Despite plans to redefine its role in Europe, farming and environmental issues in Britain will continue to remain high on the agenda - with a strong demand for skilled graduates
What areas can I work in?
Employment opportunities in the diverse environmental sector can be grouped into:
- 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.
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's agriculture industry.
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 larger companies, government bodies and environmental consultancies. Notable companies include:
- AB Agri
- British Sugar
- CNH Industrial
- John Deere
There are also many consultancies, including:
- EAME (Earth and Marine Environmental Consultants)
- Environmental Resources Management (ERM)
- Mott MacDonald
- RPS Group
- RSK Group
- SLR Consulting
Some of these firms 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.
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 plenty of graduate jobs available - for instance, you could be taken on as a scientist, geologist, hydrologist or environment officer. To explore this further, 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)
- RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
- RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
There are many projects you can get involved with when it comes to animal welfare in the UK. For more information, see 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 part-office based
- a wide range of roles, from practical, hands-on and physically-demanding jobs to consultancy work
- varied salaries that will depend on the entry qualification and the industry - the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment's (IEMA) 2017 survey revealed that the average wages of environment and sustainability professionals was just over £44,000, while consultants earned a median salary of £37,500
- opportunities for self-employment - with over half of the agricultural workforce self-employed.
To find out more about working in the sector, see environment and agriculture job profiles.
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 the fallout from the Brexit vote is fully realised and Britain leaves the European Union (EU), it's hard to be sure how the new legislation will impact upon the sector.
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.
For farmers, 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.
What skills are needed to address the UK's environmental 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). However, there's added competition for graduate positions, as more people are studying for a relevant Masters degree or professional qualification.
To boost your employability, search postgraduate courses in environmental science and ecology.
In addition to practical skills, prospective farmers will need business skills and environmental knowledge to keep up-to-date with regulatory requirements and to take responsibility for the environment - see graduate opportunities in agriculture.