A placement year at GWCT to remember
The initial start of my placement for the GWCT seemed rather daunting. Although, having the opportunity to spend my placement year working on the European NSR Interreg PARTRIDGE project, I knew would be extremely valuable. I soon settled in and started to get to grips with the basics with what I would be working on. The complexity became clear early on and I thought learning the details could possibly take longer than a year - although I have had plenty of expertise on hand to answer all my questions. PARTRIDGE works in collaboration with Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, England and Scotland where each country has two demonstrations sites. The main aim is to increase farmland biodiversity by up to 30%, from establishing 7% high-quality habitat tailored towards the grey partridge.
One of the reasons the placement appealed to me was because of the opportunity to learn ArcGIS - a geographical information system working with maps -, which I know would be advantageous when working in conservation. I began learning GIS by digitising grey partridge spring and autumn counts for Rotherfield (one of the demonstration sites in England). I had learnt only the basics during University, however this turned out to be a very useful head start.
The maps I have created over the last year has demonstrated to me the variety of ways to use GIS. Being able to present the owners with the demo site maps showing where the grey partridges are in relation to the high-quality habitat they have implemented is a very effective way of communicating this. I have since used GIS to help create a PARTRIDGE project leaflet, in which I produced a map of the North Sea region showing the study sites of each country. I also have been digitising the data we collect through the monitoring of the grey partridge and hares which are an indicator species.
Through the monitoring, I have learnt the process in which the data is collected and how each country is faced with different challenges that must be overcome to achieve the aims. The surveys have provided me with the chance to vastly improve my wildlife identification skills and learn the songs of several farmland birds.
One of the main tasks of my placement - and something that I have really enjoyed - has been mapping the habitat for the project sites in England and digitising on ArcMap. Overall this has been a rather big learning curve and useful in the sense it has highlighted to me how much I didn’t know!
Other aspects of my placement have included writing and editing blogs about farm walks or managing hedges for wildlife. I have also had the chance to take part in farmland bird ID days, barn owl ringing, woodcock catching and presenting the PARTRIDGE project at the local nature festival in Selborne. As well as being part of regular informative farm walks, it gave me the chance to learn about agri-environment measures, while learning when, where and how to implement them.
Continuously since I have started, I have enjoyed every moment and felt as though I have been given genuine responsibility that is of benefit to the project. Due to the competitiveness of gaining a placement in conservation, I know being given the opportunities I have is not common, and therefore I know I am very lucky.
Throughout the year, I have learnt about the way and complexities in which a European project is run and the enormous amount of time and energy invested by everyone involved. From travelling to various parts of Europe and visiting partnering countries demo sites, I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of cultural differences across borders and have realised how important collaboration is in relation to the overall success of the project.
Being able to work with people from a range of different backgrounds is something I have loved and will take a lot away from this aspect of my placement. Not only that, but I have also experienced the incredible sense of achievement and reward you gain from seeing how one’s own work is contributing to a project that aims to reverse the decline of a red-listed species such as the grey partridge and how this is benefiting farmland wildlife in general. To be part of something that has the potential for so many positive outcomes, ranging from hopefully influencing post-Brexit policy to inspiring farmers and other rural stakeholders across country borders, is something you can’t put a price on and I’m sure will serve me in many ways after my placement comes to an end.