2020, not glum for everyone: a new start for Catch My Drift’s trainee

In September, I waved a teary goodbye to Norfolk, where I had spent the last four years at university, and trekked up to Morpeth, which was to be my new home. Originally coming from Brighton, and with a Mum on the Isle of Wight, relocating to the North-East seemed like an epic migration north! I had been lucky enough to be chosen for a traineeship position with Northumberland Wildlife Trust, working specifically on the Catch My Drift Project.

Catch My Drift is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and focusses on East Chevington Nature Reserve. Once an open-cast drift mine, the site is now the Trust’s third biggest reserve, and contains valuable reedbed, lake, woodland and meadow habitat on the stunning Northumberland Coast. The three-year project sets out to implement habitat improvements, improve public access, conduct thorough ecological surveys and organise community engagement activities on the reserve.

The conservation sector is a notoriously difficult sector to enter, and the importance of traineeships cannot be undermined! Despite studying Ecology at university for four years, a severe lack of actual work experience made it near impossible to contend for jobs in the environmental conservation sector (an issue faced by all young people trying to enter the industry!). To worsen the issue, Covid-19, (as we’re all too painfully aware), continues to create barriers and throw spanners in already difficult works. A severe reduction in funding for environmental causes (which was already low), a halt on income for environmental charities relying on visitor donations, and redundancies across the board reduced an already limited pool of job vacancies, and made those that existed all the more competitive. Therefore, unsurprisingly, when I received the call to say I had been offered the traineeship position- I was delighted! Traineeships, such as this one which the Wildlife Trust offers, provide an immensely valuable opportunity to enter the industry, gain practical experience and licenses, make contacts, and develop the necessary skills for a job in wildlife conservation. I will be eternally grateful for being given this opportunity, and firmly believe that the Wildlife Trusts, and other NGOs offering similar entry-level and training jobs should be praised and supported for offering such positions.

While my first few months in Northumberland have essentially been spent in continual lockdown, I have been blown away by the friendliness and genuinely warm welcome from everyone here. I have the pleasure of working very closely with Sophie Webster, the Catch My Drift Project Officer, and Anthony Johntson, the Estates Officer for Druridge Bay, both of whom helped me to settle in almost immediately and have, in the short time I have known them, already become very good friends. Every day is a guaranteed laugh, and I have all the support I could ask for in my new role. To say this position is my dream job would be an understatement! In my first few months, I have been busy with a huge array of tasks. I have taken over the Catch My Drift social media accounts, helped with a range of wildlife surveys including hedgehog surveys, harvest mouse nest surveys and camera trap surveys, helped make a virtual video event which we aired live on YouTube, organised a drone film of the reserve and assisted with and ran my own volunteer events. Undoubtedly though, my favourite aspect of the job has been the practical conservation work. I aspire to do warden/ ranger work, and so receiving my chainsaw and brushcutter licences through the traineeship has been a massive step towards developing the skills I need. Other practical tasks I’ve been able to get involved with include wildflower seed sowing and woodland bulb planting.

Following an action-packed three months, I am simply excited to continue my traineeship into the new year. I am especially looking forward to putting my practical skills into more practice; particularly thinning woodland on East Chevington to create open spaces for diverse ground flora to thrive and create a more natural tree arrangement. I’m also very excited as big changes are finally taking place on East Chevington. This month we have had contractors in to re-dig drainage ditches and install sluices which will allow us to control water levels in the North and South lakes; this comprises a major part of the Catch My Drift project, so it’s exciting to be involved in these crucial early stages in improving the reserve. While current lockdown restrictions have put a halt on volunteer activities and community engagement tasks, I also can’t wait to work with some of our lovely volunteers again, hopefully in the not too distant future. The warm welcome I received from many of them has been a massive part of making me feel so at home up here, so I’m looking forward to more working with them, learning from them, and hearing their stories again, once the government deems it safe to do so! 

Chloe Cook and Sophie Webster chainsaw training - Catch My Drift

Image by: Catch My Drift