In 2011 The Chartered Instititue for Ecology and Environmental Management produced a document outlining skills gaps in students of ecology and wildlife conservation graduating from British universities. The top three gaps listed were:
1) Taxonomy and Systematics
2) Species identification skills, particularly invertebrates, fish, lower plants, lichens, algae and fungi
3) Ecological survey, sampling, analysis, assessment, evaluation and monitoring skills.
CIEEM oversees the business of ecological consultancy but the skills gaps listed above are also hitting conservation organisations. Finding and recruiting students with appropriate skills is becoming increasingly difficult. There could be several factors driving this problem. It is true that there is less whole organism and field based teaching than there used to be in universities; larger funding opportunities exist in other disciplines and so there has been an academic shift away from whole organism teaching and research. There may also have been socially driven change that has resulted in fewer children engaging with wildlife and the environment than in previous generations. Either way the upshot is less active engagement with wildlife by young people although, ironically, the students coming through Reading now are more concerned about environmental issues than ever before.
In Biological Sciences at Reading we are working hard to address the above issue. We have a relatively large number of whole organism scientists who work together to deliver the Zoology UG degree, the Ecology and Wildlife Conservation UG degree and two specialist PG masters – click on the individual course pages above for more information. These programmes have exceptionally high levels of whole organism teaching and copious amounts of field work. CWAC is intended to supplement this teaching and offers students the opportunity to go further than classroom teaching if they are interested. Through engagement in a community atmosphere it is hoped that CWAC can make a real contribution to the development of student CVs by encouraging practical skills and a deeper understanding of conservation issues.