OCND Conservation Trainee - My First Month

OCND Conservation Trainee - My First Month

Hello, I’m Hannah, the OCND Conservation Trainee. As I have now been working on the project for just over a month (and what an unusual month it’s been!), I wanted to let you know what I’ve been up to. But first, I’ll give you a quick background on myself and how I’ve come to be here.

I always knew that I wanted to work in conservation, which is why I completed a four-year combined Masters in Zoology at the University of Nottingham in 2016. My degree gave me lots of knowledge on the science and theory involved in wildlife conservation. It also saw me working on lots of interesting animal behaviour and ecology projects, involving various spider species, through to three-spined stickleback. However, as interesting as these projects were, they taught me an important lesson about myself: that I probably wasn’t going to spend the rest of my career looking at animal behaviour in lab-controlled conditions!

Since University I have been involved in various conservation volunteer opportunities and roles; a summer work placement at Nottinghamshire County Council conservation department, a Parish councillor, a Kent Wildlife Trust trainee and a White Cliffs Countryside Partnership volunteer. As well as learning how to complete office task, these experiences helped me realise that there was also a lot to be done outside. From surveying to practical habitat management, I knew that I needed a role with an inside-outside balance. With each of roles, I gained more experience for working as part of wildlife conservation project, until I finally had enough skills to be able to join the Old Chalk New Downs team as the Conservation Trainee.

From removing Himalayan Balsam in waders, to learning how to use a brush cutter, I enjoyed getting outside and doing practical habitat management as part of previous volunteering experiences

So, to my first month, and what a month it’s been! No sooner had I started, we were ordered into lockdown and began working from home due to the Corvid-19 pandemic. All the outside work that we had been planning, site visits, surveying, the walking festival, is now all postponed until further notice. Before lockdown, I did manage to get to see some of the sites and find out what is happening at them. We went to visit Bluebell Hill where our new cardboard tree guards had just been installed, it will be interesting to see how they fair compared to their plastic counter parts.

Cardboard tree guards installed on Bluebell Hill

I also got to see Ranscombe Plantlife Nature Reserve. Although it was March, there were still plenty of flowers to see. I am looking forward to going back in the future to see all the other flowers that will come out.

A selection of flowers at Ranscombe in March

Despite lockdown, it has not stopped me from completing loads of work at home. I’ve begun to have a taste of all parts of the project, from posting about the Species of the Week on social media, to looking through past chalk grassland survey data, there is still so much I can do from home.

I have especially enjoyed getting my head around the mapping software QGIS, a free software that you can use to create all sorts of maps. After completing a how-to course, I’ve been busy getting maps ready to use for displaying all our surveying results. The maps we produce after we have collected and processed all the surveying data will be a great visual tool for presenting the results.

Another job I have enjoyed doing is putting together cheat sheets for both the chalk grassland and hedgerow surveying. Because of the timing of the lockdown, a lot of our surveying training has been postponed, but these cheat sheets should help with identifying plants as I have included a few identification tips for each species. For me, it has been useful creating these cheat sheets as it has helped with learning and remembering some of the species identification points.

Although it has been a strange first month, I still am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and experience that I am gaining. Hopefully in the future, I will be able to get out to see more of the sites and to do some surveying, plus I hope to have my own little piece of work that I can be responsible for, so watch this space for development on that. For now though, I am happy working from home and staying safe.