My name is Finn Burton, and for the past year or so I’ve been working to gather experience working in conservation anywhere I can, so inevitably I’ve been involved with the Somerset Wildlife Trust and the many small groups it unites. As an 18 year old student, I’m trying to cope with going through my exams while spending all the time I can attempting to develop the practical knowledge that I hope will secure me a placement in a job I can enjoy.
I’m sure many Trust members will have had more experience than I have in conservation, but hopefully I can give some perspective on what it’s like to try natural volunteering in the UK as a student for the first time, and maybe help convince others to join in.
Every group I contacted responded with interest to my application, helpful responses to my questions, and enthusiasm. I know from experience that any kind of regular activity outside of college or school work can add to pressure, because of the amount of revision required, and frequent deadlines. If opportunities aren’t located close to you, activities in the middle of the week can be very difficult to manage.
My previous experience was limited. In the past I had helped with some outdoor work, but I was looking forward to participating in a more large scale effort. What I can say to those who are thinking about volunteering is that although there are big groups, it seems to me conservation is really about many smaller groups, and any effort really does help, however small-scale.
My first volunteer experience with the Somerset Wildlife Trust was moth trapping in Taunton. In the summer of 2013 I joined Conrad Barrowclough, an ecologist with First Ecology to survey for moths on the edges of the town. This involved carrying a remarkably heavy generator around the edges of Taunton, which was used to power a light, in an attempt to attract and record the variety of moths in the area. The aim was to collect data on the diversity of species, and we were able to see species such as the Dingy Footman and Brimstone moth. I appreciated the opportunity and it really was surprising how easy it was to see the species I wouldn’t normally see. After this, I began to work more regularly with the Sedgemoor Practical Conservation Volunteers.
Currently, I’m part of a small team working with the Somerset Reptile and Amphibian group to estimate adder population on the Blackdown hills, and I’m excited that we’ll be among the first to gather statistics here. The project began with a group outing to learn how to identify adders, when best to look for them and the areas they prefer. After successfully finding an adder as a group, the volunteers split off, each sending survey data back to the organisation’s website from their assigned area. Surveys are performed in the morning, when the temperature is low enough that adders need to move out of the undergrowth to bask in the sun. As the weather becomes warmer, adders retreat into the thick layer of undergrowth and it becomes difficult to find them.