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A brief look at (some of) the Apprentices' first year!

Posted: Thursday 31st August 2017 by Conservation-Apprentices

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Unbelievably, we are fast approaching one year of being conservation apprentices here at Cumbria Wildlife Trust! We’re definitely not the newbies anymore; Isaac and I are now both deep into our own long term projects.

A month ago, a lot of my time was taken up with planning Beached Art; an annual event of the Trust’s that you might already be aware of. The event took place on the 30th July, and it was, thank goodness, a success.

As Beached Art is one of the Trust’s largest public engagement events, it requires a lot of preparation: be it booking the external organisations such as Red Cross first aid and Smile Factor kite displays, or hunting for marquees in CWT HQ and forcing colleagues to help me put them up in the garden to test if they are suitable for use, organising volunteers, the itinerary, or chairing the marketing meeting (scary), or making NINE risk assessments for the day.

Luckily I had a brilliant mentor, Kay Foster, to support me in this, although I think towards the end she may have been regretting giving me her mobile phone number…

The event was set in the gorgeous location of St Bees beach – which I must admit to never having been to before working here, despite growing up in Cumbria!

Activities on the day included the infamous sand sculpture competition, guided rockpooling, marine-themed face painting and arts and crafts, a mobile rockpool to get a good look at our rocky shore creatures, a seawatch, guided walks to see the RSPB nesting coastal bird colony, and a kite flying display. 


Also at Beached Art there was a storytelling of CWT’s newly launched Tale Trail story (a journey through the Irish Sea with Irish Sea dwelling creatures as characters).

I helped Georgie, Assistant Marine Conservation Officer, with the launch events for this story, and they went really well! With one storytelling we did a rockpool ramble beforehand, and with another we had a guided cross-bay walk from Walney to Piel Island.

We hired actress Grace Long to give a dramatic reading of the story – but as you will be able to tell from the picture, we needn’t have bothered! We had a ready-made 3 year old storyteller in the audience the whole time…

Another of my main focusses at the moment is the natural flood management  (NFM) campaign that my boss Neil and I have been working on. We now have had two campaign committee meetings and we are slowly but surely making progress!

The idea is to create a cross-NGO campaign and information hub to raise awareness of how exciting natural flood management can be (I’m not made to say stuff like this; I do genuinely think it’s cool!!).

I didn’t know much (anything) about the ins and outs of rivers beforehand, but after spending a decent amount of time listening to river ecologists talk and using the very academic platform of BBC Bitesize to educate myself, I can now hold my own in a conversation about rivers and flood management. If that isn’t a measurable outcome, I don’t know what is!

An exciting part of my work around this campaign is the creation of short videos around different NFM techniques and benefits. Isaac and I are working with the film tutor at Kendal College, Dom Bush, to create these. Watch this space…

This is not my only film-based project: in the run-up to the election on June 8th, I filmed and edited a number of short talking heads videos asking members of staff at the Trust what they would like the next government to do for wildlife, and what wildlife meant to them. These went on the Trust’s website, in the section all about the general election. (Disclaimer: you don’t find out who we voted for! We stayed very neutral…)


David Harpley, the Trust’s senior conservation officer, organises an annual trip to Estonia. It doesn’t strictly count as work as it takes from our holiday and is paid for individually. However, it is absolutely relevant to work as we stayed in the middle of a wetland/woodland nature reserve and basically had a new ecology lecture every day!

When I said we were staying ‘in the middle of’ a nature reserve I meant it literally; we had a log cabin completely surrounded by trees, with no running water and definitely no Wi-Fi (quel surprise).

The reserve is huge and is inhabited by creatures including wolves, bears, lynx, elk, wild boar, pine martens, racoon dogs, roe deer, Eurasian mink, and beavers.

My personal fauna highlights of the trip were the baby elk we saw, the baby beavers we heard (they sound just like whining puppies!), a racoon dog, and a wryneck. I did not enjoy canoeing for nearly 7 hours in a snowstorm, but other than that I had a blast.

We have managed to fit in loads of training this year: QGIS, safeguarding, train the trainer (a training course on how to give training courses – agh) Shoresearch, a rocky shore creature citizen science scheme, dormouse ecology, (all I ask is to see ONE dormouse throughout my whole two years here), risk assessment, and outdoor first aid. The outdoor first aid qualification enables us to lead sessions.

Seal surveying has stopped until September due to the nesting gull colony that we would have to get through to be able to monitor the seals! Obviously we don’t want to disturb them whilst they are nesting, but it’s also quite difficult to walk whilst being dive-bombed by hundreds of gulls.

Instead, we have been carrying out red squirrel surveys. This included putting up three trail cams at various point around Grizedale Forest, and then doing three ‘visual transect’ surveys in the early morning, when the squirrels are most active. The walks were successful as we discovered reds in a part of the forest that they hadn’t been seen in before! 

However, all the pictures on the trail cams were of greys; on one particular cam, they were all of ONE grey squirrel who kept returning and cleaning itself/eating the food left out for the greys. We could recognise it because of a distinctive dark spot on its lower back!

We also partook in ‘Cocoast’, another rocky shore citizen science scheme. The Cocoast methodology includes getting species ‘packs’ which are booklets with groups of creatures on, with the idea that when you carry out the survey, you are only looking out for the creatures in your pack.

I’ll be writing more blog posts soon about what I’m up to at the moment, watch out for them!
Sian X

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