As Britain redefines its role in Europe, the future for farming and environmental industry jobs is uncertain - but the sector can always rely on a strong global reputation and its skilled workforce
What areas can I work in?
Employment opportunities in the sector 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
- equine management
- fisheries management
- game and wildlife management
- horticulture and landscaping
- land-based engineering
- trees and timber
- veterinary work.
In 2014, the sector skills council Lantra conducted a labour market and skills assessment of the UK's land-based and environmental industries, estimating that there are 230,000 businesses and around 1.3 million employees working in the sector.
For examples of job roles in the sector, see graduate environmental jobs.
Who are the top environmental companies in the UK?
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 an environmental job.
Notable companies involved in UK 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
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).
If you're interested in working for a large organisation that employs graduates, explore Environment Agency careers.
The sector also contains not-for-profit organisations concerned with issues such as protecting the environment and animal welfare. These often advertise a range of environmental volunteering opportunities. Well-known groups to approach include:
- CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International)
- Friends of the Earth International (FoEI)
- RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
- 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:
- 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 the sector, see environment and agriculture 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, topical concerns such as the quality of water and air, land reclamation and flooding, will still need to be addressed. There'll be a demand for environmental professionals, working on both national and international levels.
The delicate political situation is also creating long-term uncertainty among UK farmers, as the agriculture sector waits to find out how Brexit will affect policy, as well as trade arrangements with other nations.
While a National Farmers' Union (NFU) survey in December 2016 highlighted a rise in farmer confidence in dairy and livestock over the previous year due to a more favourable trading environment, the prospects for the future are viewed with far less optimism.
Read more about the government's plans for the future of food, farming and the environment.
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 suggested that graduates with the right skillset should be able to find work in the environmental industry.
The sector has seen an increase in renewable energy, contaminated land, flood risk management and energy management jobs. There's 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, there is added competition for graduate positions, as more people are studying for a relevant Masters degree.
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's 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, and there's an urgent need for young people to enter fisheries management.