Into the woods: ‘My work experience with Essex Wildlife Trust’

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Samantha Atkinson, Woodland Conservationist at Essex Wildlife Trust. 3rd year BSc Biology undergraduate at Middlesex University.

‘For the last 7 months I’ve been on a work placement with Essex Wildlife Trust. The Trust manages and protects over 8,400 acres of land on 87 nature reserves including Hadleigh Great Wood: the ancient lowland woodland where I work. Only 3% of UK woodlands have this ‘ancient’ status, making Hadleigh Great Wood a very interesting place.

‘The woodland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, important for the conservation of many endangered species, including the Hazel Dormouse, Heath Fritillary butterfly and the Wild Service tree. The woodland also has an education centre for ages 3+ to help educate children about the importance of preserving ancient woodlands.

‘I’ve been involved in woodland management and conservation activities such as coppicing (cutting back trees to encourage new growth), habitat improvement, wood processing, dead hedging (creating borders from cut branches)  and ride management (managing open spaces within the woodland). I’ve also carried out important surveys of flora and fauna such as Winter Thrush, Hazel Dormouse, Heath Fritillary butterfly and monitoring of invasive species which could threaten the woodland.

‘I’ve had an longstanding interest in woodland management and conservation, so when it came to finding a placement, I immediately contact my nearest woodlands trust and met with the rangers, who were very supportive.

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‘What have I enjoyed about my placement? …Everything! My supervisor is a very experienced and knowledgeable woodland ranger, who’s given me a true insight into woodland management within the UK.

‘Working with volunteers and acting as assistant ranger has improved my confidence and given me a real passion for woodland management. I’m glad to have helped protect the vulnerable species that depend on this key habitat. This placement has reassured me that I’m on the right career path, towards working in ecology and woodland conservation.

‘So far, I have gained 7 months experience and a number of transferable skills which are greatly desired by employers. This will really help me to secure a graduate job after my studies, hopefully working with Essex Wildlife Trust.

‘Through my placement, I also have access to courses which will make me more employable, including becoming qualified to use a chainsaw for coppicing, and gaining a licence which will allow me to carefully handle dormice when necessary.

‘For anyone considering a placement, I recommend that you should start looking as early as possible, to give you plenty of time to find the right placement. Try to find something that already interests you…something you know you’ll enjoy.

‘Your course will tell you the minimum number of hours you need to complete on your placement, but consider exceeding this, as more experience could help you secure a job. Many ecology and conservation organisations require at least 1 year of experience.

‘Also, get in touch with MDXworks before you start applying, as they can provide you with suggestions on where to look for placements or which organisations to approach, and they can support you with your applications.’

– Samantha Atkinson, Woodland Conservationist at Essex Wildlife Trust. 3rd year BSc Biology undergraduate at Middlesex University.

 

–       (Interview by Matt Lewis, MDXWorks On-Campus / Online, Middlesex University)

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