Our third and penultimate residential was in Wiltshire and there was a distinctly feathered theme to week!
We arrived at Oxenwood on a frosty morning, only to be greeted to four amazing hot soups to help us warm up and prepare for our first session of the week a walk around Jones Mill nature reserve. This reserve holds special significance for the some of the Wiltshire Trainees as it was where they spent their first day of work as a Trainee. As quite often happens on these walks we are all trying to improve our identification knowledge and frequently stop at plants that interest us or we simply don’t recognise. On this walk we were particularly taken with the root system of Yellow Flag Iris which on the inside is a stunning shade of pink
Once we were back at the residential centre there was no rest as it was our turn to cook for the group. We surpassed ourselves with a delicious menu of chilli and homemade gluten free brownies where we excitedly got to use an industrial mixer!
Happily content with belly full of brownies we were treated to a talk on the reintroduction of the Great Bustard into Wiltshire which is having mixed success. Hearing about the intricacies and complications that arise with a reintroduction was really interesting as it’s quite often a part of the story that is forgotten in the media. However the talk ended on optimistic note and hopefully we will be hearing and seeing a lot more of the Great Bustard in the UK soon.
Posing with our industrial mixer which we used for the Brownies (above)
We spent Tuesday at Tedworth House which is home to “Help For Heroes”. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust run a joint project with Help for Heroes which provides the servicemen and women with the opportunity to develop their practical conservation skills whilst managing woodland but it also highlights the wellbeing benefits the outdoors provides. Just like the servicemen and women we too were improving our practical conservation skills removing around 20m of dogwood and its enormous root system to help transform the gardens into something more in keeping with the rest of the House and its grounds..
In the afternoon as our reward we had a quick tour of the facilities before we were treated to a session in the sports hall, where we tried out lots Paralympic sports. The session culminated in having a game of seated volleyball with some of the residents, which was really good fun but we discovered there is a definite art to it so don’t expect to see any of the Trainees in the team at Rio 2016!
After tea our day still wasn’t finished because we had a six month review. We went over what we had done and what we were still yet to do which is very exciting but you can read more about that as it happens in our monthly updates. There was also some talk about life beyond the traineeship which although it might seem like a little while off, will no doubt fly by like the first six months.
Removing the dogwood at Tedworth House
A day indoors although just as well as the cold snap had truly taken a firm grip on Wiltshire. Our first session of the day was Wildlife Law which was really fascinating. We spent several hours learning about everything from tree protection orders to animal licences and so much more, but as you can appreciate this is a massive subject, one which many have dedicated their entire working lives too and still don’t know everything so our session just gave us the basics on the most common issues.
Once our session on Wildlife Law was over there was a quick break before we came to terms with risk assessments. Whilst all the Trainees have received some form of health and safety training before, risk assessments are a key part of all our jobs and something a lot of employers want to be able to see evidence of and whilst at Somerset we Trainees are compiling quite a portfolio not everyone at the other Trusts have had the same health and safety organisation overhaul (yet), so it was a really important session. We also learnt more about the health in health and safety, which none of us had really done before. We looked at the occupational hazards, the symptoms and what we can do to prevent them.
Whilst tea was being made we had a go at the winter twigarium which was challenging but a really good thing to do although I think more practice is needed!
No sooner had we finished our tea we were off out again, this time to an area group talk on Barn Owls in Wiltshire. We were very privileged to have Major Nigel Lewis speaking because he is commonly regarded as the man who singled handedly saved the Barn Owls from extinction in Wiltshire, with his simple idea that whenever he did a parachute jump whilst working in the military he wanted to be within 500m of a Barn Owl box. His simple aim and very ingenious methods for making barn owl boxes worked and now there is a healthy and stable population surviving in Wiltshire.
We might have arrived back late the previous night but it was an early start in the morning as we went out to a bird ringing taster at Langford Lakes. When we arrived the volunteers had already set out the nets and had a few birds to show us how they ring the birds. Bird ringing requires a licence so we didn’t ring any of them ourselves but we were allowed to release them. Catching the birds gave us a chance to improve our bird identification knowledge because we could see them so close up and staying relatively still.
After lunch we started a session on wildlife photography but as is often the case on these residentials we got temporarily interrupted because a Kingfisher flew into the nets. For many of us we have never even seen a Kingfisher so seeing one so close up was amazing.
What our temporary interlude did clearly reinforce was that you have to be in the right place at the right time which as trainees working on nature reserves we have this opportunity more then most. Iain Green delivered the session and it was brilliant. It was tailored to each of our cameras, abilities and experience and as such we all came away feeling had become better photographers and are more equipped to capture better photos.
It was our final night but we were still working well into the evening. All those who have been completing the Volunteer Management course have been having various queries so it was a chance to all sit down together and discuss problems and bounce ideas off one another so hopefully we can report we all passed in the not too distant future.
Our temporary interlude!
Our final day of what was a jam-packed week we ended it in the same way we started it, with a walk at a Wiltshire reserve. We did a walk up through Morgan’s Hill nature reserve and then along a roman road to reach on obelisk with views across almost the entire county, and with a feathered theme running throughout it were no surprise we were joined by a small flock of yellowhammerswhich are a fairly uncommon sight and another bird spotting first for many of us. After a brief lunch stop at the top we headed back down where we could gaze at one of the oldest chalk white horses in the county, before we prepared ourselves for the drive home.
Somerset continued the bird theme after leaving Wiltshire stopping enroute to watch the starling murmurations and whilst it wasn’t the most spectacular murmuration, considering the weather it was still a sight to behold and seemed liked the perfect end to a very enjoyable week.
Walking up Morgans Hill
Only one residential left and it’s on our home soil so Somerset here we come!
The Trainees with Rachel, our coordinator, in our "silly" hats
The Wiltshire wildlife braved the cold and provided us with many spectacular sightings including:
- Kingfisher - the picture below was actually taken by Chris at the photography session on Thursday
- Golden Eye Duck
- Red Kite
- Shoveler Duck
- Fallow Deer
- Brown Hare
L-R Kingfisher, Yellowhammer, Pochard
Photo Credits: Group Cooking, Brownies, Removal of Dogwood and Morgans Hill - Beth Aucott, Temporary Interlude - Olivia Dullaghan, Group Silly Hats - Rachel Janes, Kingfisher - Chris Couldrey, Yellowhammer - Damian Waters/Drumimages.co.uk and Pochard - Irene Greenwood