Feeling grateful

* Super long post alert! – I’ve been busy and not had a chance to sit down in front of the laptop for a while. Sorry! *

I’ve never ceased being grateful and knowing how lucky I am to be on this traineeship, but I feel like over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling it all afresh. I’ve been doing a mix of different things, exploring different reserves and constantly learning. I really can’t imagine a better way to be spending my days, out in the great out doors, connecting with nature, and doing my bit to help protect our wildlife.

The vast majority of my time has been spent out on the reserves. A lot of the work at the moment is scrub clearing, generally removing hawthorn with chainsaw, or bramble with brush-cutters (so getting spiked or scratched by vegetation on a nearly daily basis :P). We’ve joined forces with Neil and James a few times so there are more of us out there working, and even in winter, once the scrub is cleared you can begin to imagine how much impact opening up these spaces will have on the grassland. I just hope I get to see some of the changes before I leave in the summer.

Fungi at Callow Bank


Scrub clearing means bonfires and I have now successfully lit, and kept burning my first bonfire! I feel very protective over them when they’re quite small, but as I’ve now done it a few times I am feeling more relaxed about them and confident in my fire starting skills – I’m going to be a pro by the end of the winter.

Successfully lit my first bonfire!
Successfully lit my first bonfire!

It hasn’t all been chopping stuff down and burning it; I’ve done some fence repairs, cleared fallen stone from along a new fence line, put up welcome disks and checked on stock. I also spent a day at Aller and Beer Woods with Olivia and Mark Green. We were there to complete visitor safety risk assessments and tree safety surveys, but it very quickly became an impromptu tree id session. Trees are something I really need to work on – mostly because I hadn’t realised quite how many species there are!

Spindle has such beautiful berries
Spindle has such beautiful berries

I’ve been working towards a volunteer management qualification and as part of that I helped to plan and then lead a volunteer group. I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity as it’s involved numerous different components. The Volunteer group in question was the Save Our Magnificent Meadows group that meet the first Thursday of every month. The plan was for them to spend the day on Yoxter Range. Liz and I spent a morning out on Yoxter, looking at what areas need work, whilst I had to identify an area for the volunteers to work in. I choose an area next to the rake, as there was the opportunity to work in the rake or with the hawthorn next to it, so there was a variety for the volunteers. The rakes also create a micro-climate and interesting species can be found on there sides, so I thought that would appeal more, given the reasons for the volunteer group existing. I even managed to find the area again when we went back out which was a bonus! Before the volunteer day I put together some risk assessments, for the site and for the task, and researched the reserve so I could tell the volunteers about the site. On the day I gathered all the tools we needed and gave the intro talk and then the volunteers got stuck in. It was a really fun day; Claire was there as she helps with the volunteer group and a friend from university was spending the week on the reserves with us as a volunteer reserves assistant. As it was the December session it was also the Christmas work party so we had jacket potatoes cooked on the bonfire, stolen and mince pies! They are a great group and really got stuck into the work, clearing loads!

Bonfire Jacket spud served on a plate cut from a stump with a chainsaw!
Bonfire Jacket spud served on a plate cut from a stump with a chainsaw!

I have spent some time in the office; finishing off some communications work set on our Devon residential, helping out with collecting various bits of paperwork to help support a funding bid and having some training on Arc GIS.

Towards the end of November the Trust held their AGM and a talk from Simon King. Olivia, Claire and I had volunteered ourselves to help and were on refreshment duty. It was nice to see that we were recognised from the volunteer conference or even from appearing in the magazine. With a little help from Janet, we managed to work out a system for ensuring everyone managed to get their drinks. There was a slightly panicked period where the food hadn’t arrived and guests were about to come out, but I like to think we kept our heads and dealt with the situation, and none of our guests went hungry in the end! Although we missed the AGM we were lucky enough to sit in on the majority of Simon Kings talk. The first half was rather though provoking and emotive and then the second half was full of wonderful footage gathered from the 10 acre plot of pasture-land that he has been working tirelessly to convert into a wildlife haven.

Well earned drink after manning the refreshments!
Well earned drink after manning the refreshments!

This week we had a chance to use our new media skills, gained from the last residential, and finally get all four of us in the same place! BBC Somerset were doing a live broadcast from Catcott as part of the Trust’s 50th birthday celebrations. We were invited along to feature in a short section. It was all very exciting when we arrived; the BBC Somerset vehicles were all in the car park and they’d turned the hide into a mini studio. For our section we were joined by Adel Avery, a volunteer who does lots of amazing work for the Trust, and Suzy, one of the Avalon Marshes Apprentices. Our section was very short, as they had to do the news, but I did manage to mention baby dormice! You can hear our 30 seconds of fame here – we’re around the 51 minute mark.

After our radio début (Photo is from the BBC Somerset Facebook page)
After our radio debut
(Photo is from the BBC Somerset Facebook page)

Whilst we were there we were also grabbed to do a short video clip talking about some of our highlights for the year, to be added to a larger film marking the best bits of this special anniversary year. I think we’re all a bit wary about making videos after the traumatic experience of making the ones on our interview days (which still continue to haunt us) but I actually really like this finished one.

(If anyone is interested the wildlife we were distracted by it was a flock of lapwings)

Taking advantage of the fact that it was the first time all four of us had been together for agggeeesss we wandered up to have a look at the board walk and tower hide as Olivia hadn’t seen them before. We had a chat with a lovely couple in the hide who were from Wolvehampton, but visiting Somerset for a few days for the wildlife, and had my best views yet of Marsh Harriers. There were a pair of them flying above the reeds, and the 360 views from the hide meant I had them in my bins for minutes at a time! Beautiful birds!

En route to the office we had a quick stop off for a festive fry up, complete with crackers and Christmas hats. Talk turned to the next residentials, Wiltshire in January and then Somerset in April. The January one will be on us before we know it! Back in the office Olivia, Claire and I went through the volunteer management workbook together, which was really useful and Chris managed to get his diary organised so that he doesn’t miss out on fun activities next week! As a reward for getting it all done we dug in to the amazing chainsaw cake that Claire had made to celebrate Olivia and I passing our chainsaw course! It tasted just as good as it looks!

How amazing is this cake?!
How amazing is this cake?!
Cutting a chainsaw cake with a chainsaw - obvioulsy! (Photo taken by Claire)
Cutting a chainsaw cake with a chainsaw – obvioulsy!
(Photo taken by Claire)

Sometimes I feel a little like I’m dreaming when I think about how lucky I am. I spent months chasing down a traineeship like this and now I’m living and breathing one I just can’t stress how grateful I am to be doing something so exciting. I get to spend the majority of my time out in some stunningly beautiful places, where you only need to open your eyes to see wonderful wildlife, whether it’s a delicate fungi sheltered between the grass, a Barn Owl ghosting out from a tractor shed or a flock of Fieldfare flying over. I’m surrounded by people who are always willing to help me learn and share their knowledge with me. I’m gaining new skills and qualifications, sometimes without even realising and sharing this experience with three other amazingly passionate people, who I hope will remain my friends for life. I go to work with a smile on my face everyday and feel incredibly lucky that I get to do something that I love so much every single day!

Very late Small Tortoiseshell - As much as I love winter I am missing butterflies!
Very late Small Tortoiseshell – As much as I love winter I am missing butterflies!

Recent Wildlife Highlights
Hare – Have actually seen quite a few on Yoxter and one at Aller and Beer Woods
Barn Owl – ghosted out of the tractor shed at Chancellor’s Farm
Yellow Brain Fungus – covering the gorse on Yoxter
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Common Lizard – sheltering under the fallen stones from the wall at Ubley Warren

*If you think this post is getting soppy/emotional wait until the next one when I will officially be halfway through the traineeship!*


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