Starting my marine traineeship

Amy HopleyAmy Hopley

Amy Hopley - Trainee Marine & Coastal Conservation Officer

April 2016

From a very young age, I have always been excited by the adventure of being out and about in the countryside, and been fascinated by the diversity and richness of wildlife, right on our very own doorsteps! In particular, the coastline and the sea hold the most powerful draw of all. Growing up, many family holidays were spent at wild and rugged seaside locations around the UK, from the Lizard Penninsula in Cornwall to the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides. As I got older my yearning to be by the sea increased and amplified. Since home was the landlocked town of Chorley, I vowed that as soon as possible, I would move closer to the sea.

For three years after college, I spent my summers working in Cornwall, living only a stone’s throw from the ocean, exploring above and below the waves by snorkelling and surfing at every opportunity. The remainder of the year I spent studying for a degree in Marine Biology at Newcastle University, where I fuelled my thirst for knowledge through modules on every imaginable marine topic, from waves to whales to worms. Excursions to the Northumberland coast saw me completing surveys in a range of environments such as rocky shores, sand dunes, salt marshes, mud flats and kelp forests. The abundance of life I discovered in these unassuming and seemingly quiet habitats never failed to amaze me.

In my final year, for my dissertation project, I went to stay on the Farnes, a rocky cluster of islands off the Northumberland coast, home to a great number of breeding seabirds as well as England’s largest colony of grey seals. These seals use the Farne Islands for giving birth to and nurturing pups, before returning to the sea. I spent a week on one of the outermost islands, living in the historic lighthouse cottage that was once called home by the heroic Grace Darling. During the daytime, I watched and recorded the behaviour of the seals at two locations in order to see if females were more attentive to their young in areas close to the water than those situated further from the beach.

In the autumn of 2015, after graduating from university with a 2:1, I decided to prolong my summer by travelling to Antalya, Turkey, to help the Marine Mammal Research Association monitor dolphin numbers and behaviour in the Antalya Bay. This was an excellent opportunity where I was trained in more technical a practical aspects of surveying such as setting up a theodolite, using ArcGIS and photo-ID skills, as well as a welcome chance to work in a warmer climate.

Following my return to the UK, I worked as a waitress back in Lancashire. Though I was surrounded by wild moors full of wonderful wildlife, I felt once again a yearning to be by the sea. Throughout my travels I have seen for myself the dangers that the marine environment is facing through pollution and climate change, and more than anything I wanted to be a part of a movement trying to secure a more sustainable and biodiverse future for UK coastlines through conservation. When I heard about this traineeship with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, I knew it was a unique and unmissable opportunity to gain the skills and experience required for me to make a difference.

Over the next few weeks we have many exciting things planned, including outdoor first aid training, practical conservation, field ID courses and even a trip to Ireland! More than anything I am looking forward to this opportunity to learn new skills and embrace new challenges, which I know will put me on track for the marine biology career of my dreams. I am looking forward to getting stuck in!

January 2016

The time for my traineeship with the Wildlife Trust is over, and what a whirlwind of a year it has been!

Since the beginning of the traineeship, no two days have been the same. From surveying shorelines and to watching whales, to giving talks to huge audiences and making giant marine sculptures out of beach litter, it’s been a whirlwind of brand new challenges and amazing experiences.

Shortly after arriving at South Walney Nature Reserve, we underwent a multitude of training, inductions and workshops, giving us a glimpse at the sort of things we would be undertaking in the coming months. 

Then, almost before we knew it, it was National Marine Week. These two weeks saw us trainees hosting a wide variety of events, including whale and dolphin watches, to rockpool rambles, Beached Art festival and some exciting Marine Mudness days. Despite never having run events before, I quickly found my confidence and began to enjoy helping people to discover the marine environment in a fun and engaging way.

On top of running and organising events, the summer also saw many surveys completed for NWIFCA, the RSPB and Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Despite some extremely early starts, these provided some extremely useful experience in surveying marine ecosystems. Highlights included cockle surveys at Lytham, Lancashire; tern surveys at Hodbarrow; and gull, egg, duck and moth surveys at South Walney Nature Reserve.

After summer, it was time for personal projects. As the other trainees chose survey-based projects, I had some more great excuses to get out and about surveying habitats. This included honeycomb worm surveying with Georgie, invasive fouling species monitoring with Hayden, and seal-watching surveys with Jade. On top of these surveys we also continued to monitor birds at Hodbarrow and South Walney, this time the over wintering wading bird populations.

As well as surveys, the end of summer saw the start of presentations, workshops and talks. Before the traineeship, I was not at all confident in my presentation skills, and the thought of presenting to any audience was not a pleasant one. However, all of this soon changed, and before I knew it I was confidently delivering talks and workshops to audiences both large and small.

For my project, I chose to create an event to raise awareness of marine litter in Cumbria. This turned out to be a huge and multi-faceted project, including several events such as litter picks and sculpture-building workshops. This enormous project was a great opportunity for me to learn and develop my skills in project management, campaigning, education, and even some media experience for local newspapers and radio stations! The success of the project became truly apparent in not one, but three exhibitions of the sculptures around Cumbria. You can find out more information about the exhibition here >>

So, as I pack my bags and head off for my new role with the RSPB in Aberdeen, I feel extremely grateful to Heritage Lottery and the North West Wildlife Trusts for giving me the opportunity to take part in a truly amazing traineeship. Many thanks to all I have had the privilege of working alongside for the past nine months, for their incredible feedback and support every step of the way. This opportunity has allowed me to unlock the confidence and ability to pursue my dream of a career in marine conservation