Just another heritage lottery funded training programme…?

Here at East Dartmoor, we are looking for four fresh faces to join the team for a year-long structured training programme. The 22nd February deadline for applications is looming, so why should you put in an application? Isn’t this just another heritage lottery funded training programme?

Absolutely not. And here’s why, from the perspective of those who’ve been put through their paces for the last year (and, let’s be honest, put the staff here through their paces too)…

There are lots of great conservation training initiatives out there, which are incredibly popular and provide opportunities to get into the conservation “sector”, which can be a tough nut to crack. And we four above found ourselves trying to crack that nut but finding that we didn’t quite have the right tools to do it. When we joined the team here at East Dartmoor a year ago, we all came from different backgrounds, but we with a few things in common: we love being and working outside; we all have strong passions for creating a better future; we are all graduates; we all wanted to gain more applied experience in conservation management; we all love Dartmoor. But that’s really where our similarities ended. Not all of us were “fresh” graduates, therefore not all “young” (in fact two of us did our degrees as mature students), not all ecology or conservation specialists (my Bachelor’s was in languages!) and with a wide-ranging experience to bring to the table, from HR to animal husbandry, farming to marine biology and teaching, we were far from a homogeneous bunch.

The real beauty of this training programme for all of us was its flexibility. Our supervisor/mother hen Linda keeps us all on the right track, while meeting regularly with each of us and discussing our training progress and options. At our monthly reviews, and in between, we’d suggest training opportunities that we felt plugged gaps in our experience and skill sets: conferences, certifications, or simply projects that we wanted to get involved in. And Linda would offer her own guidance on how we could spend our time. Having a dedicated supervisor ensured that we set specific training objectives, and met them throughout the year. And they all looked very different. For example, I have been undertaking Forest School Leadership training, which has been key to achieving my outdoor education objectives, where Freya and Bekah’s focuses on practical habitat management enabled them to gain certifications in chainsawing and brushcutting.

car stuck
Bekah helping to pull a Landrover out when I got it a bit stuck during our training

Despite the different training programmes that emerged for each of us, we all started in a fairly similar vein, with 4×4 driving, first aid and health & safety training, inductions and introductions galore. We guarantee varying levels of head implosion/explosion over those first few weeks, but we also promise a brilliantly learningful and fun experience, that will leave you ready to take on the projects that come your way over the next year.

Another major draw for all of us to apply for this programme was the partnership element of it. Though based here at East Dartmoor, hosted by Natural England, we work across the Moor than meets the eye scheme, giving us a wide variety of projects to select from, and to gain extensive experience of that all-important partnership working that is becoming increasingly key to successful conservation work. Over the year, we have all worked particularly closely with the Woodland Trust, though there are many other formal and informal partners to learn from and cultivate relationships with. In fact, one of the highlights of the last year for me was attending Communicate conference and giving a short presentation on the Moor than meets the eye partnership work so far. I certainly wouldn’t have had that opportunity without this past year.

But less about me, what do Freya, Bekah and Patrick want to share about their last year? And what are they going on to do now that the year is coming to an end?

Freya: “I have a number of projects that I am leading on that are using the skills I have learnt during my traineeship. For example I am currently mapping areas of wet woodland around Dartmoor using my qGIS training. I am now able to organise and execute outdoor management tasks without supervision as I have all the necessary practical tickets. I feel much more confident leading volunteers and assisting in community events. I am starting a Masters degree in September and this year will allow me to apply some reality to my studies, as I now know the practical limitations to some of the conservation issues that will be raised during my course.”

Bekah: “I chose this over other training programmes because of its location on Dartmoor and the variety of opportunities it could offer me, from practical habitat management to species surveying and public engagement. After the year I’ve spent on the traineeship I have gained a variety of new skills, such as my chainsaw, brushcutter and pesticide application qualifications. These will enable me to find work within the practical conservation sector. I have also gained knowledge in reserve management on both a habitat and species level.” Bekah will soon be heading to Costa Rica to put her surveying, monitoring and practical expertise to good use in more tropical climes.

Patrick: “I am now in full-time employment working as a Farm Conservation Advisor. The programme really gave me the confidence to apply my knowledge. Coming out of university you have the know how but not the practical experience of applying it. But having the opportunity to take part in real world projects and develop my own gave me confidence in myself and I believe this was a contributing factor to getting a job.”

Patrick and I leading a nature walk with a local school group

We all agree that there are challenges in undertaking such a training programme, mainly time management (so many opportunities, not enough hours in the day/days in the week!) and money. And these are often interrelated. Part-time working alongside time at East Dartmoor has proved possible and necessary for some of us, and Linda carefully keeps an eye on us all to make sure we don’t overdo it. We’re no use to anyone if we’re stressed and tired from overworking for too long! It can be tempting to try to fit in too much, especially as all the staff and volunteers that we work with are so incredibly lovely, knowledgeable and supportive. As well as Linda, there are people across all the organisations we’ve worked with that provide excellent mentoring. The other three agree: “I’ve been able to meet new, like-minded people and make new friends”; “It has been a very friendly and team working environment and everybody pitches in to help when needed”; “I found I quickly became a valued member of the team with my own role”.

hug day
They really are a friendly bunch here at East Dartmoor!

I am excited to see where this next chapter takes me. As well gaining extensive experience of designing, delivering and engaging people in educational programmes and events – the Reserve’s summer events programme, a series of Forest School sessions and John Muir Award – I’ve developed an unexpected passion and developed skills in the communications field. I plan to continue my self-employment in sustainability consulting, and expand into environmental and outdoor education, and that’s all thanks to this last year.

So no, I really don’t think this is “just another heritage lottery funded training programme”, as someone sarcastically commented recently. For all of the reasons above, and more. And you would bring your own uniqueness to it. So I dare you to put in an application, and see where the next year could take you… just click here to for more information and the application pack, and don’t forget about the 22nd February midday deadline.

If, in the meantime, you have more questions, you can contact Linda on 01626 832 330 or linda.corkerton@naturalengland.org.uk. If you put in an application, you may be able to put some questions directly to us at the open day on 2nd March! We look forward to meeting you then.

office view
You too could have this as your “office” – photo courtesy of the Woodland Trust


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