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A taste of life as a DWT trainee

Posted: Wednesday 15th November 2017 by admin

Practical Trainee for Devon Wildlife Trust, Louise TrenemanLouise Treneman Devon Wildlife Trust Trainee

With autumn leaves glowing all around and the first frost shining on the grass, Louise Treneman looks back over the first six months of her year of training with the South Devon Nature Reserves team.

In April I moved to Woodah Farm and began a placement working with the land management team on the Trust’s wonderful nature reserves. I graduated from the University of Exeter with a Geography degree last year, but to really get into the world of practical conservation work I needed to get some experience on the ground, with the Woodah training placement providing the perfect opportunity! Read on for a taste of what working with the Natures Reserves Team entails… 

Striking a balance with nature

Heath lobelia by Mike TuckettThe ethos that backs the vast majority of the work within the reserves team is one of habitat scale management, not looking to benefit one species in particular, but to build a natural space that is well balanced and allows for a particular habitat to thrive. Striking this balance does not mean individual species are not considered, but means there is a compromise to be had when making decisions based on this. For example, when undertaking scrub clearance in a heathland site we will leave some clumps of gorse, or some young trees, as perch sites for birds or food plants for specific butterfly species. 

It is interesting to see how this balance is struck on different reserves, and in rare instances an individual species does take a higher priority. Andrews Wood is one of the few sites in England where heath lobelia can be found, so understandably this is given precedent during its flowering period to allow for a count to be done and for the seed to disperse. Then the ponies are sent in once more to munch down the vegetation - our four-legged colleagues in the DWT reserves team save us a lot of time and effort that would have to be spent brush-cutting and clearing, by trampling and eating plants that would otherwise grow to dominate large areas. 

Practical conservation

Practical conservation work has two main ‘seasons’, with the summer season making way for winter works at the start of September. While summer saw butterfly and plant surveys, bracken cutting, brush-cutting and fence fixing, winter works centre mainly around heavy duty scrub clearance, felling trees and a lot of bonfires!

As part of my training, the Trust put me through two chainsaw courses, firstly Crosscutting and Maintenance, followed by a Small Tree Felling course. With these qualifications under my belt (thanks to Matt Bate for excellent tuition!) I have got stuck in - like with driving a car, the real learning comes with the experience you gain after you pass the test! I am very lucky to be working with a team with many years of experience between them to help me out - it is amazing how much you learn just by being around people with a wealth of knowledge, and most importantly are willing to share it!

The highlight of my summer

Pied flycatcher by Neil BygraveA highlight of the summer season for me was being allowed to tag along with Paul, a volunteer who checks the bird boxes at Blackadon (part of the Dart Valley Nature Reserve) every week throughout the breeding season. The boxes are there mainly to monitor pied flycatcher numbers, but of course the birds do not know this!

We found great tits, blue tits and one marsh tit nest as well as the stunning blue eggs of the pied flycatcher. I learnt how to identify nests by eggs and nesting material, and was lucky enough to see the progression from egg to chick! Monitoring programmes such as this occur on a number of reserves, and are of crucial importance to keep an eye on rarer species that might need a helping hand.

One of my favourite parts of working out on the reserves has got to be watching the seasons change. Spring blossoming into summer, with wild flowers in the meadows and butterflies in the air, noting the first swallow arrive and the last of the winter migrants fly north to their breeding grounds. Then the fire of autumn leaves adorning the trees, berries abundant in hedgerows and the nights drawing in, sun low in the sky by the end of a days work.

The little everyday changes that are so easy to miss, that I am lucky enough to be able to take notice of out in the wonderful world of DWT’s nature reserves each day. Safe to say I won’t be taking a second of my time spent with the reserves team for granted!

Stay up-to-date with Louise's adventure by following her personal blog


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