Botanists study plant life at all levels. They look into how and where plants grow, study their cells, and investigate the impact that chemicals and diseases have on them. Botanists are involved in many areas, using their knowledge to benefit conservation work, agriculture and industry, for example.
Also known as
- Plant Scientist
- Plant Biologist
Plants are essential for life on Earth, as they provide food, generate oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, and often have medicinal properties. It is essential that you study and monitor the distribution and health of plants.
For example, in fieldwork, you record the number and types of different species in a particular area, such as moorland, wetland, wood or meadow. Your findings help to build up a local, national and world picture of our plant life, including how it is affected by environmental factors such as climate change, and the results of human activity such as acid rain from industry and overgrazing by farm animals.
Some Botanists travel internationally to do this work. For example, you visit rainforests to find out how many plant species there are, whether they have any medicinal properties, and, if they are threatened with extinction, how fast they are disappearing.
Marine Botanists specialise in studying aquatic plant life and algae that live in seawater, either in the open ocean or along the shoeline.
You are able to use your knowledge of plant DNA to identify and classify plants, and to assess their rarity.
Botanists in conservation management might be responsible for a particular wildlife area. As well as laboratory research, your work could involve giving talks, lectures and guided walks to visitors, and providing and displaying information in a visitor centre.
You apply your knowledge to solve problems in agriculture and horticulture.
For example, crossing two plant species enables you to develop a hybrid plant, sometimes with desirable characteristics from each of its 'parents'. The hybrid plant might have increased resistance to drought, pests and weeds, or a petal colour that will make it attractive to people who buy flowers and plants.
In biotechnology companies, you are able to use the modern methods of genetic modification to change plant characteristics. This means artificially moving genes from one plant species to another, enabling you to add or remove certain characteristics. For example, you might try to increase a crop's resistance to disease and insects, or its tolerance to humidity and temperature extremes.
These methods have the potential to be of great benefit to food production, especially in developing countries.
However, you are involved in careful tests to investigate the effects of the new genetically modified crops on the environment, and their safety for humans. For example, you monitor and analyse field trials, investigating the interaction between new and existing genes through cross-pollination.
Botanists also work in the pharmaceutical industry, where you use your knowledge of the medicinal properties of certain plants and herbs to create new medicines. For example, the origin of aspirin is in the bark of willow trees.
Pharmaceutical Botanists can use this traditional knowledge, as well as very modern methods and sophisticated technologies, in the development of medicines. You can use computers to model the effects of a biological compound from a plant on the human body, to see how effective it might be as a medicine.
While you might have a considerable amount of fieldwork, for example, to collect samples and monitor experiments, a lot of your work is based in the laboratory. Here, you can use sophisticated equipment and techniques, such as:
- electron microscopes
- satellite imaging
In some settings, such as a biotechnology company, you are likely to work in teams with many other types of Scientist, such as:
You could also be leading a team of Technicians who look after the day-to-day running of the laboratory and support your work.
At other times, such as during fieldwork, you could be working on your own for long periods.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Botanist, you'll need:
- organisational skills to plan projects and experiments
- to be accurate and methodical in field and laboratory work
- patience to repeat experiments many times
- the ability to explain results clearly and concisely, including in written reports
- teamwork skills
- the ability to use statistics and other mathematical methods to analyse experiments
- strong observation and problem-solving skills
- the ability to use a variety of equipment and technology, including computers
One of the most important skills you need is the ability to identify plants. You'll need the willingness to develop this skill over time, including through short professional training courses.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £27,500 - £30,000
- With experience: £35,000 - £41,000
- Senior Botanists earn £44,500 - £50,000
Hours of work
Botanists typically work 35-39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You might have some late finishes and weekend work.
Where could I work?
Employers throughout the UK are companies in agrochemicals, agriculture and horticulture.
Other Botanists work in the food and drink industry, the water industry and the pharmaceutical industry. There are opportunities in advisory and consultancy work, and in teaching/lecturing.
Opportunities in marine and freshwater biology, ecological and environmental work are limited.
Opportunities for Botanists occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in national/local newspapers and in science magazines such as New Scientist (which also has job vacancies on its website). Jobs also appear in online publications such as The Environment Post and on environmental job boards such as environmentjob.co.uk.
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Botanist, you'll need at least a first (undergraduate) degree in a relevant subject. Botany and plant science/biology are available as single degree subjects.
Courses usually include subjects such as:
- cell and molecular biology
- genetics and plant breeding
- plant physiology
- plant pathology
You can also study botany or plant science as part of a general biology degree.
Many entrants take postgraduate courses in botany (especially if their degree is in general biology). A postgraduate qualification will usually be essential for entering a research post, for example, in higher education.
Some universities offer degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
A small number of universities offer integrated science degrees (ISciences), aiming to give graduates interdisciplinary skills and knowledge through a problem-based approach.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You can gain a Field Identification Skills Certificate (FISC), which measures your botanical survey skills in real-life situations. The FISC is provided by the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and takes around a day to complete.
Botanists can take short (one- or two-day) professional training courses to develop botanical survey skills. Organisations such as the Field Studies Council and Ptyxis Ecology provide identification courses.
Employers often provide on-the-job training in laboratory techniques and procedures. Some employers enable botanists to take postgraduate qualifications.
Previous experience from a biology background would be useful. Experience in a marine environment would also be very helpful for this career if you intend to specialise in marine botany.
Progression opportunities depend on the area of botany you work in. In industry, you might be promoted to a supervisory or management position, perhaps with responsibility for training other Scientists and Technologists.
University Lecturers can take on a student support role, move into a marketing position within the college or university, or move into management, for example.
Experienced Botanists can become self-employed consultants, for example, giving advice to conservation charities, local authorities (for example, to assess the likely impact of a new road on local plants), and government departments and agencies.
The Society of Biology offers Chartered Status (CBiol) to Members and Fellows of the Society with a Masters-level qualification or equivalent, who can also demonstrate the necessary professional competencies and a commitment to continuing professional development. Please see the Society's website for more information.
For entry to a degree in botany or plant science, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels where biology is usually essential, with at least one other science
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above where English and maths are usually essential
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check college/university websites carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have developed skills during relevant scientific fieldwork.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
The University of Nottingham and Aberystwyth University offer part-time degrees in plant science.
The Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) gives grants and bursaries for plant identification training and will consider grants for undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funds postgraduate (PhD and MSc) students. This is through studentships, funded through university departments and NERC research councils (NERC does not deal directly with students).
- 5% of people in occupations such as botany work part-time.
- 24% have flexible hours.
- 9% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411500
Royal Society of Biology
Address: Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street, London WC1N 2JU
Tel: 020 7685 2550
Institute of Horticulture (IoH)
Tel: 01992 707025
Tel: 0845 7078007
Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI)
Tel: 07725 862 957
Field Studies Council
Address: Head Office, Preston Montford, Montford Bridge, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY4 1HW
Tel: 0845 3454071