UK forensic ecology hampered by skills shortage

Britain is a world leader in forensic ecology but the discipline is hampered by a lack of skilled workers and inferior service from commercial providers, a consultant forensic ecologist has warned.

Speaking at Birkbeck College on 6 November, Patricia Wiltshire said the discipline uses understanding of the distribution and behaviour of organisms found on and around both suspects and victims to help solve crimes such as murder.

She added: "It encompasses botany, palynology [the study of pollen], phycology [algae], mycology, geology, pedology [soil], entomology, chemistry and statistics.

"Anyone can learn to identify. The difficult part is to interpret, for which you need a background in botany and ecology. There is a lack of suitable skilled people. You need to be a good field ecologist and competent in the lab.

"There are commercial providers of this sort of service but they do it badly. Meanwhile, botany is declining in universities, where it is sometimes revamped as 'plant science', and there are a lot of courses with 'forensic' in the title."

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