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Stomping Through Somerset!

May 4, 2016
trainees

The trainees ready for action… read ahead to find out what we’re up to! – photo © Rachel Janes

Who can believe that we trainees have just been on our FINAL residential?! Certainly not us! A couple of weeks ago we spent an incredible 5 days in Somerset’s Mendips, seeing the sights, learning about project development, admiring the wildlife and becoming very well acquainted with rocks…

 

Monday:

After leaving behind Dorset, we arrived at Barton Camp in Somerset to meet all the other trainees for our last week together. After a catch up and that all-important cup of tea, we set out on a guided walk around Crook Peak, a National Trust reserve that backed onto our accommodation. Somerset trainee Becky gave us a tour of the reserve and local area, and we played ‘Signs of Spring Bingo’, trying to find all the quintessential signals of the season such as blooming bluebells and brimstone butterflies. We also discovered that Crook came from an Old English word cruc which means peak, so the hill is confusingly called ‘Peak Peak’!

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Amy enjoying the view from Crook Peak – © Jack Bedford

 

On our return, we were cooked a delicious meal by the Wiltshire trainees – German potato salad, before a session, led by Somerset’s Leighann, of Mushin – a martial arts practice of level mental state, which was a nice, relaxing way to end our first day!

Tuesday:

Tuesday was a hard-working day and certainly kept our minds busy! The workshop for the day was Project Development and Funding Applications, where we were guided through the process of compiling a watertight project plan along with itemised budgets, ready to present to a potential funding body. Sent off with a brief – to expand public engagement on Brownsea Island – each group came up with a project and had to present it in detail, including why it was needed, why the funding was required to make it happen and what the outcomes would be. Everyone came up with well-focused, realistic and viable projects, but the winning team was Emily, Ralph, Keeley and Amy with their ‘Red Squirrel Rangers’ proposal, winning the coveted ‘Tallulah’ trophy.

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The winners with ‘Tallulah’! – © Amy Brocklehurst

 

In the evening we then went on a bat walk around Cheddar Gorge with Dave Cottle from Somerset Bat Group. After a fantastic introductory talk complete with bat specimens to examine, we headed off around the cave entrances with our bat detectors, listening out for the stunning calls of greater and lesser horseshoe bats and pipistrelles. We then finished the walk along the rivers and ponds of Cheddar, where we caught a glimpse of the water-loving Daubenton’s bat.

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Dave Cottle introduces us to the bats of Cheddar Gorge – © Amy Brocklehurst

 

Wednesday:

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Dismantling the old wall. It stood for over 150 years! – © Jack Bedford

 

We headed off to Somerset Wildlife Trust’s The Lots nature reserve, where we tried our hand at the traditional technique of drystone walling!  We started by completely dismantling a section of the dilapidated old wall, forming a pile of rocks by size order. Then, once the base had been levelled, we started by selecting flat-sided ‘facing’ stones to form the outer edges, then used the uneven ones as ‘heart’ or ‘core’ stones to fill the middle and wedge the others into place. It was a slow and labour-intensive process but it was very satisfying, and not too dissimilar from playing a game of Tetris!

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Amy entering the cave! – © Rachel Janes

 

After a hurried dinner we then headed to Swildon’s Hole for a caving experience! Our caving guides dressed us all up in overalls, safety belts and helmets before leading us across the fields to one of the cave entrances – a strange cylindrical stone chamber with a hole in the floor! Dropping immediately into rushing water our two groups split up and headed through different routes, each of which involved squeezing through small gaps, abseiling down waterfalls and climbing sheer rock! Weaving our way through the cave system we saw amazing stalactites and stalagmites, pools and chambers. It was an exhilarating and somewhat terrifying experience, but we all emerged at the end soaked to the skin with massive smiles on our faces!

Thursday:

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Olivia and Beth joined us to share their job-finding prowess! – © Rachel Janes

 

We were up early to see if the mammal traps Steve Davis had set the night before were successful. We were in luck! We found 3 common shrews and a bank vole! Later on, we were joined by Olivia Dullaghan and Beth Aucott, two Wildlife Skills trainees from last year. It was wonderful to hear about what they have done since completing their traineeships; proof that the experiences Wildlife Skills trainees have during their time on the scheme really does make it possible to get into a conservation career. Steve also shared his advice on applications and interviews, which gave us the opportunity to ask any questions we had about the recruitment process. Overall it was an extremely useful, confidence-boosting day, followed by an impressive indoor barbecue by Somerset.

Friday:

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Wiltshire trainee Amy with a bank vole, who was safely released after the photo! – © Jack Bedford

 

One more early start was in order for our final day as we checked the mammal traps again. This time, we managed to get 2 bank voles and 4 wood mice! We then headed off to Cheddar Woods for a guided walk by Leighan, Ralph and Somerset wardens Neil and James. It was fantastic to learn about this fascinating reserve and the work that has been done on it in recent years. The bluebells were in flower, several bumblebees were buzzing around and a peregrine falcon was spotted flying overhead. After saying goodbye we started our journey home, stopping for coffee and a spot of lunch at the stunning Cheddar Gorge. What a brilliant week for our final residential!

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