A Summer Placement of a Different Nature - Daisy Cave
I suppose I should start by introducing myself - my name is Daisy, I am a Geology student at the University of Birmingham and a friend of Mia and Lucy (and needless to say, a big fan of this blog!). I was lucky enough to be able to spend my summer partaking in an incredibly diverse, unique and exciting placement with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. Therefore, I am over the moon that Mia and Lucy have invited me onto their blog to promote it and hopefully make people aware of the variety of alternative internships available to the more heavily promoted corporate experiences!
What did the internship involve?
The thing that drew me to the Summer placement scheme offered by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, over all others, and probably the reason the Trust received so many applications, was that there is nothing else quite like it on the market! It didn’t merely focus on one specific department of the charity, but allowed us to test the water in a broad spectrum of career paths within the environmental sector. There was a balance of field skills, practical work and seminar-style career talks, as well as a group project - which culminated in a presentation to the CEO and many of the Trust’s staff and outside supporters (from university staff to partners at the Field Studies Council). In total there were nine of us on the placement; whittled down from over sixty applications, we homed from universities across the UK - including as far out as Northern Ireland! One thing that made the scheme so special for those of us involved was the raw bond of friendship we developed; we were connected by our respect and awe towards the intrinsic value of the natural world and our shared desperate desire to promote and protect it! My peer and new friend Liz summed this up perfectly, writing “I want to do what makes my soul shine, and I believe that being able to work with Nature would enable me to do this.”
One of the main objectives of the placement was to upskill us, as university students, in the field skills that are evidently lacking in graduates wishing to enter the sector. Consequently, the placement was packed full of opportunities to develop hands-on practical skills, particularly species identification, to complement the theoretical activities. An example includes the day in Clunton Coppice with Stuart Edmunds (the Communications Officer at the Trust and head of the Pine Marten Project, as featured on BBC Countryfile), where we checked camera trap footage, laid peanut butter on logs to attract pine martens, discussed the miracle re-emergence of the species and felled holly to create warm microhabitats for small mammals. We also formed a work party, demolished and erected a new wooden post fence at Fordhall Farm, and repainted the benches in the public garden at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust HQ.
On multiple occasions we ventured out with the reserves team: pioneering and manufacturing pine marten boxes by hand-boring into logs; creating charcoal in hand erected kilns for public retail at HQ; transporting logs through the forest using a quadbike, and fun activities like spoon whittling! We were frequently informed of the conservation efforts around Shropshire: venturing out to Earls Hill to witness the Grazing Project in action, where different species of cattle and sheep occupy various ecological niches on the reserve. The animals are able to promote biodiversity and graze off of the invasive bracken - effectively doing the work of work parties but 24/7 and providing a profit to the Trust with their by-products.
A career talk by Edward, Worcestershire Wildlife Consultancy, acted as a reality check about life in the sector (dawn bat surveys equate to all-night shifts) as well as vital insight into the areas and ways we need to upskill ourselves in order to prepare for the workplace. Whilst small NGOs and charities are able to offer on-the-job training, volunteering is seen as a way to improve our identification skills and show real passion for the natural world. We were reminded several times that skills can be developed but passion is a prerequisite. Ways to show passion and develop skills include: volunteering with your local Wildlife Trust or other charities such as Natural England, going out and surveying with your local bat or mammal group, or joining a cohort of local bird ringers. Whilst on the placement, we had many days dedicated to improving our identification skills, such as looking for badger signs, bird identification with the Curlew project, plant identification with the botanist Mark Duffell (entrepreneur from Arvensis Ecology and lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University), a bat-walk at FSC Preston Montfort and heathland condition monitoring on Nipstone Heath.
By far, my favourite activity was bird ringing with the Shropshire Ringing Group at a farm in Bicton. It was fascinating to learn how birds are caught, handled and released in a way that invokes the least amount of stress and harm possible. I got the immensely rewarding chance to handle a tiny and beautiful blue tit; I affectionately named her Eden. I was taught how to place and remove her from a bag, which creates a dark environment for the birds to feel calm in, to hold her in the ringer’s grip, to identify species/age/sex and take measurements of weight and wingspan, before applying a tiny metal identification ring to her leg and releasing her back into the wild: this invoked a feeling of unimaginable admiration and joy! One interesting thing about ringing is that the age assigned to the birds is actually more of a code, odd numbers are sure ages and even numbers are estimations, so a 1 is a chick in the nest, a 3 fledged this year and a 5 fledged last year, whilst a 2 fledged this year or any time before and a 4 fledged last year or any time before that.
How did you afford it?
This placement was immensely rewarding, but like many opportunities in the charity sector, it was an unpaid placement and incurred the financial costs of living in the beautiful and historic town of Shrewsbury for the month (although one of the guys, Jack, did dedicate himself to camping for the entire month in order to save money: “it was a bit grim” and “it’s not for everyone!”) It is a fact that thousands of pounds in grants is missed by students every year, who are simply unaware of being eligible or concluding that they’re too unlikely to be successful that it’s not worth applying.
I successfully applied for a work experience bursary from the University of Birmingham Career’s Network. This was sufficient to cover my accommodation and living costs such as laundry and groceries. The fact that I received this support gave me peace of mind financially and allowed me to focus on all of the incredible moments I experienced during my time in Shropshire. I was doubtful at first that I would be successful and the process of applying seemed too long and tedious to be worthwhile, but having come out of the other side, it was undoubtedly worth the effort and I am truly indebted to the bursary and support I have received. Since completing my placement, I have discovered that the vast majority of applicants to the grant are successful so that should act as even more reason for others to apply and not be put off unpaid internships!
I’m still processing everything that I got to experience, but it goes without saying that the month was exceptionally ‘wild’ and hugely rewarding!
Find out about opportunities at your local Wildlife Trust: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/find-wildlife-trust
Find Daisy at @DaisyTheMoose