Luke Verrall, a Senior Ecologist in our Leeds office, has been a part of Tetra Tech since early 2015. Passionate about the environment and nature from an early age, he has channelled his interests into a career and now works to make sure wildlife is considered and protected on some of the Country’s largest infrastructure schemes.
Here, he details how he found his passion for ecology, and how he’s ready for the challenge of fighting the climate crisis through his work at Tetra Tech.
How did you get into this job and what is your previous history?
I’ve always loved being outside in nature and have been involved in outdoor pursuits, like Scouts, from an early age. I began an Environmental degree at University of Leeds but wasn’t clear on what I wanted to do until I undertook an industrial placement year with the RSPB. This made it clear that what I really loved was working outside, helping to protect the environment – a normal 9-5 office job probably wasn’t going to cut it.
After university, I got a job with AECOM as a Graduate Ecologist before moving to Tetra Tech (then WYG) in 2015 as a Consultant Ecologist, progressing through the ranks to my current role of Senior Ecologist.
My placement year with the RSPB really helped cement my specialism of ornithology, and helped me stand out from the crowd when it came to applying for jobs. Birders and skilled ornithologists are reasonably rare and you’ve got to have a passion for it – being able to show I already loved the work and had experience in conducting surveys definitely helped me in my early career.
What does your day-to-day job role involve?
Currently, I’m spending most of my time working on HS2, where I’ve been seconded for five months or so now. I’m part of a team working on very detailed ecological designs for a section of HS2 – converting basic mitigation habitat blocks into more granular detail of woodlands, ponds, wildflower meadows etc. and designing-in wildlife mitigation. This is the most significant piece of infrastructure investment that our country has seen in a long time, and while making changes to design and factoring in new detail is complex, it is vital that we do it right.
Outside of my secondment, my usual job is a mix of site work, surveys and reporting, focusing primarily on bird species, bats, and great crested newts. I also do a lot around Biodiversity Net Gain, particularly since it has become more of a focus with the passing of the Environment Act late last year. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve worked more on looking at a project’s entire life-cycle, providing consultancy to clients and giving advice to others in the team.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
There is so much variety working as an ecologist, particularly for such a large, multidisciplinary firm. Being able to do a mix of site-based and office work is what I always wanted from a job, and as ecology is now a high priority on nearly every project, there is always something new and interesting to do. I’m not stuck just doing surveys for one species – I’m constantly learning and developing.
The best thing about my job though is seeing the real-life difference your work makes. We’ve been working on a site in Sunderland for several years and have literally seen the land come back to life. From large, species-poor arable fields, a mosaic of habitats have been created that are now home to an array of wildlife including many bird species, brown hare and water vole. Seeing the physical proof that your work is helping improve the natural world is the best feeling, and definitely gives me a lot of job satisfaction and pride.
What has been your most interesting project to work on throughout your career with Tetra Tech/WYG?
Without a doubt, HS2. It is a truly once in a lifetime project and incorporates so many different disciplines, consultancies, stakeholders and public bodies, all collaborating together. It’s a real test of project management but while it’s certainly a challenge, the things I’m learning are invaluable and it’s great to know I’m playing a role in this landmark project. We’re at a point where we can make a real difference to this massive project in terms of ecological design. We need to preserve, conserve, and improve the environment wherever possible. Infrastructure should flex to accommodate nature – not the other way round.
How has Tetra Tech supported you in your career?
Tetra Tech’s program of internal training is excellent, but we’re also encouraged to request external training courses or obtain protected species licences where we can, largely funded by the business. The Company wants us to be the best consultants we can be, and if that means investing money and time into external accreditations, they are more than happy to support.
I’ve also been given the opportunity to look at how we, as a business, can be more environmentally friendly – I championed the installation of a living wall in our flagship Leeds office, paper reduction, organise regular volunteering days, etc. It’s important to me that my employer is conscious of their environmental impact outside of client work, and it’s great they’re so open to ideas.
Why would you recommend Tetra Tech to others?
Our national ecology team is excellent, we’re so well connected to each other and major environmental organisations that the opportunity for knowledge sharing is phenomenal. Everyone is always keen to help each other out and our culture – not only in our team but across the wider business – is so friendly and encouraging. We all want to be the best consultants we can be and support each other to get there.
I’d also say that there are fantastic opportunities for career progression here. We’re large enough to be able to work on really interesting, national projects, while not so large that you end up stuck in one niche.
What is the most exciting thing about the future of your industry?
In the wake of COP26 and the global climate emergency, the whole world is realising the urgent need to consider the environment. I think we’ve spent decades getting steadily more disconnected from nature that it’s been easier to ignore the negative impact of humanity on the natural world. We can’t any longer. Things have got to change and ecology and ecologists – both present and future – will play a huge role in this.
The Environment Act passed last year has emphasised to clients that biodiversity must be a part of their builds and it’s time for ecologists to shine in terms of how we make this happen, while still meeting customer and infrastructure requirements. Climate change should be an incredibly scary and real concern for everyone, and we have so much work to do. Regardless, I’m prepared for the challenge.