OCND Traineeship Andy’s 1st Week
As with all positions in all organisations, the first few days largely consisted of paperwork, meeting colleagues, and site familiarisation. However, that is where the similarities with other jobs I have done in the past ended. I was treated to a tour of Kent Wildlife Trust reserves at Bluebell Hill, Nashenden, Queendown Warren and The Larches, along with fascinating and informative talks throughout. Alison really knows her stuff! With each visit to each site my appreciation of exactly what was at stake grew, as did my admiration for the knowledge and passion shown by all the KWT staff. This was not simply a job for any of them, this was a vocation.
As part of the traineeship was asked to undertake a survey at Bluebell Hill to help understand why people who are not members of KWT (i.e.: not the general nature reserve visiting naturalists) visit Bluebell Hill, their motivation for visiting, and any perceived benefits the gained from their visits. This survey was also designed to attempt to ascertain the perception these visitors had of KWT and other similar organisations, and their perceptions on the environmental movement as a whole. I could see how this would be a valuable resource to better understand the public who frequent nature reserves, and hopefully reveal ways to better inform them about KWT’s role in Kent, as well as reaching out to a new demographic to encourage awareness around environmental issues and their importance.
I was also asked to create a means by which the natural cycle of chalk grassland flora could be shown for the purposes of presentations and quick/easy dissemination of information about this practice to the public. We decided that the best way to achieve this was to use photographs. These would be taken in the same place, at the same time of day, and of the same area of flora. These photographs could have information added and used as part of Power-point presentations, but we also thought that it may be a novel idea to create a ‘Flip Book’ which could show the variation in grass height throughout the season as well as when the reserves were being grazed compared to being left fallow.
The highlight of the first week was definitely the visit to Knepp re-wilding project. I timed my entry to the KWT team well because this visit to Knepp was a KWT funded day for the volunteers to say thank you for all their hard work throughout the year….but I’d not done any actual work at this point. I went anyway and had a great day. Knepp was a normal farm, which was struggling to find a profit in the financial climate at the turn of the 21st century. The owners decided on a bold gamble to remove all the fences, and farm animals, as well as most of the human management, and allow nature to take its course. Some large herbivores (longhorn cattle, wild boar…) were bought in to simulate the large herbivores naturally indigenous to Kent.
The plan is to encourage this approach, where there are struggling farms or disused farmland, to create a network of natural parks that will one day connect to become a web of natural areas on a landscape scale. In less than 20 years the effect on the habitat has been profound, and the increase in native flora and endangered fauna has been remarkable. Peregrine falcon, Turtledove, Nightingale, Purple Emperor butterflies are only a few of the most endangered species to be thriving at Knepp, but the project has been a resounding success with the abundance of countless native species increasing. However, this project has not been to the detriment of people. In fact the number of visitors to Knepp land far outnumbers those who would have been present when it was a farm. Long and short walks, camping, wild swimming and a delightful café and shop make it a great day out for all.