Where have our volunteers gone?

Heritage Lottery FundSince the last of our summer placement volunteers left us about three weeks ago, it has been strangely quiet in the office here at Cambridgeshire ACRE. Of course, the last few weeks have been far from quite on the work front, as we are now less than 10 days away from our stage 2 submission deadline, so I have very much missed the extra help I received over the summer months.

Several people have asked me recently what has happened to our volunteers – as they came along to some site visits and meetings many people have actually met them in person – all four also participated and helped out at last month’s conference.

Therefore I thought I would write a little blog post about our volunteers, as a way of publicly thanking them for the tremendous amount of hard work they have done for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) scheme, and the useful outputs produced.

From the moment we started recruiting summer placements, it has very much been the idea that this would be a two-way way of working: the OWLP scheme getting hard-needed extra help, thereby also being able to do those things which always seem to remain on the ‘to do’ list, whilst volunteers getting useful work experience which would help them in their further career.

Well, I can honestly say that we have managed to successfully address both intended aspects. Our volunteers all came with very different backgrounds and levels & types of experience and knowledge, and each wished to get different things out of their placement. The feedback received from our volunteers is that they all got out of it what they hoped for; where possible, we have tried to get people to do the kind of work in line with their knowledge, expertise and, most importantly, with the kind of work they are most interested in to follow up on as a career.

The OWLP has also certainly done well out of them – between the four they clocked up an incredible total of 913 hours of voluntary work! They have been involved in a variety of things, which included:

  • Conference preparations;
  • Blog posts: research and writing;
  • Twitter updates;
  • Research and writing for LCAP;
  • Researching and condensing information from a range of management plans relevant to the area;
  • Community consultations: organising, attending and writing up of discussions;
  • Creation of displays for events;
  • Contacts with partner organisations & people;
  • Research for and writing of project proposals;
  • Site visits and meetings attendance;
  • Minutes taking;
  • Compiling a database about events in the area;
  • Compiling a database about tourism business providers in the area;
  • Compiling a database about online platforms used by other Landscape Partnership schemes.

Peter had worked for many years as a pilot and aviation manager which has made him see much of the world, but now aimed for a very different type of career. Already running his own smallholding within the OWLP area, and actively carrying out woodland crafts and carpentry, he now wishes to chase a career in countryside management. In September, Peter started at Nottingham Trent University on an intensive one-year Countryside Management Course. His experience for the OWLP provided him with contacts with several organisations and people working in this field thereby giving him easier access to volunteering opportunities in the OWLP area during his course, and has made him even firmer in his believe that this is indeed the kind of work he wants to do. Click on the links to see some of Peter’s excellently researched blog posts about the hidden heritage – the hovertrain and WWII Mepal airfield – in the OWLP area.

Anna, similarly came to us whilst in the middle of a major career change – having just graduated from the Royal College of Music, she now wanted to do something quite different: before coming to us she had already applied for a two-year course at the University of Bristol in River and Coastal Engineering, further pursuing her interests in geography and environmental sciences. As part of this course, she would also need to spend just under a year at a council to do Environment Agency-related work. During her time with us, she had an interview with Suffolk County Council who offered her a place, meaning she could then also attend the course in Bristol, where she started in September. Anna reckoned that her presence with us, in particular the experience gained during a couple of meetings with Environment Agency staff and becoming familiar with a range of water management strategies, helped her gain this position. For some of Anna’s work for the blog, see for instance these very useful posts about the Ouse Washes and the John Martin sluice.

Jessica was just finalising her dissertation for an MSc in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment at the University of Southampton when she started with us. Her knowledge about biodiversity, ecosystem services and environmental management, and her experience in getting communities engaged with the environment, has helped getting a good grip on these subjects for our stage 2 submission documentation. She wishes to pursue a career in environmental management and valued the experience we were able to give; she has since obtained a six month placement at the RSPB’s head office. For some of Jessica’s interesting blog posts, see these ones on Ecosystem Services and on the Wetland Vision.

Chris had just obtained his degree in Environmental Science at Bath Spa University before coming here, bringing with him his knowledge of environmental management and conservation. Through the exposure to a range of different work assignments the placement has provided him with a much better understanding of what it is he wants to do next. Just today I received news that he has been offered a volunteering placement in Scotland, for which he applied whilst working for us; there he will also be given a range of accredited countryside conservation skills and working in public outreach. See Chris’ informative blog posts about other LP schemes in the region and on the washes.

I wish all our summer placement volunteers all the best in their future careers. Thank you for your time & efforts here!

Building on the success of this summer placement scheme, we will very likely continue this throughout the rest of the OWLP scheme – if you are interested to obtain hands-on experience in managing a very varied heritage project, let me know.

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Fen Drayton: an Oasis of Tranquility

Heritage Lottery FundAfter a meeting with the RSPB at their office in Swavesey late last week, I took the opportunity to explore the southern end of the Ouse Washes LPS area, in and around Fen Drayton lakes.

This is a surprising tranquil area. Besides the numerous birds singing, there really are hardly any background sounds – a very rare and beautiful tranquil place. Tranquility is what sets a great part of the Ouse Washes apart from other landscapes, and can certainly be experienced here.

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Fen Drayton lakes

The Fen Drayton lakes, and nearby Ouse Fen – the former quarries near Needingworth -, both located alongside the river Great Ouse, are managed as nature reserves by the RSPB. Together, they provide for a bewildering variety of lakes, river meadows and other wetland habitats, attracting in particular huge numbers of birds.The Fen Drayton and Ouse Fen nature reserves form key elements in the Great Ouse Wetland Vision, a strategic programme jointly managed by the RSPB, WWT and WTBCN.

Like those in the Ouse Washes washlands further north, the nature reserves here have man-made origins. This is another key feature of the whole of the Ouse Washes LPS: engineered or otherwise man-made structures having become a haven for wildlife.

There will be several projects as part of the delivery phase for the Ouse Washes LPS project which will join up with the strategic Great Ouse Wetland programme: helping with improvements to conservation works, interpretation and access facilities in and around the wetland sites. This will include training volunteers to deliver these projects. I will let you know more about these projects in due course.

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Guided Busway stop in the heart of Fen Drayton, with cycle parking facilities and information shelter

The great access facilities at Fen Drayton mean that this southern end of the Ouse Washes LPS area can function as a prime area for community engagement activities throughout the three years of the delivery phase. The Guided Busway, which runs through Fen Drayton, has a stop in the heart of the reserve, from which several long walks can be made to explore the varied landscape and its wildlife. And with the cycle route (part of Sustrans Route 51) parallel to the guided busroute, a day out here can even be entirely free for people living in Cambridge or St. Ives.

Check out the events programme at Fen Drayton here: amongst others, guided walks and activities for children are held here regularly