals. However, respondents to the IEEM study stated that skills such as habitat creation, important for biodiversity offsetting, were in short supply.
Sally Hayns, CEO of the IEEM comments: “We are at a watershed for nature conservation in the UK. The United Nation’s 2020 biodiversity targets calls for renewed determination and we must not allow efforts underpinned by new Government policies and legislation to be compromised by a shortage of vital specialist knowledge and skills.
“The risks of insufficient expertise have been clearly identified through this important study. IEEM calls on the UK Government to recognise these risks and encourage higher education institutions, training providers and major employers to work together to urgently address the skills shortages now”.
The study concludes with five recommendations for the IEEM:
* To work with its stakeholders to create an agreed strategy for education, training, career and professional development;
* Develop its Knowledge, Skills and Applications Framework that articulates the various depths of knowledge and skills required by professionals;
* To publish a list of priority knowledge and skills needs and create a strategy for addressing these needs;
* Extend its provision of education, training, tools and guidance to ensure its members deliver work to the highest standards and take disciplinary action against members who fail these required standards;
* To create a communications strategy that ensures the importance and value of biodiversity is communicated effectively.