My First Few Weeks as Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Apprentice Conservation Officer!

As Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s new Apprentice Conservation Officer, I will writing a regular blog to provide an insight into what I’m getting up to in my new role and hopefully inspire a few people to get involved! This week I've been getting to know my wading birds on an ID course on South Walney and experiencing the rut at Martindale for the first time.

My first couple of weeks have been busy, varied and very interesting, and I feel like I’m learning a lot in a very short space of time. In the office, I have mainly been working on posters for the IUCN Peatland Action Conference next week and getting to grips with GIS mapping, whilst out of the office I have been to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust Members’ Conference, South Walney on a wading bird ID course and to Martindale to watch the red deer rutting – my first experience of this!

The wading bird ID course was delivered by Mike Douglas from South Lakes Ecology and involved a classroom session in the morning to get to grips with ‘yardstick species’ (species used as a benchmark to identify others) and then an afternoon of spotting and identifying wading birds from the various hides around South Walney.

I found the day quite challenging as I have very little experience of bird ID or wading birds - which all look very similar to the untrained eye - but I enjoyed it nevertheless and by the end of the day felt confident in identifying a few of the more distinctive species, particularly redshank, turnstone and oystercatcher.

This was the first day out of three on this course and I am looking forward to reinforcing and expanding my knowledge in the next couple of sessions – although I think it would take many years to become anywhere near as knowledgeable as Mike! This was my first time visiting South Walney as I hail from (the mighty) Yorkshire and I was very surprised at how much wildlife could be found so close to a big town like Barrow. We saw several seals as well as the many species of bird and I highly recommend visiting if you haven’t already – I will certainly be returning! I found myself feeling quite jealous of the Marine Trainees who spend half their year living part-time on the island completely immersed in the wildlife, helping to run the nature reserve.

Earlier this week I received a call from Ian McMurdo, who is heavily involved with Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s mammal group, inviting me to see the rut with him and his wife, Philippa, the following day. Having never seen the rut before or been to Martindale I was very excited and the day did not disappoint. Although the rut was not yet in full swing, with no actual clashes between stags, they were very noisy and protective of their hinds and it was fascinating to watch their interactions.

We saw several wallows (muddy scrapes that stags urinate and then wallow in - rendering them totally irresistible to hinds) and Ian and Philippa told me a lot about the heritage of the Martindale red deer, their breeding patterns and the management of the herd - which is too large for the area they occupy. We took a circular route that took us along the ridge of Martindale, overlooking Angle Tarn, and the views were spectacular.

The experience was a valuable and highly interesting one that I hope to repeat, and I will be seeing Ian again soon for a tracks and signs lesson. Thank you to Philippa for the photos I have used in this post. The deer will be rutting for another couple of weeks up at Martindale and it’s a sight not to be missed!

Keep an eye out for my next post about the IUCN Peatland Action Conference next week!


About the author. Kate is the Trust's Apprentice Cnservation Officer