A year in the life of a NatureScot student placement

After 14 months, 6 changing seasons, one national lockdown, two bogs, a swamp, some islands and too many of Dave’s terrible dad jokes to count, it’s all over. Last month I very sadly said goodbye to the Stirling NNRs as my student placement came to an end. It’s been the most incredible, jam-packed year and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work in such stunning places with super talented and just downright lovely people.

In my interview I remember asking just one question.. “so, what would I actually be doing?” and the answer I got is pretty much the same answer I would give to someone else now, which is that it’s really hard to describe a typical day working on an NNR! It varies so much seasonally (even week to week!) and there are always those unpredictable surprises along the way to keep things interesting.

But generally speaking the work that we do has three main components: practical management of the NNRs, engaging with visitors and the wider public, and monitoring wildlife on the reserves. During my placement I gained a huge amount of experience in each of these areas through working on the three Stirling reserves: Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss and Loch Lomond, and whilst it would be impossible to fit everything I’d done last year into just one blog, here as some of my best bits…

Visits to other reserves

You’ve heard of munro bagging but what about NNR bagging? Last year I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit some of the other NNRs across Scotland for various training events and to learn about the management of different habitats and species. I went to the Isle of May, Tentsmuir, Loch Leven, Taynish, Moine Mhor, Creag Meagaidh and St Cyrus. Some of the highlights from these visits were: feeding a puffling its dinner on the Isle of May, carrying out WeBS counts at Loch Leven (one of the best places in Europe to watch wildfowl!) and experiencing the reaction of a group from Dundee International Women’s Centre when they saw seals for the first time at Tentsmuir.

Student/graduate placement cohort

One aspect of the placement that I’ve really enjoyed has been having the support of a cohort of other student and graduate placements. This was particularly important during lockdown where we were unable to get out to reserves for almost 3 months. Having such a supportive network helped me to navigate through that time and I’ve made some great friends over the year.

Getting stuck in

For me, the best part of reserve work was getting to spend the majority of my time outdoors doing hands on practical work. I loved coming home after a day on the NNRs feeling physically exhausted – who needs a gym membership?! I have jumped at every opportunity to get involved and learn new skills and NatureScot has put me through a range of training courses which I simply couldn’t afford to do by myself and are essential requirements for many reserve jobs.

Wildlife encounters

By being immersed in nature everyday I learned more about Scotland’s habitats and species than I ever had before in any classroom or lecture hall. The experience has been eye-opening and I’ve never felt more connected to the natural world. I find myself paying closer attention to things I would have previously overlooked and getting excited about everyday wildlife encounters. Some of the most memorable wildlife moments I had were: being present for the exciting discovery of beavers on Loch Lomond NNR, finally seeing a hen harrier on our last dusk survey of the year and maybe most surprisingly, stumbling across a wallaby on one of the islands…?

Volunteers

The Wednesday volunteer group was always the highlight of my week. Our volunteers are essential to the running of the reserves and much of the work we do couldn’t be achieved without them. I was always in awe of their can-do attitude and dedication as they give up their own time to help nature. This often involved physical work in rubbish weather conditions and they never complained once! Some of our volunteers have years of experience in conservation volunteering and I’ve learned a huge amount from them. I’d like to thank them for making me feel part of the team and I’m extremely appreciative of all their hard work.

The NNR team

And finally… no NNR placement would be complete without an NNR team! A big focus of the placement is on learning and development and, thanks to the people I’ve worked with, I’ve seen myself improve and build confidence in all areas of reserve management. Drawing on the collective (and seemingly infinite!) knowledge of Dave, Steve and Amee, I quite literally learned something new everyday. Thank you to the team for making my experience as a placement so rewarding and enjoyable, I’ll particularly miss our mothy Monday chats!

A new chapter

When I began my placement, although I had just completed a masters in Conservation and Biodiversity, I didn’t have a good understanding of the way things worked on the ground and I knew more about the conservation issues of an African savannah than that of a lowland raised bog!

Over my year as a placement I’ve learnt a huge amount about the management of Scotland’s species and habitats and the threats that they face. The placement has given me the confidence to go on and secure a permanent role as an Area Officer in Argyll. In my new position, I will be managing a chough conservation project on Islay along with some other operations work. I’m looking forward to drawing on the skills I have developed during my placement and learning new ones.

I cherished every second of the last year and I know I’ll be back to visit these wonderful places and people again soon!

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1 Response to A year in the life of a NatureScot student placement

  1. Phil Graves says:

    Thanks – all the best for your new job – we enjoyed working with you on Wednesdays and choughed (!) you’ve deservedly been given a great new opportunity.
    Phil and Sue

    Liked by 2 people

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