My placement by Jess Cowburn: part 3

Eycott Hill Nature Reserve in Autumn 

Here is my third and final blog of my northern reserve student placement experience with Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

9th January: Snow go

Today was a Conservation Day on Eycott however, it was also one of the coldest days for a while. It was so cold on Eycott that it snowed, so we did a spot of dry stone walling in the snow. This was interesting as I’ve never done dry stone walling before, however despite wearing gloves my fingers still got extremely cold. After seeking warmth in the cars we decided to call an early finish to the day as the weather conditions weren't ideal! 

14th January: Squirrels for Collection

Today Bonnie (Red Squirrels Officer) and I went to go and collect the cameras that we had set out previously on a private estate. It was extremely wet and windy so it was not as fun collecting them as it was putting them out in the sun. When we got back we went through the cameras to see the results, there were two grey squirrels and a lot of roe deer, unfortunately no red squirrels! 

15th January: Leafy Bin

Kate (Gosling Sike Gardener) had a conservation day on today so I helped out. My job, along with other volunteers, was to help with the construction and the filling of a leaf compost bin in the garden. This is a bin full of tree leaves that when broken down creates an excellent compost. Afterwards, Malcolm and I finished building the rest of the bird boxes that I hadn’t finished previously. So I had a lovely afternoon talking to Malcolm and building bird boxes. 

21st January: Misty View

At Eycott today for a conservation day which included odd jobs and such, like fixing a broken gate and a collapsed wall. However, we soon realised we had forgotten the wrenches to fix the fence, meaning that one of us had to walk all the way back to the truck to go and get them. Unfortunately, we couldn't do anything whilst we waited for the wrench. However, to our surprise we found a very old tennis ball in the vegetation and played catch to pass the time. 

27th January: Bird Boxes 

Today I helped put wire mesh on the boardwalk by the pond at Gosling Sike. The boardwalk gets really slippery when it is wet so by putting wire mesh down it reduces the slip hazard. Malcolm and I spent the rest of the day putting up bird and bat boxes that we had previously built and painted around Gosling Sike gardens and office. 

11th February: Pen-ding

Due to the stormy weather over the weekend and fears my road would flood, I spent Monday at home monitoring the weather. However, on Tuesday it was all things go in the office to get ready for the Uplands for Everyone Conference on Thursday. This consisted of getting lots of things ready but the most urgent task was to upload files onto the USB sticks that delegates would be given on arrival. It got a little stressful when I accidentally deleted one of the files off the server (sorry again Nichola), but other than that it went okay and we got them all sorted! 

13th February: Conference Day

So, today was the big day. I’m happy to say, it went really well, no major issues! A big well done to Nichola and Imogen, I learned quite a bit too, not to mention there was an excellent buffet! 

26th February: Feed the Birds

I’ve been put in charge of making a booklet to help MENCAP when they attend their sessions at Gosling Sike. It’s for cleaning the bird feeders, so they know how to take them apart etc. Because of this I had some photos taken of me cleaning the bird feeders - a photo shoot if you like! This sounds easy enough, until I realise I have never cleaned a bird feeder before, and it's really hard to assemble them on your own. Afterwards, I helped Chris (volunteer) out with some gardening tasks that needed doing.

27th February: What’s all the Buzz About?

Today I was helping out Tanya and Rob on the Get Cumbria Buzzing Project to build the foundations for their new potting sheds. This involved laying down concrete slabs and using a big mallet to get them into place. This was hard work and very tiring! 

3rd March: Bowness or Middle Earth?

Today was a fun day, as it was at Bowness on Solway. This reserve looks like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie, as well as being a fabulous habitat for rare insects and birds. 

4th March: In the lead!
Exciting and chaotic times today, as today was my first time helping run a volunteer work party for the nature garden at Gosling Sike. It was certainly very eventful, but between all the chaos I think we managed to get some good work done. It was definitely a good learning experience for me and helped me understand the level of planning and flexibility I need if I want to be a good leader in the future. It's like the scouts always say, always be scared, be very scared, leading is hard.

6th March: Second time lucky?
This day was the start of my second attempt at my small mammal survey. I’d had an attempt earlier in the year and that was a bit of a nonstarter, over the week I conducted it I caught 2 things in total, so not a complete dead loss, but at the same time not brilliant. Oh well, you know what they say, if at first you don’t succeed, give it to someone else to do. Today was the start of the habituation period, this is just a fancy way of saying you leave the traps, so they don’t go off in order to get the small mammals used to them.

8th March: monster mammals...?
So today I headed back to Eycott (the location of the small mammal), but this time no more free food, this time you pay for your stay or just me recording them in the morning at least. However, one of the traps clearly had a much bigger mammal come and visit, as the trap was in bits and I have still to locate the second part of the trap. Oh well, things can’t get much worse right?

9th March: More mammal monitoring...
This day was mainly spent going backwards and forwards from Carlisle to Eycott Hill, collecting traps and setting them up again. Nothing yet, but it’s only been one day, and the signs are looking hopeful, we might get something yet!

10th March: game over!
Um, I don’t really know how to start this day's entry. So I went to Eycott to monitor if I had got any results from the night before, nothing! - but the weather was so terrible it prompted some questions about animal welfare, long story short I had to cancel the experiment due to terrible weather and my helper needing to be in self isolation. This coronavirus is starting to get quite serious it would seem. It’s okay, I’m sure the small mammals will be relieved at least. 

17th March: All change!
​​​​​​Today the Trust's CEO Steve sent us the instructions to start working from home. It would appear that the coronavirus has started to impact work, not that I am complaining however, as it means I don’t have to get up at 7am. An order to stay at home and not talk to people? What an excellent idea!

23rd March: Cabin fever!
Today I was starting to go slightly mad inside my house, so I went on a walk to Gosling Sike and took some pictures of the signs of spring that are starting to emerge! It might be slightly scary being unable to go and see people, however it does also give people the chance to see the amazing plants and animals that are right outside their own windows. Here are some of the pictures I took from the Gosling Sike garden. https://www.cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk/blog/guest-blogger/signs-spring-lost-words-garden

25th March: on call!
Well today was my first conference call with everyone from the office. It was nice to see them all doing good, don’t get me wrong there were a few interesting moments, with me accidently showing my stupid laptop stickers to the camera (apparently Steve really liked them) and someone’s child walked through at one point, but other than that it was quite a success I think. It was a really odd feeling however, as it was probably the last time, I would get to talk to them before I finish on the 2nd of April. If it was, then I’d just like to say, thank you so much to everyone at the trust for an amazing placement experience! It wasn’t exotic or anything, but it certainly wasn’t boring, and everyone was fantastic to work with. It’s something I will definitely remember for a long time to come, mainly as my wellies are still wet on the inside.

That's all from me, thank you to everyone at Cumbria Wildlife Trust both staff and volunteers. I have had a wonderful student placement experience and gained invaluable skills which will help me in my future career. 

Thank you for reading. 

Jess Cowburn

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Work at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve is possible thanks to National Lottery Players, and support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.