Sparsholt – Training the next generation of Countryside Professionals

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By David Lock BSc Hons, PGCE
Curriculum Lead for Land and Wildlife

Who are we?
Sparsholt College has been delivering both further and higher education courses in Game and Wildlife, Fisheries and Countryside and Conservation Management for 50 years. In that time, much has changed. New courses have been developed with the aim of reflecting the ever-changing needs of the rural sector and to ensure that students leaving Sparsholt are equipped with the relevant knowledge, skills and abilities that will see them launch successful careers and contribute to the industries they join.

Game and Wildlife students learning about the importance of consistency and accuracy using firearms in Wildlife Management (Sparsholt College)
Game and Wildlife students learning about the importance of consistency and accuracy using firearms in Wildlife Management (Sparsholt College)

Part of the legacy established by previous colleagues over many years is the network of ex-Sparsholt students working across the United Kingdom and far beyond. Employed in hugely varied roles including wildlife officers, countryside rangers, ecologists, game keepers, sports fishery managers and fish farmers, many are still in regular contact with the college, with some joining our recently created and well supported Industry Curriculum Board. This provides an opportunity to give an 'industry view’ of how we should be training and what we should be teaching the current generation of students passing through the college.

My role at Sparsholt is as Curriculum Lead for Land and Wildlife (Fisheries, Game and Wildlife Management and Countryside Management) and I have worked at the college training students for the last 17 years. Most of this article relates to further education but it would be remiss to not point out that University Centre Sparsholt also offers a range of Higher Education undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. These Higher Education programmes give our own and external further education students a clear progression opportunity to study at a higher level. Students who have studied for degrees at Sparsholt talk of an applied, vocational, industry-focused style supported by expert lecturers and the excellent on-site resources that Sparsholt has developed over many years.

Prefer learning on the job? – Apprenticeships at Sparsholt
Sparsholt also offer a range of apprenticeship and Higher Apprenticeship programmes for students who prefer learning on the job, including underkeeper, countryside worker and countryside ranger pathways. The apprenticeship is also a mechanism for employers to upskill and qualify existing staff or newly recruited or promoted individuals. Sparsholt is already working with a range of employers to collaboratively deliver the skills, knowledge and behaviours that are needed to prepare the apprentice for their final end-point assessments. This can be a good way for students to pick up extensive industry experience whilst at the same time completing a qualification.

The Land and Wildlife Team
Sitting within the Animal Studies and Conservation faculty, The Land and Wildlife area currently deliver City & Guilds Technical qualifications in Land and Wildlife. Within these qualifications there are distinct pathways in Game and Wildlife Management, Countryside Management and Fisheries Management with students on a Level 3 Advanced Technical Extended Diploma leaving with qualifications equivalent to three A Levels (also, equivalent to the old National Diplomas that many will remember, if that helps).

Sparsholt also delivers highly practical Land and Wildlife courses at Level 1 and 2 in these subjects for students who are still working on achieving the government requirements for English and Maths and improving their wider skills. Most of these students will then look to progress onto our Level 3 courses.

Land and Wildlife students using locally sourced coppice material for work on the River Itchen (Sparsholt College)
Land and Wildlife students using locally sourced coppice material for work on the River Itchen (Sparsholt College)

Practical skills remain essential
Every student on a Level 3 Land and Wildlife course at Sparsholt will receive training carrying out habitat management tasks, surfacing work, and maintenance and construction of structures and boundaries. Dependent on their chosen pathway (Fish, Game or Countryside) students will also receive training in a broad range of skills including fencing of various types (for example stock fencing, post and rail, picket fencing, hazel hurdles), hedgelaying, hedge planting, hedge cutting, tree planting, pruning, felling, boardwalk construction, surfacing of paths, deer high seat construction, fishing platforms, river revetment work, pond installation, vegetation management, coppicing, ride management, ride creation, scrub management, management of invasive non-native species, use of land-based machines including chainsaws, brushcutters and strimmers, brushwood chippers, chainsaws, mowers, ATV quad bikes, boat handling, firearms training (Game and Wildlife courses only).

Where students reach a required level of competence, there are opportunities to achieve additional industry relevant certification in Deer Stalking (DSC1), Chainsaws Use and Maintenance (CS30/31), Brushcutters and Strimmers, Brushwood Chippers, ATV Sit Astride (Quad Bikes).

In addition, Land and Wildlife students learn how to undertake a range of ecological surveys including Phase One habitat surveys, NVC plants, butterfly transects, bird surveys (fixed point and walked transects), reptile refugia, amphibian torchlight, dragonfly and damselfly surveys, kick sampling (Aquatic Invertebrates), fish surveys (such as electro-fishing, seine netting), large mammal surveys (deer census, dung counts, fixed-point, mink rafts) small mammal mark and recapture surveys.

Fishery Management students enjoying access to the fully stocked on-site sports fishery (Sparsholt College)
Fishery Management students enjoying access to the fully stocked on-site sports fishery (Sparsholt College)

Sparsholt Land and Wildlife students on Level 3 courses also take a separate qualification called a Species ID Certificate where they learn and are tested on their ability to accurately identify trees and shrubs, garden and woodland birds, waders and wildfowl, UK mammals, freshwater fish, farmland and game birds and butterflies. Level 3 Land and Wildlife (Countryside Management) students also then have ID tests for dragonflies and damselflies, woodland plants, grassland plants and coastal plants (including sand dunes, saltmarshes, cliffs and transitional habitats).

Countryside Management students gaining hands-on practical experience hedgelaying (Sparsholt College)
Countryside Management students gaining hands-on practical experience hedgelaying (Sparsholt College)

Not enough experience?
The Sparsholt ethos continues to be a desire to produce practically competent, knowledgeable students who possess a sound understanding of natural history and the management of the British countryside with specialisms in game management, fisheries or conservation.

However, although some students are mature, undertaking a career change, many of our students are school leavers who simply haven't had the time to acquire the many years of experience desired in job specifications. To improve the employability of students and to prepare for the new T Level qualifications that are being introduced in the next few years, where the requirement for industry work experience will be greater than the current qualifications, Sparsholt has established an Industry Placements team that supports our Land and Wildlife students to find one-day a week placements. This gives our students an excellent opportunity to work with a local countryside organisation or business to acquire skills and to make contacts ultimately leading to jobs in the future.

Support from Industry – Help us to help you!
So, the best way to ensure that the next generation of future land managers, conservationists, fishery managers and gamekeepers are industry ready is to work with your local land-based colleges. Providing work placements, joining industry boards, meeting our students on your estates, reserves or fisheries to talk to them. We are also always keen to welcome employers and industry representatives into the college to join those that already come in to give guest lectures and talks.

For more information about courses offered in Game, Fisheries, Conservation, Countryside Management or any of the other high-quality courses delivered across Sparsholt College please visit our website or email

First published in CJS Focus on Employability on 23 May 2022. Read the full issue here


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Posted On: 05/05/2022

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