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How to Choose an Ecological Consultant

Construction work

Ecological consultants provide environmental services such as ecological surveys, advice on legislation compliance and report writing to government agencies, industry and individuals. However, choosing an ecological consultant for your project might feel overwhelming. A quick search of the internet will throw up a number of consultancies but just because they come with a raft of recommendations, doesn’t mean they are necessarily the right fit for you. So, what is the best way to find one that is?

Matching Needs to Expertise

Ecological consultants offer a range of services, but not every consultancy will automatically offer all of these. Bear in mind that some consultancies are larger organisations employing a number of ecologists. Others are individuals effectively operating as sole traders. The first step in the process is therefore identifying exactly what work you need from a consultant so that you can ensure they are able to carry it out. For example, special licences are required to survey certain protected species, such as bats. If there is a potential for a protected species to be on your property, you would need to ensure you hire a consultant with the relevant licence. Without one, they would be prohibited by law from carrying out the work you might need. Alternatively, you may need a consultant to carry out botanical surveys, or noise monitoring, something not everyone will be able to do.

Otter protected species
An ecologist requires a special licence to disturb protected species, such as otters

Once you are clear what services you need from a consultant, you can begin properly researching companies. As with most things, an internet search is these days the first port of call. It is a good idea to specify consultancies within a fairly local range, at least to begin with. Local firms have a number of advantages. First, they will already have a working knowledge of the local area, giving them a head start when it comes to understanding your site. They should know what species are likely to be present, where the local environmentally designated sites are and also know the local regulatory bodies to contact over licences and permits. Second, being local means they are more likely to be able to make repeat visits to your project and easily carry out night-time or early morning surveys. These will be much harder, and possibly cost more, if the consultant is coming from further away.

Narrowing the Search

By checking the websites of any local consultancies you find, you will quickly be able to find out what services they offer and rule out any without the relevant licences/expertise to your project. In the unlikely event you find one that doesn’t list the services offered, an email enquiry or phone call will provide the information. If there are none within a close radius, you may, of course, need to search a bit further afield.

To narrow down your preliminary search further, you should look for the following:

  • Are they a member of a relevant professional body such as IEMA, CIEEM or the Institution of Environmental Sciences? Members of these organisations will have had their professional competence assessed as a condition of membership. A growing number of ECoWs are now members of the Association of Environmental Clerks of Works (MECW) who are promoting professional standards within the industry.
  • Do they have professional indemnity insurance?
  • Are they a larger firm or a sole trader/small limited company? Larger firms may mean access to a wider range of expertise. Individuals may be easier to deal with, offer more flexibility and have a more personal approach. Decide which suits your needs better.
  • Are there any testimonials and/or case studies highlighting their particular areas of expertise?
  • What academic and professional qualifications do they hold? Relevant degrees are often required by clients, additional qualifications such as CSCS card, first aid or SMS TS are all useful and show a broader knowledge of construction.
  • Has anyone you know had to hire an ecological consultant, and do they have any recommendations?

These criteria should help you narrow your search down to three or four preferred candidates to compare in more detail.

Ecological consultants can carry out water quality monitoring

Requesting a Proposal

Once you have chosen three or four potential consultants, get in touch with a project outline, asking if they are able to take on the work and to send you a proposal. Your outline should clearly state:

  • What the project is. Is it a small-scale, non-commercial project such as a loft conversion, or a bigger industrial development such as a new housing estate, for example?
  • What services you require from them and whether you plan to do any of the work yourself.
  • Whether there is a timescale for the work.
  • What stage the work is at. Is it just at the initial planning stage or further along?
  • What state is the site is in at present.
  • What your budget is.
  • Whether you have already received any ecological advice or guidance.

Set a reasonable time limit for receiving responses from your chosen consultants. Although you need to bear in mind ecologists are sometimes out in the field in remote areas with no signal, you should not let things drag on indefinitely. If they are very slow to respond, this may be a sign they will be difficult to contact in the future. You do not want to hire someone who is difficult to pin down should you need urgent advice at any point.

Field surveying
Remember that ecologists may have to spend some time in remote areas without signal!

Once you have received at least three or four proposals for the purposes of comparison, be sure to ask questions if anything is unclear about any of them. There should be no ambiguity about what exactly is included in their fees and if there is the potential for extra charges, such as for additional surveys, or additional licence applications. They should also be clear about when they can do the work and if they can do it within the proposed timeline.

Sealing the Deal

Finally, once you have chosen your ecological consultant, finalise a contract with them. This should clearly define the scope of work expected of them, including its goals, a schedule and, if relevant, a completion date. They should be clear whether they need to apply for any licences on your behalf to enable the project to go ahead and how long these usually take to come through. Make sure you also find out which environmental considerations are legal requirements, and which are just good practice.

Wind turbines
Ecological consultants work on projects as diverse as wind farms and loft conversions

Purple Plover offers ecological services to both individuals and businesses, from advice on legislation and best practice, to surveys and ECoW work. Why not get in touch to find out how we can help with your project?