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Insights of a Conservation Apprentice

Niall Provan doing some cutting back
Niall Provan

By Niall Provan

A misty morning surveying on Loch Achray (Niall Provan)
A misty morning surveying on Loch Achray (Niall Provan)

I began pursuing a career in the conservation sector with a route familiar to many – I applied for and achieved an NC & HNC in Countryside Management at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). This was following a keen interest in hill climbing, the outdoors and the Scottish landscape as a whole from a young age. Looking back, my time at SRUC’s Oatridge campus in West Lothian was definitely beneficial, however, on reflection, I don’t feel that I was able to make the absolute most of the experience. Over time, I’ve found I learn best in the field and on the job – my experience as a Modern Apprentice (MA) showed me that.

SRUC offers a range of Modern Apprenticeship (MA) programmes designed to meet the demands of land-based industries. Knowing this, the thought of a SRUC MA with the Callander Landscape Partnership (CLP) was appealing, and seemed an ideal stepping stone from college into my first role in the industry. Having been successful in my application, I was immediately involved in a variety of different projects from the start.

There was a large archaeological dig in progress as part of the cultural heritage aspect of the Landscape Partnership as I was starting, exploring a potential Neolithic monument site east of Callander. I had never done any sort of archaeology before, so they were an intriguing few days gaining experience in trench digging, artefact collection, geophysical surveying and trench planning. I managed to further this experience over a number of other sites as part of the MA, working on Iron Age hillfort and roundhouse sites over the Stirlingshire area. I met some really great people, like the great bunch from the Callander Heritage Society and many more, and gained a really positive experience of practical archaeology and the sector as a whole.

My time with CLP also found me involved in many volunteer days, both around the Callander area and beyond. The days with the CLP volunteer work party found us doing practical habitat management, such as rhododendron bashing, as well as installing and surveying bird and bat boxes in the Callander Crags area. These were great experience for trying new things and building practical conservation skills, but also for meeting and working with like-minded people. Days like these helped improve my confidence working with others and my ability to deliver training to those who were inexperienced in habitat management.

Some of the fantastic people I’ve met through volunteer days with CLP. Pictured February 2020 (Niall Provan / Callander Landscape Partnership)
Some of the fantastic people I’ve met through volunteer days with CLP. Pictured February 2020 (Niall Provan / Callander Landscape Partnership)

I was also fortunate enough to take part in a large scale tree planting project as part of my role, which was headed by the Forth Rivers Trust. This involved the planting of a large section of riparian woodland on a tributary river of the River Larig, near Inverlochlarig. This was a great project for taking me out of my comfort zone, involving me working in a remote area on a project of significant scale. This project is one of many aiming to tackle the rising issue of climate change. It aims to do so by supporting the cooling of rivers with tree cover, allowing for more suitable fish spawning habitat. The trees also support invertebrate life, nutrient input into the river as well as support the wider “rewilding” of glens like these that have been largely devoid of native trees for hundreds of years due to agricultural land use. This project particularly motivated me, spurring me onto the path I’m on today and what I want to achieve on my career path.

Offloading materials for tree planting at the Larig (Niall Provan)
Offloading materials for tree planting at the Larig (Niall Provan)

While furthering my skills by getting involved in these projects, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to attend a number of practical training courses too. By the end of my MA, I found myself a qualified first aid trainer, as well as being able to operate machinery such as chainsaws and strimmers in the workplace. These have already been put to use within just a few weeks in my new role, proving their worth immediately. MA’s have the potential to be quite flexible with training budgets depending on your individual interests and the needs of the role. Regardless, if you’re keen to take a more practical career path or otherwise, this aspect is massively beneficial for someone starting out in the industry.

All of this experience allowed me to move onto my first full time role in the industry with the Forth Rivers Trust, following the interest I took in the large scale river restoration projects I got a glimpse into. The networking I’d done through my MA enabled me to make many contacts, and very much helped in setting me apart from other candidates for the role. As did my Lantra awards, which I’d highly recommend anyone applies for who is passionate about conservation and their field – It’s a great thing to be a part of and a big confidence boost in your own abilities.

I also left the apprenticeship with an SVQ in Environmental Conservation – another feather in my cap for the future. I hope to add many more continuing my path in conservation!

What Niall didn’t mention was he was actually overall winner at Lantra Scotland’s ALBAS in March, so learner of the year. He also won the Environmental Conservation industry award, the Modern Apprenticeship Award and the Tam Tod Trophy. Well done Niall.

To find out more about Modern Apprenticeships visit https://www.scotland.lantra.co.uk/modern-apprenticeships

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