Exciting news this month - Abi, the Community Engagement trainee, has found a new job! Read her update this month for more information on what she is moving on to doing. This month wee also report on the Somerset residential held near Cheddar, we go searching for newts, and we have a staff trip to see how Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust manage a few of their reserves.
April was time for our last ever trainee residential, this time in our home county of Somerset! This was a lovely week spent with all the other trainees (well the ones that haven’t already flown the nest and got amazing new jobs) at Barton Camp in the Mendips. During the week we covered job applications and interview skills as well as an intensive days training on project development. We worked in groups to develop plans to rejuvenate Brownsea Island and improve its engagement potential, and produced a funding bid, budget and presentation for our projects to be scrutinised. We also found time to do some dry stone walling, a bat walk through cheddar, climb Crooks Peak and spend an evening caving near Priddy! It was a great way to spend our last time together as trainees, and this is definitely a part of the job that I will miss.
This month I also completed my Outdoor First Aid course at the Mendip Snow Centre. This was two days spent learning about how to improvise first aid when working in remote areas, how to deal with extreme weather or multiple casualties. It was a really well taught course, with lots of role play, which gave me a lot more confidence that I could deal with emergencies in the real world.
I also spent a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon at the Avalon Marshes Family Fun day, where I led an arts and craft activity all about UK reptiles. We created an adder and grass snake collage throughout the day and the kids (and adults alike) enjoyed the snakes’ skins I had on display. I didn’t know much about them before this, but at the end of the day I was some what of an expert!
At the end of the month I also crashed the reserves team away day and visited Gloucester Wildlife Trust to explore the Forest of Dean. We were met by Reserves Manager, Kevin Caster, who showed us around several sites in the Forest and it was interesting to see the kinds of work they get up to.
On the edge of a quarry reserve on our Forest of Dean visit
All the trainees also visited Dorset HQ for one of our last training days, all about amphibians. Here we learnt about the UK species, how to ID them and where to find them. We then explored how to survey them and spent the afternoon egg searching and netting at the local pond. We were lucky enough to find lots of small and great crested newt eggs, as well as finding lots of adult palmate newts and two adult great crested newts!
Finally, at the end of this month I found out I had been offered a new job! So after starting to apply for jobs since March, it all finally paid off. From the beginning of May I will be working for the Bristol Natural History Consortium assisting with the organisation of the Bristol Festival of Nature event in June. I’m really excited to start my new role, but will really miss working with the other trainees and all the amazing people at Somerset Wildlife Trust. It has been a great year, and no doubt I wouldn’t be starting this new job without the amazing opportunities this traineeship has given me!
So this will be my last update as a Wildlife Skills trainee, thank you for reading. If you’re interested in seeing what I get up to in life after the traineeship, follow me on Twitter @abigailrose1991
Over and out.
As Abi has already mentioned, we had a very busy week on residential in our home county, learning lots and keeping busy throughout the day and evening. I took the lead on my first guided walk up to Crook’s Peak, which was a bit steep to say the least, but so worth it for the view! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t quite as nice as when I went up to explore it the month before, but luckily the rain that had been falling all morning tailed off, and we just had to deal with the humidity it left behind. Needless to say my advice to the group about wearing full waterproofs wasn’t quite necessary – we were pulling off the layers quite quickly! I also gave each county a spring ‘wildlife bingo’ to complete, with a wildlife themed chocolate prize at the end for the winning team.
Crook's Peak Somerset trainee selfie... And one of everyone!
My favourite activity during the residential was most certainly dry stone walling. I had always wanted to have a go, and the weather treated us perfectly. Although dismantling the wall was heavy work, building it back up again was the hardest bit – trying to fit the right stone out of a very large pile wasn’t always easy, and sometimes frustrating. However, the section I was working on with Rachel and Sophie turned out quite neat (mainly due to their input!), and we were quite happy with the result. We then spent that evening down the caves below Priddy, squeezing through small spaces and up waterfalls, getting soaked with water filling up our wellies… so whilst I am glad I did it, I can’t say I will be rushing to do it again!
I have also been trying to get my botany up to scratch by going out doing woodland surveys with Ann from SERC. It’s surprising how much I have forgotten – even the easy species were a struggle to remember at first, but the information is going in much quicker than last year!
Later in the month I travelled down to Dorchester for a course on managing hedgehog friendly green spaces in urban areas with the Dorset Mammal Group and PTES. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, as I didn’t know much about hedgehogs before, and it made a nice change from a whole day of botany ID, which many of my courses are based around.
Learning about creating habitat for hedgehogs in suburbia Notice to help hedgehogs move between gardens
The second trip down the Dorset at the end of the month for the Amphibian training with Rachel and the other trainees was another of our really interesting days. I was so happy to finally hold a great crested newt! We found great crested newt eggs at each of the ponds, and we managed to catch quite a good number of palmate newts out on Powerstock reserve whilst we were pond dipping.
Inspecting vegetation for newt eggs Pond dipping and.... which newt has jazz hands?!
I have been carrying out a lot of site checks this month, inspecting the reserve boundaries to ensure they are stock proof and that the other site infrastructure (stiles, gates etc) is in a good state of repair whilst also checking for any potentially dangerous trees over paths. It has been nice to just have a wander around the reserves on my own; you can appreciate a lot more when you aren’t head down, chainsaw helmet on, in a storm of sawdust in the midst of a coppice stool! I’ve seen Brimstones and Speckled woods, Small Tortoiseshell and Orange Tips, and more Peacock butterflies than I can ever remember seeing. I saw a tiny fox cub, still fuzzy and grey and bleary eyed bumbling around the entrances to its den at West Coker Fen, green winged orchids and lady’s smock bright in the rain at Babcary Meadow. In the space of a few minutes at Great Breach Wood I heard my first cuckoo, saw my first early purple orchid, a bee fly and young spikes of Self-heal pushing up through the moss and had 2 Roe deer dart across the ride just in front of me.
Roe Deer in the distance
On the 23rd and 24th I took part in the Somerset Otter Group’s annual two day survey. This involved checking watercourses across the county for signs of otter activity, principally sprainting and padding and then checking the same spots again the following morning. This was a county-wide project with tributaries of the Exe, Axe, Tone, Parrett and Brue being checked to build up a picture of otter presence and absence across the county on those two days.
Somerset has long been a stronghold for otters and so this year has been chosen to contribute to a DNA analysis project with Cardiff University which aims to genetically identify individual animals. This information will provide a wealth of additional information, such as age and sex as well as being able to more accurately track range/movements. Sadly whilst I managed to locate three new sprainting sites on my stretch of the Ash Stream, useful in itself because this was a previously unmonitored tributary and shows that it is in use; there were no new samples on the following morning fresh enough to be suitable for genetic analysis.
The next day I was up in Gloucestershire with the rest of the reserves team to discuss the management of various sites in the Forest of Dean by GWT Reserve Manager Kevin Caster. We saw a variety of interesting heathland and acid grassland reserves nestled within the forestry commission plantations but my favourite was Lancaut, a steep, wooded river gorge around the remnants of what was once a medieval settlement right on the Welsh border, only the shell of the village church remaining.
SWT visit a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve in the Forest of Dean area - with amazing views!
We had our final residential this month, up in the Mendips at Barton Camp. Drystone walls were put up; small mammals were trapped (and released - I had a common shrew up my sleeve at one point); limestone caves were negotiated; bats were detected (Pipistrelle, Greater and Lesser Horseshoe, Serotine and Daubenton’s – not bad for a couple of hours in the outskirts of Cheddar.) I even managed to uphold Olivia’s success last year with my team’s ‘Red Squirrel Ranger’ idea winning the project management task- which DWT’s Brian Bleese said he plans to implement so watch this space… and with some last minute shopping team Somerset even managed an indoor barbie for our last meal together.
Dry stone walling up at The Lots reserve
April has been a busy month. After completing Adder survey training I have been out on our Chancellors Farm and Yoxter reserves to try and spot some myself. Unfortunately the weather turned a little chilly and I wasn’t very lucky but I have been told they are definitely there!
I managed to get some more survey experience helping the botany group complete a flower survey at Harridge Woods. I was in charge of marking all the species present on the list- which was pretty hard as it was all in Latin but the group were really helpful and I even remembered a few myself.
Ralph and I took the final part of our pesticides assessment for PA6AW at Westhay Moor. I arrived early to have a walk around beforehand and finally heard the Bitterns booming! We both passed too so in all it was a great day.
We have been carrying out lots of tree safety checks and dealing with any dangerous or fallen trees around footpaths, roadsides and rights of way. I spent a day with James carrying out some work on the West Mendip reserves including removing a couple of large fallen Ash from a pathway in Long Wood.
All the trainees ventured to Somerset as it was our turn to host the final residential. It was another fantastic week with training on project management, job applications and fundraising, an introduction to small mammal trapping, some dry stone walling and an unforgettable experience caving in Swildons Hole in Priddy.