As Britain re-defines its role in Europe, the future of farming and the environmental sector is uncertain - but it can continue to rely on its strong global reputation and its skilled and diverse workforce
What areas can I work in?
Employment opportunities can be grouped into:
- air quality
- corporate social responsibility (CSR)
- environmental assessment
- waste management
- water quality.
There are also many land and animal-related careers, including:
- animal care
- animal technology
- fisheries management
- game and wildlife management
- horticulture and landscaping
- land-based engineering
- trees and timber
- veterinary work.
In 2014, Lantra - the sector skills council - conducted a labour market and skills assessment of the UK's land-based and environmental industries, and estimated that there are 230,000 businesses and around 1.3 million employees working in the sector.
The Office for National Statistics' (ONS) November 2016 Labour Force Survey showed that 358,000 people were employed in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry between July and September 2016.
For examples of job roles in the sector, see graduate jobs in environment and agriculture.
You may also wish to consider environmental opportunities in energy and utilities.
Who are the main graduate employers?
Employers range in size from large multinational companies, to very small or family-owned businesses.
Graduate training schemes are more likely to be found with larger companies, government bodies and environmental consultancies. See how to get a graduate job in environment and agriculture.
Notable companies involved in environment and agriculture include:
- AB Agri
- British Sugar
- CNH Industrial
- John Deere
There are also many consultancies, including:
- Environmental Resources Management (ERM)
- Mott MacDonald
- RPS Group
- RSK Group
- SLR Consulting
- WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Some of these firms offer specialist advice or specialise in environmental assessment, while other large consultancy firms are involved with a range of different industries. You can search the list of environmental consultancies and service providers at the ENDS Directory.
The UK government's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) works with a number of public bodies and agencies, including:
- Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)
- Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA)
- Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science)
- Environment Agency (EA)
- Forestry Commission
- Natural England
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
- Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
The sector also contains not-for-profit organisations concerned with issues such as protecting the environment and animal welfare. Well-known groups include:
- CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International)
- Friends of the Earth International (FOEI)
- RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
What's it like working in the sector?
Graduates entering the environment and agriculture sector can expect:
- jobs involving plants or animals
- to work outdoors in all weather conditions or to be part-office based
- a wide range of roles, from practical hands-on and physically demanding work to consultancy
- varied salaries that depend on entry qualification and the industry you work in - the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment's (IEMA) 2016 survey revealed that graduate entrants earned an average of £24,500 in 2015, with the average earnings of environment and sustainability professionals at £43,812
- opportunities for self-employment - with over half of the agricultural workforce self-employed.
To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.
How will Brexit impact the sector?
Environmental policy in the UK has long been directed by Europe, so until the fallout from the Brexit vote is fully realised and Britain leaves the European Union (EU), it's hard to be sure what new legislation may be introduced.
However, whatever happens in the coming years, topical concerns such as the quality of water and air, land reclamation and flooding, will still need to be addressed. So there'll be a demand for environmental professionals - on both a national and international level.
The delicate political situation is also creating long-term uncertainty among UK farmers, as the agriculture sector waits to find out how the Brexit vote will affect policy, as well as trade arrangements with other nations.
So while a National Farmers' Union (NFU) survey in December 2016 highlighted a rise in farmer confidence in dairy and livestock over the past year, due to a more favourable trading environment, the prospects for the next three years are viewed with far less optimism.
What are the sector's key skills issues?
Lantra's 2014 research forecast that 595,000 entrants would be required to work in environment and sustainability by 2020, including 447,000 workers to replace those of retirement age. This would suggest that graduates with the right skill set should be able to find work in this particular area.
The environmental sector has seen an increase in renewable energy, contaminated land, flood risk management and energy management jobs. There is a particular demand for ecologists with field identification skills to monitor biodiversity and climate change.
Companies across all sectors are employing more environmentalists or using environmental consultancies for public relations and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Despite this job increase there is added competition for graduate positions, as more people are undertaking Masters study. To explore postgraduate qualifications and boost your employability, search courses in environmental science and ecology.
In addition to practical skills, any prospective farmers will need business skills and environmental knowledge to keep up-to-date with regulatory requirements and to take responsibility for the environment.
There is a shortage of workers with agronomy skills (soil management and crop production), an area of work increasingly vital to modern agricultural practices. A skills shortage also exists in horticulture, landscape architecture and land-based engineering, while there's an urgent need for young people to enter fisheries management.