Lottery fund boost will create more volunteers who can help the environment

Banbury Cake: Andy Jones, former year two trainee, now temporary assistant reserves officer for Oxfordshire, Neil Fletcher, Developing Green Talent project manager at BBOWT, and Gavin Bennett, former year one trainee, now assistant reserves ecology officer. OX63877 Buy this photo » Andy Jones, former year two trainee, now temporary assistant reserves officer for Oxfordshire, Neil Fletcher, Developing Green Talent project manager at BBOWT, and Gavin Bennett, former year one trainee, now assistant reserves ecology officer. OX63877

IT may seem like the perfect job for those at one with nature – days of pruning trees, birdwatching and the occasional herding of sheep.

And for many it’s an opportunity of a lifetime and one that has paid off for many trainees signing up to the Developing Green Talent (DGT) scheme.

Designed to give jobseekers the practical experience that employers look for, the project has trained the next generation of stewards needed to protect Oxfordshire’s environment.

Now, thanks to £560,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding, the trust is able to offer 42 paid traineeships. Applications for next year’s intake closed on Monday.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) initially gave the project £352,000 in 2010, allowing the trust to provide 24 one-year work placements over three years.

Last year that was topped up with an extra £208,300 from the HLF, extending the scheme until 2015 – an extra 12 placements.

BBOWT Project manager, Neil Fletcher

Competition for jobs in conservation is extremely fierce and people struggle to get the experience needed. The scheme is open to everybody, which is great. Being a DGT is a fantastic start for anyone with a passion for wildlife

 

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Project manager Neil Fletcher said: “Competition for jobs in conservation is extremely fierce and people struggle to get the experience needed.

“The scheme is open to everybody, which is great. Being a DGT is a fantastic start for anyone with a passion for wildlife, wanting to develop a career in the conservation sector.”

During their one-year placement, trainees are taught skills ranging from using a chainsaw to prune trees to giving presentations about wildlife to primary school children. The salary is £12,500, and each year there have been around 200 applications for the few posts available.

Andy Gunn was a DGT trainee in 2011, based in the Community Wildlife Team for Oxfordshire, and now works for BBOWT.

He said: “Being a DGT massively increased my opportunities in a very competitive sector.

“But what makes being a DGT so enjoyable is that every day is different and that you get to meet such a diverse bunch of people.

“Working as part of a team, you feel really included and a valued member of staff.”

So far, 16 trainees have graduated and all but one of them have gone on to careers in the environment sector, with the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and BBOWT.

The one who didn’t, Rachel Thorp, is now training to be a teacher in order to teach people about the environment.

It’s a growing industry and one that the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has identified as a particularly growing sector for the county.

But Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for the environment David Nimmo-Smith added that the sector relied on volunteers.

And their work is extremely valuable. An example was the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch survey in January which showed the number of house sparrows in Oxfordshire had fallen by a fifth in one year.

It was carried out by 10,000 volunteers spending an hour watching the birds in their back gardens.

Mr Nimmo-Smith, who also sits on the board of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, said: “We rely on the volunteer sector to help us.

“We get money from the Government to buy new stiles on our footpaths, but we rely on volunteers to install them. They are invaluable.”

Successful applicants for next year’s trainee scheme will find out whether they have made it through to the interview stage in January.

A list of current volunteer opportunities can be found at http://bbowt.org.uk

SOME OF THE TRAINEES

ANDY Jones’s green traineeship landed him a job organising the first Oxford Festival of Nature.

Mr Jones, originally from near Scunthorpe, graduated from the University of East Anglia with a degree in environmental science in 2005.

After that he spent more than a year working unpaid for the National Trust in Devon for three days a week.They provided free accommodation, but he managed a bar five nights a week to make ends meet.

During his traineeship he looked after nature reserves in and around Oxford – the CS Lewis reserve in Risinghurst, Letcombe Valley and Blenheim Farm.

He also worked with Science Oxford, helping organise its ‘bio blitz’ nature survey, leading to a job organising the Oxford Festival of Nature in July this year. He is now a temporary assistant reserves officer with BBOWT.

He said: “It is nice to work in a job where I can have a direct impact on wildlife.

“Wildlife is having a hard time in this county because of intensive agriculture and climate change.

“Through work with volunteers, we spread our love of the environment and get across our agenda.”

Banbury Cake:

  • Andy Jones

GAVIN Bennett has a degree in geography and a master’s degree in environmental science, yet spent more than a year volunteering before he found a job.

That included a year volunteering for BBOWT in Berkshire, during which time he admits he “whittled away” a lot of his savings.

He said other volunteers he knew at the time were living with their parents or eating into their savings.

He said: “That is a limiting factor for a lot of people. If you haven’t got a pile of cash, you’re a bit stuck really.

“Most people who want to work in the sector need to have a lot of volunteer experience to get a job.

“It is a popular sector because it is fun and wholesome.”

During his traineeship he gained experience of running educational events, working with the community and tackling planning applications.

After that, he spent eight months managing a bird sanctuary in Suffolk, before he managed to get a job with BBOWT in Oxford.

He now co-ordinates more than 90 volunteers to help conduct 300 surveys across the trust’s 80 reserves each year.

Some of them will be next year’s intake on the scheme.

Mr Bennett, 29, said: “I think the traineeship was quite a good experience, it gives you a lot of opportunities.

“The income was small, but manageable.

“It wasn’t a lavish lifestyle, but that manages your expectations for anyone wants to get into this sector.”

Banbury Cake:

  • Gavin Bennett

ELAINE Ingram is a current trainee.

She has used her time to create a children’s nature trail at Warburg nature reserve, north of Henley.

Growing up in nearby Chalgrove, Ms Ingram’s parents often took her to Warburg for walks to spot blue tits, chaffinches and woodpeckers.

It was an experience she cherished and one which reinforced her belief that nature is important for children to enjoy.

With that in mind, the Nature Detectives trail is free and invites parents and their youngsters – the trail is designed for children aged four to 12 – to play I-Spy in the reserve.

After picking up a backpack from the education centre, families set off around the route, which takes in seven scenic lake stops, count birds on the feeders, creepy crawlies under logs and draw the mushrooms sprouting in the leaf litter.

She said: “I think one of the things I loved about Warburg when I was young was the sense of magic.

“One of the reasons I chose this project was I’d been asked by quite a few parents and grandparents if we had anything the children could do on the reserve and I really wanted to give them something to make their visit more enjoyable.”

Banbury Cake:

  • Elaine Ingram

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