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Finding and Appointing an Ecological Consultant - The Five Most Important Questions You Should Ask!

The process of finding and appointing a reliable ecological consultant can be a bewildering and frustrating experience. However, asking the right questions can make the process easier, especially if you ask them at the start of your project. With this in mind, we've written a blog focussing on the five most important questions you should ask prior to appointing an ecological consultant. These questions will help you better understand if a consultancy is capable of delivering your commission. In addition, they’ll also ensure you get the most cost-effective product as possible, a key consideration during these challenging economic times.

An ecologist undertaking a field survey in Scotland

Where can I find an ecological consultancy?

Unless you already have a pre-existing relationship with an ecologist or ecological consultancy, try starting with a simple search of the internet using a question or phase appropriate to the commission (e.g. 'I need a licensed bat worker' or ‘I need a preliminary ecological appraisal’). In addition, try searching by a specific location (e.g. ‘I need an ecologist near Glasgow’ or ‘I need an ecological consultant in Central Scotland).

When searching, you should avoid using broad-brush search phrases such as 'ecological survey' or ‘ecological consultant’. In most instances, these will direct you to 'pre-paid' adverts, bypassing well-established, reputable businesses who could undertake your commission. In addition, exercise caution when a paid advert suggests that a survey can be undertaken for a fixed low price. These are too good to be true, so do not be surprised if additional scope and fees start materialising following commission.

Is the consultancy a registered company?

You might not think this is an important question; however, in comparison to a sole trader, engaging the services of a bona fide company provides you with a greater level of confidence in terms of the quality and consistency of the deliverable. In addition, incorporated businesses are far more likely to hold work-related insurances (professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance), which are particularly important if there is an accident on site or you are not satisfied with a commission deliverable and want to consider further litigative action.

Who in the company is going to be delivering my commission?

Regardless of the scope and scale of the commission, you should know exactly who will be undertaking your work, so this is a key question you should ask prior to appointment. Any reputable company should provide you with details of the ecology team, including their qualifications and relevant experience, in addition to other applicable information, for example, memberships to professional societies, associations and/or institutes.

You should also take into account the practice of substitution. This is when a named ecologist is substituted, following commission, for a less expensive subordinate ecologist, in order to deliver a better financial margin. If this is not acknowledged in a proposal to you, then you should seek confirmation in order to reduce risk to your project.

Is my commission going to be sub-contracted?

Given the common-place practice of sub-consulting within the ecology sector, this is a key question you should ask prior to commission. Any proposed sub-consulting should be clearly acknowledged to you in a proposal, along with details of proposed sub-contractors (incl. pen portraits and, where relevant, CVs). If in doubt, you can ask for this information and where it is not provided, for whatever reason, assess the risks to your project. Finally, if sub-contracting is proposed, you should also ask to be provided with details of sub-contractors insurances and any other information relevant to your project.

A licensed bat worker / licensed bat consultant undertaking a preliminary bat roost assessment in Scotland

Are you going to provide me with a proposal?

Unless you have already asked, any reputable company should insist on providing you with a detailed proposal prior to appointment. Although there is considerable variability across the industry, a proposal should always seek to confirm the understanding of the commission, in addition to offering more detailed information on the following:

  • the proposed project team (incl. CVs and pen portraits);

  • description of proposed methods (e.g. desk study, survey, assessment etc);

  • details of scale and contents of reporting;

  • full breakdown of fees (incl. expenses, costs for third-party data etc);

  • details of assumptions specific to the commission; and, most importantly,

  • terms and conditions (incl. details of any insurances held).

In addition, as already noted, a proposal should also include details of proposed substitutions and/or subcontractors, where this is relevant.

As a client, you should exercise caution when any company and/or sole trader does not provide the level of detail and content outlined above. If in doubt, then you should ask for this information to be provided in order to reduce risk to your project.

Key points to take away….

  • Use search questions or phrases to specific to the commission (e.g. I need an ecologist near Glasgow) and avoid fixed price/ paid adverts - these bypass lots of great companies and are more often too good to be true.

  • Engaging the services of a bone fide company provides a greater level of confidence in the quality and consistency of the commission.

  • Make sure you know exactly who will be undertaking your work – if in doubt ask for details of their qualifications and experience (e.g. pen portraits, CVs, etc).

  • If sub-contracting is proposed, ask for more information (incl. company details, qualifications and experience of staff, details if insurances etc).

  • Never award a commission in the absence of a comprehensive proposal (incl. details of their terms and conditions and particulars of their insurances).


About the author...

Graham Sennhauser is TETRIX Ecology's Principal Ecologist and is a professional ecologist with 25+ years of proven work-related experience in the ecology and conservation sectors. He was formally ecology team lead for Scotland at Jacobs UK and WSP UK, and was also former head of ecology for ITP Energised. For the last six years, Graham has run his own successful ecological consultancy, providing his ecological expertise to a wide range of projects throughout the UK. Graham is a licensed bat consultant/ licensed bat worker and a highly experienced licensed ornithologist. He would be more than happy to respond to any questions in connection with this blog or wider-ranging ecological queries. You can learn more about Graham's experience via his profile page or contact him on the following email address:


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