I have now been in my role as a trainee with Active Neighbourhoods for just over a month. So far it has been a great experience, meeting new people and getting to know the nature reserves. Although it has only been a month I have learned a huge amount. A large part of my time has been spent engaging with local communities, doing practical work on the reserves and running volunteer activities. I have also seen some amazing wildlife like curlew on the Tamar water’s edge, Kingfishers and a Song Thrush at Ernesettle Creek, and for my first time ever a bullfinch!
To give a bit of background, Active Neighbourhoods is a lottery funded project being delivered in partnership by Devon Wildlife Trust and Plymouth City Council. The project is working in five areas of Plymouth, to improve these spaces for people and for wildlife.
Since starting my job one of the things that has surprised me is the quality of some of Plymouth’s green open spaces. Prior to starting this job I didn’t know about some of the amazing reserves dotted around the city. When you visit some of our reserves such as: Budshead Wood, Efford Marsh or Ernesettle Creek it’s really easy to forget that you are in a large, sprawling city! Here in Plymouth we are really lucky to have high quality green spaces right on the doorstep.
Efford Marsh and Budshead Wood have also just recently been as designated County Wildlife Sites! Before taking this job, I didn’t really understand why you need to manage a nature reserve, I thought to myself surely nature manages itself. This is incidentally is true nature does manage itself, but it is also necessary to give nature a hand from time to time. In some of our reserves where all of the trees have been planted at a similar time, the trees are all the same age and there is no age structure. Eventually things will take care of themselves, but this can take time. This is where we come in, to speed things up and to manage the reserves in a way that provides the greatest biodiversity. In the next few months I will be working on my brush cutter and chain saw licenses, so will be able to help more in the hands on management of the reserves. Recently I had a go at hedgelaying, which was really fun!
I am really fortunate to be able to work outside with some incredible people, and to enjoy these green spaces as part of my day to day job. Not every day is spent outdoors, there is a surprisingly large amount of office time, which I hadn’t expected. After all of the events we run there is important paperwork to fill out, where we have to think about what went well (or didn’t), and to record data on numbers of participants and volunteering hours. Data collection is an important part of my job and is critical in funded projects like Active Neighbourhoods where we need to demonstrate impact and evidencing of the work we have done.
Technology is becoming more and more important, in whatever line of work you are in and conservation is no different. In my day-to-day role I have to be able to use phones, cameras and laptops along with Facebook and drive. As useful as technology is, it is a nightmare when it does not work. Some of the most frustrating parts of the job to date have been down to phone/ laptop problems. On the other hand when it works it can be incredibly useful. The other day I was out in the truck picking up sensors, which measure footfall. These allow us to make judgement on how important green spaces are to an area, and also where things like signage need to be.
Probably the most rewarding part of the job is working with members of the local community to improve their local green spaces. Last week, we planted a fruiting hedge in Ernesettle, and it was incredible to see members of the community pitching in to plant a hedge, which in the coming years they will bear fruit that they can harvest and eat. A local boy had not planted trees before, but by the end of the day said he had planted 27 trees! After two days of planting we were able to see the amazing job that we had done.
On the other hand it can be hard to initially engage people from the local community. For many people getting out, and into a wood can be a daunting step. Persuading people to make that step, can be challenging, initially people can be a bit wary of you as they maybe have a negative perception of the council. But once you get a bit of momentum and people see the work that you are doing, and they also see other members of their community getting involved it gets easier. The majority of local people I have talked to have been really positive about the work going on in the reserves, and thankful for it. Finding out what concerns local residents have is really important, in community engagement. You need to know what people in that community want and need what the local issues are. If you go in there blindly changing things you can potentially cause more harm than good.
One of the more surreal things that has happened so far was the wassail at Ernesettle Community Orchard. If you don’t know what a wassail is, until a few weeks ago neither did I. The wassail is an ancient pagan celebration to promote a good harvest. With members of the local community, we scared evil spirits away and generally had a good time drinking mulled apple juice and singing songs. It was great to learn about this ancient tradition in the next few years, we will see if it worked, when the fruits are ready for harvest.
Before taking this job, I knew that I wanted to work in the environmental sector, but I wasn’t quite sure in which area. I now really want to become a ranger. For me it has an amazing variety in terms of the day to day and also the skill set required to be good at your job. It is a perfect combination of engaging communities, teaching people about the natural world, protecting wildlife and hands on practical conservation.