‘Critical point’: Severe shortage of ecologists ‘jeopardising the green recovery’

Nature recovery initiatives and development activity including the delivery of large-scale and critical infrastructure are at serious risk of delays due to a severe shortage of skilled and experienced ecologists, a professional body has warned.

In a statement published this week, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), which has 7,000 members, said there was “clear evidence” that the ecology and environmental management employment sector is approaching “a critical point”. 

“A shortage of applicants for key posts, especially at senior levels, is leading to mounting pressure impacting the health and wellbeing of staff as well as jeopardising the delivery of a green recovery,” it said.

CIEEM says the shortages are rooted in the financial crash of 2008 when there was a lack of recruitment into the sector. According to CIEEM, those who would have entered the profession at that point would be ready for the more senior roles that cannot now be filled.

The shortage of senior staff is now encouraging those that do have the necessary skills and experience to move quickly from one employer to another, tempted by the relatively high salaries being offered, it added. 

“This results in a loss of continuity for clients and customers, costly delays to projects and employers being less willing to invest in training and development for staff they suspect will not stay very long,” said CIEEM.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the problem, according to CIEEM.

READ MORE: How coronavirus is reshaping the way ecologists work

It noted that while the field survey season is always challenging, “this year has been the most extreme yet as many organisations struggled to catch up with work delayed by the pandemic”. 

The group said that unacceptably heavy workloads, staff shortages and tight deadlines are combining to undermine the health and wellbeing of many ecologists, some of whom were  “voting with their feet” and leaving the industry.

CIEEM said it would bring together employers from across the sector over the next few months to identify what changes can be made “to protect the profession and its people from the impacts of these challenges”.

Jason Reeves, head of policy at CIEEM, told ENDS that the government needed to give more support to nature management and restoration as part of addressing the climate crisis, “alongside its current emphasis on technofixes”.

“The risk of inaction on this is that society is unable to meet its green ambitions. We won’t be able to address the climate and biodiversity crises – and that, quite frankly, isn’t an option,” he added.

CIEEM’s warning follows a similar statement issued last month by the Institute of Chartered Foresters which warned that a shortage of skilled workers in the forestry sector puts recently pledged climate goals at risk.