Open eyes to field skills

March 12, 2015

The loss of field skills and, in particular, identification skills, is an issue of deep concern that has been highlighted by select committees and reports by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and others.

It is not just an issue that revolves around Bloom’s taxonomy and valuing different skill sets. Fieldwork and, in particular, identification as opposed to recognition is, as John Warren and colleagues point out (“Endangered species”, Opinion, 26 February), an activity that requires high-level skills.

Perhaps the growth of molecular areas of biology and biotech, a history of undervaluing biodiversity and constrained budgets are at the heart of the underdevelopment of field skills. Additionally such skills require patience to develop – spending long periods of time looking through a microscope is not often seen as productive and is contrary to the current culture of instant gratification.

However, the picture painted by Warren and colleagues is not as bleak as they indicate. Fewer than 10 UK graduates per annum, skilled enough in field identification skills to be employed, is far from the truth. At Oxford Brookes, we have maintained and indeed strengthened our provision of high-level field skills in our courses. The number of students on our MSc conservation ecology course and those studying biology, animal biology and conservation degrees who are employed using the field skills we have helped them develop exceeds this figure on an annual basis. And we don’t think that we are alone in the wilderness.

It is right to raise the alarm about field skills but the fundamental issue is about persuading society that these are high-level skills that we need for economic and social well-being.

Tim Shreeve
Director, Centre for Ecology, Environment and Conservation

Bruce Riddoch
Senior lecturer in animal biology and conservation
Oxford Brookes University

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented

Recent controversy over the future directions of both Stanford and Melbourne university presses have raised questions about the role of in-house publishing arms in a world of commercialisation, impact agendas, alternative facts – and ever-diminishing monograph sales. Anna McKie reports

3 October


Featured jobs

Rugby Union Club Coach, Men's 2nd and 3rd Teams

St Marys University, Twickenham

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Chemistry

The University Of Hong Kong

PhD Position, Department of Geoscience and Petroleum

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Assistant/Associate Professor in Theoretical and Numerical Photonics

Skolkovo Institute Of Science And Technology