Being a quarter of the way through the traineeship for most of us (how has that gone so quickly?) meant that it was time for our second residential. This time we were heading to Devon with the theme for the week being Communications and excitingly for the first time all16 Trainees were in one place at the same time!
All 16 Trainees
Olivia, Claire and I started our day with a trip round the supermarket gathering enough supplies for sausage casserole for the 5000 (or the 17 we were actually cooking for) before Chris picked us up from the car park. As we all piled into the car for our first Somerset road trip with our rucksacks and shopping, our excitement mounted. It’s still a rare occurrence that all four of us get to spend time together and it would be the first time all 16 of the Wildlife Skills trainees would be together.
Despite some horrific weather and horrible driving conditions we made it to Oakhampton safe and sound and unloaded all of our belongings for the week. Home for the next five days was to be the Filter House at the Oakhampton Bracken Tor YHA. There was a dorm each for the girls and the boys, a rather small kitchen and a room that doubled as work space, dining room and living room.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the trainees arrived and we ate our lunch as we started to catch up and Rachel Janes, the project co-ordinator, who was looking after us all, ran through the plan for the week.
Bags unpacked and tummies filled it was time for our first challenge of the week; a bit of team building in the form of a High Ropes course! Our slightly competitive sides came out as we attempted the Jacob’s Ladder in our county teams; we only got a few rungs up, but we did go first so didn’t have the chance to see how everyone else attempted it. In pairs we raced across a series of ropes and wooden beams to get to the top and the ended the session by launching ourselves off a platform (some a bit more keenly then others!).
After generous servings of pasta from the Dorset Trainees it was time for our first communications session. Paul Martin from Devon Wildlife Trust and mentor to Lucy and Luke gave us a talk on how to give a presentation. It was the best talk covering that subject that I’ve heard; really fun and engaging and Paul ended the session with a brilliant example assembly, on the weird and wonderful world of butterflies.
Team Somerset just before our attempt at the Jacobs Ladder
After our first night in the bunks, which were rather a squeeze for some of the boys, we prepared ourselves for a full day of media training. Sally Welbourn and Jane Adams, both from Dorset Wildlife Trust gave us talks on ‘Communicating through the media’ and ‘Becoming a Social Media Guru whether you like it or not!’. Both ran really fun interactive sessions having us run mock interviews, create one minute films and plan both Facebook and Twitter posts. They both highlighted how being social media savvy can be extremely useful even in the world of nature conservation.
It was our turn to cook the meal for the evening, which was a little tricky with the size of the pots available but we managed and then it was time for the dreaded presentations! We’d been given the brief of talking for five minutes on something to do with our experience as a Wildlife Skills trainee so far. I’d volunteered myself to go first as I don’t mind giving talks too much. What was a little more difficult was fitting the 60+ slides I’d used into the time given! Luckily they were all photos so I could flick through them as I talked. It was fascinating to hear what everyone else had been up to and interesting to see how different everyone’s talks were despite us all having the same brief.
Cooking our sausage casserole and mustard mash
Wednesday was spent at Meeth Quarry, a relatively new Devon Wildlife Trust reserve. Until recently it was a working quarry and Devon WT have been managing it for the last couple of years, with the aim of turning it into a haven for wildlife.
We spent the morning helping out with some scrub clearing, removing willow and gorse to open up an area to allow the Exmoor ponies to come in and graze the grassland. Armed with loppers and bow saws, and with two bonfires on the go we made a good dent in the scrub. A few of the trainees used some of the off cuttings for making a hibernacula for reptiles. A few of us were distracted from working for a short while by trying to identify a fungi; after consulting the ID book we identified it as a Plums and Custard, a really attractive mushroom.
After lunch in the workshop, Tom and Amelia (Practical Conservation Trainees from Devon Wildlife Trust) took us on a guided walk of the reserve. It quickly became clear how much they’ve enjoyed working there, how much they’ve learnt and their love for the reserve. We wandered up to look at one of the lakes, before walking past Ash Moor an area of Culm grassland which is a habitat specific to the South West. Our walk then led us past one of the settling ponds, up to the top of the hill by a second lake and back to the workshop. We found plenty of things to stop and marvel at including a rather funky looking Drinker moth caterpillar, Fox moth caterpillars, mating Common Darters, a late flying Speckled Wood and a fleeting glimpse of a Hare. A couple of the boys collected a few more fungi to take back and identify. It was so great to be able to stop and look at things, and try and figure out what they were, with people who were also genuinely interested.
Back at the YHA, team Wiltshire made us a rather yummy tagine, followed by home-made apple crumble and custard. Ian Chadwick, Reserves Officer for DWT and Tom and Amelia’s mentor, then joined us for the evening to tell us about how he ended up working for a Wildlife Trust and more information about some of the Devon reserves he works on. We ended the night with some fun and games celebrating Dorset Trainee, Ed’s birthday.
Enjoying the view over one of the many former settling ponds at Meeth Quarry
Despite the weather looking a bit dubious we were all up and ready to leave the hostel by 9am for a walk on Dartmoor. We were all prepared with our waterproofs and emergency rations in our bags, and Lucy carried a rucksack with everything from a whistle to a sleeping bag and emergency shelter just in case! Our route took us down a cycle path along an old railway line towards Meldon Viaduct. We have lovely views from the bridge but our access onto Dartmoor was sadly limited due to live firing. We wandered down to beneath the viaduct to a beautiful area full of old spoil heaps and cut through by a stream. Rachel met us at the car park to check we were okay and take a few people back to the YHA. The rest of us carried on up to the dam where we were caught in a brief but heavy shower. Undeterred we made our way back down the hill and did a spot of team building negotiating a stream and skimming stones. En route back to the hostel we managed to find a few geo-caches hidden along the railway track.
That afternoon we were joined by Chris Sailsbury from Wildwise, who shared his Storytelling skills with us. After captivating us with a story of an African Hunter we were sent off to spend a short while just sat under the trees, taking in the natural world, noting the changes we felt in ourselves and the goings on around us. The rest of the session was spent in a series of different activities, encouraging is to stretch our imaginations, find a story in everything, make the words flow to fill a space, or distil a story into the tiniest amount of time. When seeing a storytelling session had been timetabled into the week, a few of us had been a bit dubious about it, but we all left having thoroughly enjoying our time with Chris and what he had taught us.
The weather put a spanner in the works for our plans of a campfire and marshmallows for the last night together, but we had an enjoyable evening getting competitive over Pictionary and other games.
On our walk at Dartmoor
Our last morning was spent at Bystock Pools, another Devon Wildlife Trust reserve, where the wonderful Rog and Liz, Devon WT volunteers, showed us around the reserve. It was a fabulous little reserve, with a wide range of habitats and both Rog and Liz were full of knowledge they were more than willing to share with us. Our fascination with fungi continued with a few different species identified including Candle Snuff, Deciever, Milky Bowcap and Turkey Tail. We had to be dragged away from it in the end just so we could get around the rest of the reserve. A few dragonflies lingered by the pools and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flittered through the trees before winging its way over our heads. Rog pointed out a Stonechat as we made our way back across the meadow, a first sighting for me. We ate our lunch with Liz and Rog and then sadly it was time to say goodbye and make our way back to our separate counties.
It was a fantastic week, where we all learnt lots. It was great to get to know the rest of the trainees a little better and I think we’re all already looking forward to the next residential.
The trainees at Bystock Pools admiring the Carr Woodland
We saw so much wildlife in Devon that week it seemed rude not to give it it’s own special species spotted list, although not even this list details everything we saw!
- Plums and Custard Fungi
- Great Spotted Woodpecker
- Drinker Moth Caterpillar
- Feathered Thorn moth
- Deceiver Fungi
L-R Plums and Custard Fungi, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Drinker Moth Caterpillar
Photo Credits: All 16 trainees, Somerset on the High Ropes, Cooking and Dartmoor Walk - Beth Aucott, Meeth Quarry - Olivia Dullaghan, Bystock Pools - Rachel Janes, Plums and Custard Fungi and Drinker Moth Caterpillar - Luke Workman