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County Wildlife Site Trainee Scheme

Devon Biodiversity Record Centre (DBRC) annually host two long-term volunteer trainee placements.  These placements provide motivated individuals with an opportunity to gain experience in habitat survey, botanical ID, landowner liaison, ecological report writing, data management and GIS (MapInfo). The trainee placement scheme commenced in 2011 and as such we are entering our fourth year in 2015.

The trainee placements are centred around DBRC’s County Wildlife Site (CWS) monitoring project, which will be entering its sixth year in 2015. There are approximately 2,200 County Wildlife Sites (CWS) in Devon supporting an array of habitats and species. The trainees will therefore have the opportunity to become familiar with many of Devon’s most significant wildlife habitats.

This role is highly suitable to individuals who wish to work in the ecology and conservation sector, and want to increase their expertise and field experience.

Each placement is a 6-12 month unpaid structured training placement for four days per week.  The volunteers are based at the DBRC office, though spend much of their time in the field.  Initially, volunteers shadow DBRC staff and then gradually take on more responsibility until ready to conduct independent site visits, first as a two-person team and then potentially as individuals.

Day to day tasks include:

Identifying sites using aerial photos & OS maps
Finding and contacting landowners
Preparing for surveys
Surveying CWS (using various habitat classification criteria including Phase 1, National Vegetation Classification  (NVC), Integrated Habitat System (IHS) and Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority habitats
Managing the survey data (using software such as Recorder database and MapInfo GIS system)
Evaluating the survey sites against County Wildlife Site Criteria
Providing both written and verbal advice to landowners
Help organise training days and attend training days
Public engagement involvement e.g. assisting at Bioblitz events
“The CWS trainee placement was an invaluable opportunity to gain experience in a competitive sector. I have learned a huge amount and really enjoyed participating as a valued member of the DBRC team”
Sam Davies (CWS Trainee 2011)

"One year to explore Devon’s most beautiful wildlife habitats, the aim to get as much botanical survey and habitat survey experience as possible to enable future employment as an ecologist / habitat & botanical surveyor. Out surveying with Hannah (County Wildlife Site Project Officer), Ive been surprised to discover the amount of species you don’t notice until you’re with an expert in the field. Three days a week out over Devon’s countryside and two in the office learning how to efficiently write up reports. “The canopy in this CWS (County Wildlife JenSite) contains abundant ash and oak with occasional beech. The shrub layer comprises of locally dominant holly. The ground flora contains frequent bugle, remote sedge, enchanter’s night shade……” Each report I have completed has been a little more scientific and a little less… “The woods were beautiful, I loved walking through them. I enjoyed the smells of honeysuckle floating through the wood and the sound of oak leaves clapping in the wind.” In the time with DBRC (that I don’t want to end) I have become confident in plant names, some Latin names, how to ID unknown plants, some insects, butterflies, bird calls, habitats and how best to manage the variety of sites we’ve been to (woodland, culm grassland, bogs, meadows and heath). I have loved it all."  Jenny Noble    (CWS Trainee 2012)

As a CWS trainee I had to learn fast, the learning curve was steep, but it is impossible not to be enthused when spending your week exploring the wonderful habitats of Devon and the botanical treasures found within. Initially focusing on honing plant identification skills, mapping sites and being able to recognise the vegetative communities found within each habitat, I subsequently started to provide more assistance in the office, developing the ability to write detailed survey reports and provide management advice tailored to each individual site. By the end of the survey season my skills had grown to the point where I was confident enough with the entire process to organise and complete a survey on my own.

As well as this I was also able to get involved with a diverse array of other projects. These included AlexWsurveying for new colonies of water vole, surveys of reptile and amphibian species on Devon Wildlife Trust reserves and the monitoring of land use on parish audits.

As my time as a volunteer came to an end I was lucky enough to be offered a paid contract, on which I was responsible for managing species data, helping with various GIS projects and providing ecological consultants with data searches. 

The CWS Trainee scheme and the paid employment with DBRC I was later offered has been immensely rewarding, enlightening and above all extremely enjoyable. The whole of the DBRC team have been incredibly supportive throughout and freely imparted their vast collective knowledge, which will be invaluable as I begin a career in ecology.  Alex Worsley (CWS trainee 2013)

Joining the DBRC team for a year as a CWS Trainee has been invaluable to me, I have learnt a hugeAli_nice2 amount from this friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable team. It was a steep learning curve, but a really fun and rewarding one. Our main focus has been on getting survey experience, gradually building up to being able to independently perform botanical and habitat surveys. Learning this whilst surveying some of Devon's most beautiful countryside has been a real privilege, I will miss it!

We also spent quite a lot of time developing skills in report writing and working with GIS - both relevant and useful.

The skills that I learnt have allowed me to gain my first full-time employment in the ecology sector and given me a good grounding in survey technique and botany.
Thank you DBRC!
Ali Stubbings (CWS trainee 2014)

My time as a CWS trainee has been wonderful. Not only have I thoroughly enjoyed myself being Ed_in_reedsoutdoors and surveying beautiful County Wildlife Sites throughout Devon, but I have gained a huge amount of key experience in the ecological sector.

I’ve learnt so much this year through shadowing experts who always had the time to help and explain things, be it: the key ID features of a species; the best way to write CWS reports; or how to use GIS.

My skills in botanical ID, habitat classification, landowner liaison, GIS, report writing and data management have greatly improved and I now feel ready to take the next step and enter the world of ecological consultancy.

I feel lucky to have had this opportunity to work with and learn from experts every day in such a beautiful part of the country, and would recommend the placement to anyone looking to gain expertise in the ecological/ conservation sector.
Ed Walker (CWS trainee 2014)

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