So as you may know, the first year of trainees have now flown the nest and gone on to do lots of new and exciting things, things that wouldn’t have been possible without the traineeship.
Now we’ve been handed the baton and it’s our turn to start this new adventure in Somerset.
Our first month has flown by! This is what we’ve all been up to…
Our first few days were spent getting to know each other and getting to know the many faces around both the offices in Taunton and Callow. There was a lot to take in and a highlight was going to spend our kit budget at Mole Valley and take our first team photo!
From left to right: Leighann, Becky, Abi and Ralph.
After these initial days we were then all sent out to our mentors to begin working in our own roles…
I can’t believe we are at the end of our first month already. We got off to a great start with introductions at the Taunton and Callow Rock offices, finding out about our trainee roles, the work of the trust and all the different departments. It was really interesting to learn more about all the projects going on. In my first week I was lucky to see a late Bee Orchid at Edford Meadows (my first!) pointed out by my mentor Liz, but also ended up with wellies full of water helping to clear a fallen Alder from a stream!
Second week in and we were off to Brownsea Island for our first residential. It was brilliant to meet all of the other trainees and share our experiences so far. We all completed our First Aid and Health and Safety training and learnt more about the traineeship. It was my first time on Brownsea and I also saw my first red squirrel, night jar, glow worm and Sika deer! We had a successful night of moth trapping with over 60 species of moth in one trap my favourites were the Buff-tip, Elephant hawk, Black arches and Leopard moth.
One of my favourites, the buff-tip moth!
Returning from Brownsea, Ralph and I completed our brushcutter training and are now both certified. I have been practicing my skills on several sites controlling bracken, bramble and creeping thistle and clearing access tracks.
Ralph and I, pleased as punch with our brushcutter certificates!
I have been out pulling ragwort and from being a little unsure of what to pull I can now spot it from a mile off. One day we even had a helping hand from the Navy, pulling ragwort on the Yoxter reserve.
Before I started the placement I was looking forward to working with volunteers and I have managed to work with two groups so far. At GB Gruffy with the Mendip Hills conservation volunteers, we installed fencing to manage sheep access and cleared bracken. I also helped pull invasive Himalayan Balsam, and clear the pathways at Harridge Woods with the East Mendip conservation volunteers.
My first month has been fantastic, the knowledge and skills I have already gained and meeting so many dedicated, hard working and passionate staff and volunteers I can’t wait for next month!
My first week of practical work involved brush cutting scrub regrowth and thistles on calcareous grassland reserves along the eastern edge of the Polden Hills. Working at New Hill, Tannager, Gilling Down and Green Down, this is a constantly ongoing task as these sites are in close proximity to woodland with an endless supply of seeds and suckers but cutting back the encroaching spear and creeping thistles, bramble and hawthorn/ blackthorn keeps the ground layer open to allow in light. This in turn enables species such as Agrimony, Pyramidal Orchid, St John’s Wort, Rock Rose, Centaury and Wild Thyme key larval food plant for the nationally rare Large Blue, to flourish.
We were even lucky enough to have instant vindication for our efforts on New Hill as we saw a large Blue (not previously recorded on the site) along with numerous skippers, meadow browns and marbled whites as well as an Emperor Dragonfly. Though it should be noted that by the end of a day brush cutting a slope in 30 degree heat I felt I could drink my own body weight in water!
There is a really noticeable difference working higher up the slopes however and in the welcome breeze at the top of Gilling Down I saw Swallows and House Martins flitting low after insects while sickle-like Swifts carved through the warm air above.
A rather moody view from on top of Gilling Down reserve.
I was also able to take part in a wildflower ID event I’d found out about, run on Exmoor by the Park Authority. We found a range of species and learned distinguishing features for common plants like stitchworts, speedwells and knapweeds, as well as keying in general. As someone without much of a science background, species ID and surveying is an area I’m keen to improve on, so for me it is great that the traineeship offers the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities like this and tailor the year to our individual needs.
On the 23rd July along with Leighann I had my Brushcutting assessment and now have the full ticket. Whilst I’ve used brushcutters/strimmer’s a fair amount in the past its good to have a proper accreditation and know that I’m not too much of a danger when wielding one (although I did manage to outscore Leighann on the ‘risk points’ scoring system something to do with collateral damage to the local broad bean population and restarting the machine from the hip… who knew? Well me, now, obviously!)
This did also mean that I had to get a passport photo taken for the Lantra card itself, which invariably ends up with something approaching the mugshot of a recently apprehended Serbian war criminal. But apart from that it was all good and I learned some useful tips about tweaking the carburettor to adjust idling/start speed and (if you have to) how you can cut down bigger stuff with a ‘biting’ action, taking a chunk at a time.
And to end, here's a one of my favourite photos of the month!
Shetland pony mother and foal at Langford Heathfield
I have had a very varied and interesting first month, and I have definitely seen more of Somerset than I expected to! The first week involved some work in the Taunton office and some botany surveying along the river Tone, Wildflower training in Wiltshire, and going down to Selwood Living Landscapes area to visit landowners. I also helped out at some surveying at Hinkley point, which, outside of the main power plant site, was absolutely covered with pyramidal orchids!
Dodder - a parasitic plant of nettles. But also seen growing on restharrow, selfheal, and other calcareous species, at Green Down whilst out surveying.
Brownsea Island the following week was obviously a fantastic experience, but it was back to learning more about identifying grasses in Wiltshire on the Monday back. The rest of the month involved more grassland surveying down in Selwood, on the Mendips, and on the Blackdowns, both on reserves and in landowners’ fields. I also joined Ellie and Ellen in surveying hedgerows for Bat transects and doing a Snipe survey on Westhay Moor. This involved dragging a long heavy rope across tussocky grass to flush out the wading birds, which might be the most physically challenging thing I will have to do!
Overall, it’s been an exciting introduction to the course and I can’t wait to see what next month will bring. For now here's some more of my favourite photos of the month.
Elephant Hawk moths from our moth trapping on Brownsea Island.
Just a few of the dozens of Marbled White butterflies me and Jasmine saw in Wiltshire whilst on a wildflowers ID course with Dom Price (of the species recovery trust).
So after our initial inductions, I was thrown straight into events, and my first month has been a blur of school visits, practical volunteer groups, Brownsea and scones!
As it is coming to the end of the school year, my first week was mainly a variety of school visits. I experienced all age groups that week, from pre-school children who loved to run around to grumpy teenagers who needed a little encouragement to embrace the outdoors! This also meant I’ve managed to see a lot of Somerset and am quickly checking off some of the county’s reserves. We took a school group to Westhay to do a compass trail, where the kids loved watching the ponies and looking out for otters from the bird hide. But much to our disappointment, the log book showed us we had missed seeing them by just half an hour! I’ve also checked off Harridge Woods, where we did forest school activities including fire starting and den building; as well as Black Rock where we did more compass trails and geocaching with a secondary school on their enrichment week.
Our second full week was spent on Brownsea Island, where we met all 16 trainees from across the four trusts for the first time. This whole week was a great opportunity to meet everyone and find out what kind of things they have been getting stuck into already, as well as gaining our first-aid and helath and safety training, and seeing lots of new wildlife!
Cockchafer that hijacked our moth trap!
After many failed attempts at getting a good red squirrel photograph, this little guy looked straight at me!
On returning from Brownsea I had a chance to learn how to update the Wildlife Skills website and create the fabulous pages that brought you here! As well as more inductions for us all to meet more people from the Trust and better understand all the projects that are are going on, and there’s more than I thought!
Most schools have broken up for the summer by this point and so the next week I ventured down to Exmoor to visit the Nettlecombe FSC centre to help out on their John Muir Award week. I didn’t even know what the award was in the morning, but by the end of the day I was jealous that I didn’t get to do it as a kid! The idea is to discover a new area, explore it, do something to conserve it then share what you’ve learnt; and so we did mini-beast activities in the forest and stream, made seed bombs with clay and the children took photos to share later in the week.
The rest of the week, and last week in July was filled with more events. Including clearing bracken with the navy at Black Rock, a trip back down to Exmoor to man a stall at the Bogtastic event showing kids how to manage water levels on wetland areas, and finally a Magnificent Meadows ‘picnic in the meadow’ event in Frome which involved scones, butterflies and flowers. A lovely way to end such a busy and exciting month!!
Me holding my first slow worm at the Bogtastic event!
Thanks for reading, and come back next month to see how we're getting on and settling into life as trainees.