Imperial College students posing for a photo during their PEA training, November 2019 © Matt Wisby /
Posted on Jan 09, 2020

Outdoor to online: gaining vocational skills in ecology

Every year, MSc Ecology students from Imperial College London join us to complete a two-week Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) training course. Back in November 2019, 30 participants, including our own assistant ecologists, were led by Thomson Director of Ecology, Richard Arnold, to complete the training course. How did they get on and what vital skills did they learn that would help them in their careers?

What are PEAs?

PEAs are usually the first ecological surveys conducted for sites to gather baseline ecological data for protected species and habitats. They’re often required by local authorities to support a planning application and as such are the ‘bread and butter’ of ecology work.

Hands on experience

As part of the PEA training, students spent two days learning species identification covering common trees, shrubs, and grasses. Each afternoon was spent at a local Nature Reserve, Riverside Park, to put what they’d learnt into practice. Afterwards, participants were given two days to conduct the survey of the reserve, and the following week to write up their reports.

Ecologists conducting tree surveys during training © Matt Wisby /
Assistant Ecologists conducting tree surveys during training © Matt Wisby /

This year, the training was supported by an online training course for grass identification, devised by Richard Arnold. Grass ID can be tricky, and not helped by the November weather. So, the online course enabled learners to get familiar with common grass species with detailed close-up pictures of key identification features. It also allowed students to learn at their own pace alongside other resources, such as field guides.

Having joined Thomson in 2019, Assistant Ecologist, Byron Humphries, completed the training this year.

“I went into the week not really knowing very much about how you would go about undertaking a PEA, but I feel a lot more confident about being able to undertake all aspects of the survey.”

Assistant Ecologists examining grasses © Matt Wisby /
Assistant Ecologists examining grasses © Matt Wisby /

A future in ecology?

If you’ve been studying for an ecology degree and seeking seasonal work, or perhaps you’re an experienced ecologists looking for your next challenge? We take on fixed-term ecologists each year, as well as more permanent staff. Check out the latest opportunities via our Careers page.

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