With Brexit uncertainty and climate change both pressing concerns for the sector, the demand for graduates with the skills and passion to protect and preserve the environment has never been higher
Careers in the environmental sector can be split into two groups:
- Environment - air quality, conservation, corporate social responsibility (CSR), environmental assessment, environmental science, sustainable development, waste management and water quality
- Agriculture - crops and livestock.
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.
The roles available are diverse, ranging from animal nutritionist and arboriculturist to marine scientist and sustainability consultant. To see the full range, browse environment and agriculture job profiles.
According to the government's white paper Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit (February 2018), nearly 500,000 people work in the UK agriculture industry. It's a vital part of the UK economy - through growing crops and raising livestock, the agriculture industry is responsible for food security, good public health and the production of materials including fabrics (from cotton, wool and leather), wood and paper.
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 very small or family-owned businesses to large multinationals.
Graduate training schemes are more likely to be found with large companies, government bodies and environmental consultancies. Notable environmental companies include:
- AB Agri
- British Sugar
- CNH Industrial
- John Deere
There are also many consultancies, including:
- Earth & Marine Environmental Consultants (EAME)
- Environmental Resources Management (ERM)
- Mott MacDonald
- RPS Group
- RSK Group
- SLR Consulting
Some of these firms specialise in environmental assessment, while other 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.
What about working for an agency or charity organisation?
The UK government's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) works with 33 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
- Marine Management Organisation
- Natural England
- The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat).
The EA has a workforce of around 10,600, with a range of graduate jobs available - you could be taken on as a scientist, geologist, hydrologist or environment officer. To find out more, see Environment Agency careers.
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of the newly formed UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), employs more than 2,500 people across the UK. View the current NERC vacancies.
In terms of environmental jobs in Scotland, you could work for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) or Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). You can join the SNH in a variety of roles, from ecologist to land agent.
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 with well-known groups, including:
- CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International)
- Friends of the Earth International (FoEI)
- OneKind (leading animal campaigns charity in Scotland)
- RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
- RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
There are many animal welfare projects you can get involved with - for more information, see jobs working with animals.
Find out where to go from here at how to get an environmental job.
What's it like working in the environmental sector?
Graduates can expect:
- to work outdoors in all weather conditions, or be partly office-based
- a range of roles, from practical, hands-on and physically demanding jobs to consultancy work
- varied salaries that depend on the entry qualification and the industry - the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment's (IEMA) Transform: The IEMA State of the Profession Survey 2018 revealed that the average wage of environment and sustainability professionals was £40,000, while consultants earned a median salary of £37,000
- opportunities for self-employment.
Where can I find volunteering opportunities?
In addition to finding full-time work in the environmental sector, there's also the possibility of gaining experience through volunteering - and it's often used as a stepping stone into many areas, including conservation, ecology and animal care.
For instance, during the summer months you could apply to help manage the various lock sites on the River Thames through the Environment Agency.
Also, wherever in the country you live, you can put your time and skills to good use both indoors and outdoors by volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts.
The following not-for-profit organisations also regularly look for volunteers:
- National Trust
- Natural England - includes volunteering opportunities in their National Nature Reserves (NNRs).
- RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
- RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
- TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) - enter your postcode to discover activities in your area.
Read more about volunteering with animals.
How will Brexit impact the sector?
Environmental policy in the UK has long been directed by Europe, so until Britain leaves the European Union (EU) it's unknown how the new legislation will impact upon the sector.
However topical concerns, such as the quality of water and air, climate change and wildlife collapse will still need to be addressed. There'll be a demand for environmental professionals, working on both national and international levels.
What's more, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) Full Review of the Shortage Occupation List (May 2019) found that respondents in the agriculture sector were most likely to say that Brexit uncertainty and reduced EU migration were some of the main reasons for suffering shortages.
The Soil Association's June 2019 Green Brexit: Setting the Bar for a Green Brexit in Food and Farming report identifies what the UK will need to do to achieve an environmentally friendly Brexit after leaving the EU. The report outlines what is needed to move forward in an environmentally friendly manner, as well as a number of required government actions. These include:
- committing to long-term funding and a budget framework, so farmers can plan for the future
- delivering a ten-year agroecology transition plan, supporting the expansion of organic production systems to shift towards healthier, more sustainable diets
- recognising cities as drivers of sustainable consumption, and giving them the tools and remit to achieve this.
Many in the agriculture sector see Brexit as an opportunity to build a system that works, while the government has pledged to help attract more graduates into agriculture, forestry, horticulture and the food chain industry.
Read more about the government's plans for the future for food, farming and the environment.
Find out more
- Search postgraduate courses in environmental science and ecology.
- See what else the environment and agriculture sector has to offer.