If enthusiasm could be bottled, Leighton Moss would be on to a winner. Because if there is one thing that comes across when I’m introduced to three of the interns on the site, in Silverdale, it is their passion.
Before I have even found a seat Rachel Coyle, a 25-year-old Scot, is eagerly pushing a small container under my nose and pointing out the moth specimen within.
“A canary shouldered thorn,” she says, showing me the insect with its distinctive vibrant yellow thorax. “And this is a black arches and this one here, this is a swallow prominent.”
Rachel glows with pride, as she delivers a torrent of recently-acquired information about her six-legged charges. “They’re just three of about 500 species on the reserve,” she says, warming to her subject.
Rachel, who has a biology degree from Edinburgh, spent a year trying to find a job, but admits that it was a challenge without any relevant experience.
“Uni gives you a grounding in your subject, but no experience,” she says. “You learn so much and then realise how little you know. I was asked how my ecological knowledge was when I arrived here, and I said fairly good, but it’s all relative. Compared with these people I know absolutely nothing.”
During her six-month stint as a warden intern at Leighton Moss, Rachel has been monitoring the breeding avocet population, which has been suffering habitat loss, and helping manage reed beds to improve structure and diversity for a variety of bird species.
By the time this article appears she will have moved on to Coombes Valley in Staffordshire for the second half of her internship. “It will be completely different,” she says. “Leighton Moss is reedbed and Coombes Valley is ancient woodland. Also, I’ll be doing winter management. That’s what I like, the variety – you can be clearing weeds one minute and identifying moths the next. I’m sure my chances of finding work have been greatly improved. I now have much more to put on my CV, and I’ve made some good friends.”
Looking at her CV, you would not immediately earmark Adrienne King as a candidate for an internship on a nature reserve. At 40, she is the oldest of the three and her background is in communications with a global company rather than talking to local landowners about woodland management. But the change, and the challenge, is exactly what Adrienne wants.
She has a positive attitude about how her skills in the office environment can be utilised in the outdoors, especially communications. “When you’re working with communities it’s very important to be able to understand individual visions and desires because people don’t always agree,” she says.
“I can also assist with how they promote themselves using social media and websites.” Adrienne is doing just this in her role as a nature improvement area intern.
“Last night I had a meeting with a new group of small woodland owners in Grange over Sands, who are getting together to manage their woodlands. None of them are professional foresters, so we need to see how we can support that group to manage their woodlands effectively. That’s typical of how we work with groups.”
Adrienne has actually been a conservation volunteer for 14 years, but when she reached a crossroads in her career, she took the brave decision to follow her heart and move into environmental work full-time.
Her first step was to take a part-time degree in countryside conservation and recreation management at Reaseheath College in Cheshire: she achieved a distinction, a sign, perhaps, that she took the right path at that career crossroads.
“I’ve gone from trying to organise communications between the USA and China, to worrying about people who don’t have their dog on a lead when they should,” she laughed. A different message, she agrees, but in the context of her new role, equally important.
Ellie Ames, 33, is the only one of the trio who is in work. She spent three days at Leighton Moss each week over the summer, continuing in her job with the Outward Bound Trust in Cumbria on the other days, and returning to work full-time last month.
With a natural sciences degree from Cambridge and a PGCE in secondary science teaching, she is well-qualified and the RSPB education internship was ideal.Originally from Essex, Ellie has now settled in Penrith after a variety of education roles around the country and abroad.
“I didn’t go down the schools route,” she says. “I realised I loved working with children, but I wanted to work outside. I knew I wanted to go into something like ecology. There was a strategy, but it didn’t quite work out.”
Ellie’s aim is to use her experience at Leighton Moss to enhance her instructor role with Outward Bound, and also to strengthen links between the two organisations. “I’ve worked a lot with children, naming specimens and doing statistical analysis, but I wanted to get them engaged, enthusiastic and looking out for things without having to name or count everything. Their experience should be magical.
“I applied for this internship to get experience and a reference, and since I’ve been here it’s been amazing: I’ve helped with education, front desk and identifying moths, and my enthusiasm for all things natural has been fully awakened.
“Being surrounded by people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about what they do is phenomenal. There are so many people here who are excited and motivated – you can’t tell the volunteers from the staff.”