Career as an Environmental surveyor

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Sandra Jones is an environmental surveyor working for Wilburn Associates, a practice based in Sheffield, where she carries out desktop studies on behalf of investors to investigate any contamination on plots of land.

What does a career as an environmental surveyor involve?

We receive valuation reports from our clients, such as banks and pension funds, who are thinking about investing in a property. I look at the report and assess whether there is a risk of potential contamination. I do this by looking at the history or current site management practices.

I then recommend whether an environmental screening report (desktop study) should be carried out. This makes sure that our clients are not investing in properties where they could be liable to clean up any contamination found at a later date.

What do these reports say?

The reports include environmental information such as geology, hydrology, and site history, which is analysed to assess whether there is a potential risk of contamination, and used to provide an environmental assessment risk of the site. Each report requires a site inspection, where I gather environmental information and take photos which are incorporated into the report.

What information do you use to assess the risk?

I use lots of historic Ordnance Survey maps and superimpose the site boundary on them to see if the land's use has changed over the years. There could have been a colliery, a gas works, or a factory on the site. These are all activities, for instance, which could have contaminated the land.

What if there is contamination?

Most of the time we simply produce a desktop report, revealing there is potential for contamination but the actual environmental risk is low and no further actions are required. Sometimes, the potential risk is higher and we need to investigate further.

What do you do?

Sometimes, I recommend an intrusive investigation, which involves drilling bore holes and/or excavating trial pits, with soil samples taken for analysis at a laboratory. Many of the boreholes have standpipes installed, which allow the monitoring of ground gas and for water samples to be taken for analysis. Sometimes, I need to sub-contract the work to specialists, such as when we deal with petrol stations.

Is environmental surveying a growth area?

Yes, it is. It involves redeveloping old industrial sites and reclaiming contaminated land, rather than building on land that has previously remained undeveloped. People are becoming increasingly aware of the need to bring this type of land back into meaningful use, rather than using 'virgin' undeveloped land. My role is to survey this land to ensure it is fit for the purpose.

What equipment do you use?

Most of the time I am based in the office using a computer, with access to environmental information such as geology maps and Ordnance Survey maps. On site it's mainly just a clipboard and a camera, with tapes and trundle wheels, which I use to measure the site. If we are doing more intrusive work we may need equipment for taking samples or drilling boreholes, such as sample jars and gas monitoring equipment.

Health and safety is important and protective clothing such as hard hats, high visibility vests and gloves are required on certain sites.

What hours do you work as an environmental surveyor?

Usually it is a normal 36-hour, 9.00 a.m-5.00 p.m. working week. However, when you have to visit a site the day can be longer, depending on the travelling time as we cover the whole of the country.

Do your work alone or as part of a team?

We manage our own projects, but there is always a more senior member of the practice there to give advice on issues that I'm not sure about.

Is there any on-the-job training?

It's important to keep up to date both with changing technology and new laws and legislation. I'm currently training to become a competent asbestos inspector, which will involve surveying and sampling asbestos on a particular property, and assessing how to manage it.

Sandra's route to her career as an environmental surveyor

  • BSc geography.
  • Postgraduate qualification in European environmental policy and regulation.
  • Joined Wilbourn Associates as a graduate surveyor.
  • Completed Assessment of Professional Competence (APC).
  • Qualified as a chartered environmental surveyor following two years training.

Sandra's environmental surveyor tips

  • It's worth finding out if any local practices offer opportunities to get work experience over the summer.
  • Hard work is key if you're going to succeed in this job.

Environmental surveyor related jobs

  • Geomatics surveyor
  • Rural property surveyor
  • Ecologist

Salary of an environmental surveyor

  • There are no set salary scales for surveyors.
  • Age, qualifications, experience and location all have an effect.
  • Salaries range from a minimum £17,000, rising to £60,000 plus for senior surveyors.

Career as an environmental surveyor

  • Most environmental surveyors have both a degree and postgraduate qualification. As well as A levels (H grades in Scotland) there are a number of other courses, which may be helpful for entry into surveying, or higher level courses. These include vocational A level in Construction and the Built Environment; Scottish Group Award in Construction at Higher; and BTEC National Diploma in Land Administration.
  • There are several routes you can take to become a chartered surveyor with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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