Laura Holmes, Associate Ecologist and UK bat specialist

Ecologists are a vital part of any project, making sure that what we build doesn’t negatively impact the surrounding environment.

How did you get into this job and what is your previous history?

My degree is actually in Biological Sciences (specialising in Genetics) and I went to work as a computer programmer upon graduation. I soon left the computers behind and instead volunteered at Cheshire Wildlife Trust and loved working so closely with nature. After having children, I joined an ecological consultancy – initially to do the filing – before becoming more hands on and learning the ropes. I moved to Tetra Tech in 2014 as a surveyor, before being offered a role as a Senior Ecologist.

I’ve been working in Ecology now for more than 10 years, and my learning and expertise has all been gained ‘on the job’. Lots of potential ecologists are put off from thinking they could do this job as they don’t have the right degree or background, but I’d say what’s most important is passion for the natural world around you.

That is how I found my niche as a bat specialist. From the very first bat survey I did, I fell in love with them – they’re such an interesting species to study. I decided to learn as much as I could about bats by going to every bat group event, listening to every seminar, reading every analysis, and I’m now proud to say I’m recognised as one of the country’s leading experts in bats and their conservation.

What does your day-to-day job role involve?

It’s a real mix of work, hours, and responsibilities. I can be out on site, doing inspections, acting as a support for any teams with bat queries, advising clients, putting in night shifts, collecting and analysing data. There’s no set day at all!

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Getting paid to sit and watch bats! I get to spend a lot of my time watching some truly incredible sun rises and sunsets that most people just don’t get to see.

One highlight that stands out most is dawn at Jodrell Bank. Watching the bats come home to roost, flying against the huge telescope dish was awe inspiring and it really hits home how important it is to make sure our built environment doesn’t affect the natural environment.

What has been your most interesting project to work on throughout your career with Tetra Tech?

A project at Laxton Hall, which saw us support the refurbishment of a Grade 2 listed care home. We found a very rare species of bat – Barbastelles – roosting and raising young in the roof, and it was only the second maternity roost for Barbastelles ever found in UK buildings so was of serious importance.

We had to get a mitigation licence from Natural England to carry out the refurbishment and had to make sure all works prioritised the bats comfort and safety. Barbastelles are a really sensitive species and it was such a challenge, but so worth it to make sure their roost was protected.

How has Tetra Tech supported you in your career?

The flexibility and support Tetra Tech has shown me has been outstanding. I was recently offered a role at Natural England to be an assessor for bat mitigation licensing. This was a real career high as they only choose the best, but to take it, it meant I’d have to adapt my hours at Tetra Tech.

The company was only too happy to let me do this, and make sure that I could comfortably balance both my Tetra Tech work, Natural England work, and my family life too.

Working on so many different types of sites and schemes through a multidisciplinary consultancy has also allowed me to learn so much more than I necessarily would do at a smaller, specialist firm. So much of being a good ecologist is learning on the job, and it really helps when you have lots of different types of job to learn from!

Why would you recommend Tetra Tech to others?

Tetra Tech’s flexible working policy and approach to balancing a career and family life is second to none. I’ve been able to grow as a professional, while raising my children – two of whom are now old enough to be working as part-time bat surveyors too!

What is the most exciting thing about the future of your industry?

When I did my degree, Ecology really wasn’t the discipline it is today – it was a consideration on certain sites, whereas now, it is a priority on nearly every building site across the country. And with the new Environment Act making Biodiversity Net Gain mandatory, we can only hope that protecting habitats becomes even more of a focus.

With new technologies and licensing that are already starting to be used, it’s highly likely that the next decade will see Ecology transform again, in even more positive ways.

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