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Wildlife Skills Goes Wandering ‘round Wiltshire

February 2, 2016

Last week, we set out on our third (can you believe it!?) residential of our year-long traineeships! The destination was Oxenwood in Wiltshire, and we had plenty on the agenda. Here’s what we got up to!


Arriving at midday, we had a quick catch-up over lunch before heading out to Jones’s Mill, a Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) reserve, for a guided walk. This was led by Wiltshire trainees Jasmine and Keeley whose knowledge about the site really added to the experience, allowing us to learn about the different species we might find there.  An important part of the meadow’s conservation is grazing by Belted Galloway cattle which were amusingly described as looking like an Oreo biscuit!


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The trainees being given the guided tour of Jones’ Mill – © Christina Bowdler


After a hearty dinner of lentil shepherd’s pie cooked by Somerset we had an evening talk given by Cora, another Wiltshire trainee, about the ecology and identification of the deer species found in Britain. This was really interesting and a picture quiz at the end tested how closely we had been listening!


On Tuesday morning we were greeted with a crisp frost, and our first sight of boxing hares! Those who managed to get out a bit earlier also caught a glimpse of the resident barn owl, who obligingly soared around the building whilst I was obliviously eating my porridge! Better luck next time…

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Hares on a frosty morning – © Jack Bedford

Our first session of the day was a workshop led by Derek Gard, WWT’s Volunteer Manager. The session centred on working with volunteers and the rewards and challenges associated. It was a very informative and interactive session: we did a bit of role playing, and even got to play with Lego! The lesson was filled with practical advice which we all could take forward and start using immediately.

After lunch, we were joined by Imogen Davenport, Dorset WT’s Director of Conservation, who taught us about planning and wildlife law. This was a really interesting presentation, and gave us all lots of knowledge about protected areas, protected species, and planning framework. This was incredibly important information to know when working in conservation! Our work wasn’t quite finished, as it was Dorset’s turn to cook – a nice Thai green curry and vegan cheesecake!


We awoke on Wednesday morning to again find the stunning sight of the fields covered in frost. After more hare watching, we made our way to Help for Heroes’ incredible flagship centre, Tedworth House. After spending the previous day indoors, we were all eager to get stuck into the work Sally (Tedworth’s horticultural therapist) had planned for us. For several hours we helped prepare the flowerbeds for spring, whilst Jack, Christina and Keeley helped install a new gate. We also had the opportunity to chat with Georgie, one of last year’s trainees, who is now working at Help for Heroes. It was great to see someone who was in our position just a year ago in employment and being so successful.



Keeping warm with a bit of weeding! – © Amy Brocklehurst


After finishing our projects, we were lucky enough to be given a tour of the house and a talk about the fantastic work Help for Heroes does. Some of their most impressive facilities were in the sports hall, where they had an astro-turf ski slope! Back at Oxenwood, after a delicious meal cooked by Devon (ratatouille & chocolate cake!), Steve Davis delivered a very useful session on improving our CVs.


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All the trainees after a great day at Tedworth House – © Amy Brocklehurst



Thursday saw the earliest start of the week. Wrapped up, we descended on WWT’s Langford Lakes reserve where we met a team of avian experts for a bird ringing session. With each bird they demonstrated how to weigh the birds, measure wing length and determine age and sex. They then showed us how an identification ring is put on the bird’s leg, before releasing them. We caught a wide range of birds, including a robin, blackbird, blue and great tits, and the most spectacular; the handsome male great spotted woodpecker! All the data collected from the morning will go towards monitoring of bird populations across the country.

We put our new-found photography skills to the test - © Jack Bedford

We put our new-found photography skills to the test – © Jack Bedford

In the afternoon we had a fantastic wildlife photography session with Iain Green. After a hugely helpful presentation, giving us tips on how to capture those enchanting wildlife moments, we were let loose with cameras in hand to put what we’d learnt into practice.

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Morning dew captured at Langford Lakes – © Amy Brocklehurst

Back at base, with a hearty Wiltshire beef chilli keeping us full, the evening was spent discussing our training progress and what we are still able to achieve before flying the nest, and included a career visualisation exercise to show us that we can reach the jobs we are hoping for!


On the final day the rain arrived and had set in with earnest by the time we had reached Morgan’s Hill for a guided walk. With the long drives people had back to their counties we made a unanimous decision to cancel the walk and invade the local coffee shop instead! Over our drinks we had the chance to review the week and discuss our favourite parts before saying goodbye until the next time.

The week, as always, was a brilliant experience utilising current skills as well as learning many new ones and seeing some beautiful new sites. Now we are looking forward to our next and final residential training week in Somerset in a couple of months. The time is just flying by!


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Thanks for having us Wiltshire! – © Christina Bowdler

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