On the 12th June 2014 I was sat on a plastic garden chair, at the bottom of Black Rock quarry, doing my best to convince staff from Somerset Wildlife Trust that I was the perfect person to take on as a practical conservation Wildlife Skills Trainee. Exactly one year later, on the 12th June 2015, I was holding back tears as I finished my last day as a Wildlife Skills trainee and said goodbye to the amazing Mendip Reserves team.
I’d been chasing a traineeship for a few months before I got the Somerset one, as they sounded like the perfect stepping stone for making that move from a volunteer to a paid position. Not only has it done that, but for a whole host of reasons this year has been even better then I could have ever expected!
Before I started the traineeship all I had to write in the ‘Relevant Qualifications’ box on job application forms was my degree and a first aid course. When a Person Specification asked for a long list of ‘tickets’ it decreased my chances of success even before I started. Now the list is rather more substantial! As well as the core three tickets, Brush-cutter, Chainsaw and Pesticide I’ve also been lucky enough to do my Tractor and 4×4 course. Add to that courses in First Aid, Health and Safety, Wildlife Law, Dealing with the Media amongst others and it is a rather good mix to add to any CV!
On the Job Experience
Having tickets is all well and good, but actually having the chance to put the skills into practice, and understand the reasons behind the work is extremely valuable. Working alongside my Mentor Liz, and the rest of the Mendip Reserves team has meant that I’ve been able to gain on the job experience and knowledge of practical habitat management. Building on the skills I’d gained whilst a volunteer with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, I’ve had a chance to experience a huge range of practical tasks and learn more about the reasons behind them.
Just some of the tasks I’ve been involved in:
The list goes on!
Over the last year I have had the chance to learn from some incredible people. I’ve always found other peoples passion to be inspiring, and there’s no doubt that the love the people I have worked with have for the wildlife of Somerset has been contagious.
Right from the very start the staff at Somerset Wildlife Trust have been more then welcoming and willing to share their knowledge with us. We were made to feel part of the Trust right from the get go, and staff ensured we made the most of every opportunity.
As a joint project between a number of Trusts we were lucky enough to benefit from the knowledge and support of staff across all four Trusts. All of the staff who have worked on the Wildlife Skills project have been fantastic, particularly Rachel Janes, who even now, when I am no longer a trainee, continues to offer advice and support me.
I couldn’t talk about the staff and not mention the Mendip Reserves team who I worked so closely with over the year. James and Neil taught me lots of new skills, humoured me when I got distracted by wildlife and could still find something to laugh about on the wet and coldest days.
One of the key parts of the traineeship was having a mentor to oversee our training and guide our progress and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor then Liz! We got on right from the very start and she made sure I got the most out of my experience, ensuring I didn’t miss out on any opportunities. She gave me guidance when it was needed, but also gave me the chance to do things by myself and take on responsibility for tasks as my confidence grew.
I’ve always enjoyed working with volunteers, being amazed by their knowledge and skills. The Somerset volunteers have been no exception. Some of them have been involved with the Trust for years and their knowledge is invaluable. They were incredibly friendly and welcoming and I think we learnt from each other.
Heritage Lottery Fund
I can’t talk about the traineeship and not mention HLF. Their funding made the whole project possible. There are lots of interships and traineeships out there, but many are unfunded and can’t cover living costs. The bursary that came with the traineeship meant that I could make the move to Somerset and have the most incredible year!
Wildlife Skills Trainees
One of the best bits of this year has been sharing the journey with 15 others. We’ve all come from different backgrounds yet we all have the same ambition; to have a career in wildlife conservation. Right from the first time we met waiting for the boat to Brownsea Island we all got on. Being able to halt on a walk to puzzle over the id of a creepy crawly, and have those you are with stop with you was a novel and enjoyable experience. We’ve been able to share our journeys and learn from each other. We already have plans for reunions, but I also expect that many of us will encounter each other again in a professional capacity and I look forward to seeing where each of us ends up.
Meeting the rest of Team Somerset; Olivia, Claire and Chris has to be one of the best unexpected bonuses of this year. I was looking forward to having three other trainees to spend time with in Somerset but I’d never have guessed quite how well we would all get on. In these three I feel like I have made friends for life. Even though Claire and I are in new roles we’re still in almost daily contact, sharing our wildlife sightings and unusual events from the day. We may no longer all be in the county but I think we will always remain Team Somerset in our hearts.
I had never really been to Somerset before I moved there for the traineeship, only whizzing through on the M5 with the family on the way to Devon and Cornwall, so I loved having the chance to explore it. I didn’t manage to visit all 72 of the Somerset reserves, but I did explore at least half of them! I loved the variety, from the building that is Wadbury Bat house, to the reed beds on the Levels, to the vastness and uniqueness of Yoxter. Each was beautiful in it’s own way with more then enough wildlife to keep me happy and helped me fall in love with the county just a little bit.
Ultimately the wildlife is why we all do what we do. My wildlife experiences as a trainee started on a high, with my first ever sighting of a wild otter (my all time favourite animal) on day two and over the following year I continued to be amazed and delighted by what I encountered.
Despite always being a mammal girl at heart over my time with the Trust I’ve been able to expand my knowledge across a huge range of taxa, and am now as likely to be distracted by a wildflower as I am a butterfly. As I’ve improved my id skills I’ve found I want to know even more what everything is, and what I’ve learnt this year is hopefully the foundation for many more years worth of learning!
Just a small selection of what I’ve encountered this year
It has been an absolute privilege to encounter such fantastic wildlife as part of my day to day ‘job’. It has been these experiences that have confirmed that this is what I want to do with my life. Working out on reserves, managing them for wildlife, is a way for me to help to protect that what I love and which gives me so much joy. This traineeship has been that foundation stone that I have needed to start me off on my career and I can’t fully put into words how grateful I am for having has this opportunity. I am excited to see where I end up, but I know I will never forget this year, the people, the places and all that I have learnt!