Spring in Somerset

*I’m finally getting round to getting this updated! This post has been lurking in my ‘Drafts’ folder for quite a while just waiting for me to add the finishing touches – hence why it is written sounding as if I’m still with Somerset Wildlife Trust*

Spring has to be one of my favourite times of year, watching life return to the countryside. I’ve seem to have enjoyed it even more than normal this year, watching the reserves that I’ve got to know turn green again and become full of life. As is the case whatever the time of year, we’ve had enough to do out on the reserves to keep us busy.

We’ve had some Tree Safety work to carry out. This involves monitoring trees around paths, gateways, carparks, roads etc. and dealing with any potential problems. Luckily there hasn’t been too much work for us to carry out as it is a little bit too warm for chainsaw gear now!

I just love all the Spring Woodland flowers!
I just love all the Spring Woodland flowers!

I had a fantastic day with the West Mendip volunteers when they ventured across to East Mendip for a day. We were working at Withial Combe carrying out a couple of jobs. The volunteer group split into two and I was in charge of a small team who were replacing the steps at the entrance of the reserve. They were a brilliant group, who got stuck in and did a great job of the steps. We even had passing members of the public commenting on what a good job they’d done. We then walked through the woodland to join the rest of the volunteers; all the spring woodland flowers were out making it a rather enjoyable walk. In the fields we were busy patching up some fences to make them stock proof for when they are grazed. The warm weather meant there was an abundance of insect life around, distracting me rather a lot from the task in hand!

Volunteers doing a great job putting in some steps
Volunteers doing a great job putting in some steps
Ashy Mining Bee - just some of the wildlife that was distracting me
Ashy Mining Bee – just some of the wildlife that was distracting me

We’ve been doing a fair bit of fence work both with the volunteers and just as reserves staff. I think I’ve finally managed to get my head around how to use monkey strainers. We’ve also been putting in a few gates, which requires some more careful planning to ensure that they actually open and shut – this can be trickier then it sounds!

Holly Blue at Cockles Fields
Holly Blue at Cockles Fields

We finally had the chance to welcome the other trainees to Somerset, which you can read about in a separate blog post here.

Team Somerset reunited!
Team Somerset reunited!

I’ve had a chance to hone my pony herding skills too as a few groups of Exmoors have been moved onto their summer grazing grounds. There couldn’t have been more of a contrast between the two groups. The ponies at GB Gruffy didn’t want to move and needed a little bit of convincing before they decided to enter the stock box. On the other end of the scale as soon as we opened the gate for the ponies at Callow Bank they walked straight onto the lorry! I think they must have been looking forward to spending the summer down on the levels.

Going to miss these cheeky guys!
Going to miss these cheeky guys!

Following on from our day with Jo from the Somerset Otter Group on the Levels, I helped out with the main survey weekend, checking a stretch of water on the outskirts on Cheddar. The Saturday involved checking the site and noting all signs of otter, including prints and spraint. I was heartened to find some spraint, some very old, but also some relatively recent giving me hope for signs on the Sunday. The point of the survey is to get a snapshot of all otter activity in Somerset on one night. By looking at where the fresh spraint occurs it is possible to roughly work out an otter territory and from that the number of otters in the county. A number of the sites along my stretch had very fresh spraint on the Sunday morning, which was fantastic to see, and means that there is at least one otter living on the edge of Cheddar!

Otter prints!
Otter prints!

As current trainee’s we’ve had the opportunity to be involved with the selection process for the next intake of trainees. We helped to sift through the application forms, to determine who got invited for interview. This was quite an interesting experience, after our training on the Somerset residential, and reflecting on the position we had been in ourselves just 12 months ago. Only Olivia and myself were free on the selection/interview day, but we got to help out with the different activities and chat to the potential candidates. I really enjoyed the experience as I got to have an input and help make sure that my replacement will gain as much from the traineeship as I have. I’m pleased to say that my favourite candidate from the application forms also stood out on the selection day and is going to be the next Mendip trainee! I hope Leighann enjoys her time with the Mendip team just as much as I have!

Potential trainees showing us their skills
Potential trainees showing us their skills

Olivia and I have managed to get some more training in too. After getting the big three tickets (chainsaw, pesticide and brushcutter) we had some choice about what to use the rest of our training budget for. We opted for Tractor. It was a pretty intense three days and I would probably say the hardest out of all the tickets we have done! Driving the tractor around the field was easy enough; it gets more complicated though when you start to bring in all of the different attachments and have to reverse with a trailer!

Another smug photo for the collection!
Another smug photo for the collection!

All of the reserves staff and some of the Mendip Living Landscape team spent a day down in Dorset, visiting various reserves to learn more about how they were managed and also to hear about the Wild Purbeck project that has recently been carried out by a collaboration of different organisations. We spent the morning in offices in Wareham, hearing about the success of the Wild Purbeck project before heading to Arne. There we were given a guided walk of the reserve by two members of staff. Olivia and I were both hoping for a sighting of Dartford Warbler as it would have been a lifer for both of us (we’ve both recently started keeping a bird list), but although we heard it singing we failed to actually see the bird. A rather pleasant surprise was one member of staff returning to the group clutching his prize from under a reptile tin. I was expecting a Slow Worm so was ridiculously excited when I realised he was holding a Smooth Snake! It was a stunning male, which we all very happily oggled for quite a while. We then moved on to Tadnoll and Winfrith, a Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve. Again we were teased by a Darford Warbler and failed to see it. We did have rather lovely views of a Yellowhammer though as it sang about a little bit of bread and no cheese.

I spent one morning represent the Wildlife Trust at a careers event at Bridgwater College. They’d invited a few different organisation including WWT Steart Marshes and the National Trust. The college runs Countryside Management courses so wanted to offer their students the chance to talk to people involved in the industries they can progress into. I really enjoyed the chance to talk about my experiences with others, and give them my advice. It seems strange to now be in that situation where I can offer advice, but it is a nice feeling and I hope it helps someone!

Having missed out on a trainee Amphibian Training day I was really excited to head to Dorset to meet the other Wildlife Skills to learn all about reptiles. We spent the day at Upton Heath with Steve Davis. The first part of the day was spent inside going over the biology of each of the 6 British species. Steve had a ‘here’s-one-I-prepared-earlier’ moment when he revealed a Smooth Snake he had caught the day before hidden in a box under the table, just in case we didn’t spot one whilst out on the heath. We all admired that for a while, and ate birthday cake for Wiltshire Matt’s birthday, before heading outside for a walk. We didn’t manage to spot all six species whilst we were out but we did see four; Slow Worm, Common Lizard, Sand Lizard (not a sexy green male unfortunately, just a juvenile) and another Smooth Snake. It was also my last official time with the trainees from the other counties; the presentation lunch at the end of the year clashes with my holiday in Scotland. It was a great day. To round it off perfectly after everyone had headed home, Steve took Olivia and I back out onto the heath and managed to locate a Dartford Warbler for us!

Looking for reptiles
Looking for reptiles
What a beauty!
What a beauty!

Amongst all of this some of my time this Spring has been spent exploring various sites around the South as interview preparation. After a phone interview for a position in Scotland I made trips to Bodmin, Cornwall and Slindon/East Head, Sussex. My final trip was down to Studland Beach in Dorset, and despite some rather interesting interview questions I was offered the job! As of mid June I am going to be an Assistant Ranger for National Trust on Studland Beach over the summer! It’s fantastic news and proves that the traineeships work!

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