My Wild Life - Ainsley Dwyer

(c) Naomi Fuller

Ainsley is doing a Wild Paths placement with Avon Wildlife Trust – a nine-month training programme which gives people from diverse backgrounds a chance to gain skills and access a career in conservation and natural heritage.

As a child I was lucky to be near countryside and could walk home from school through fields and farmland. Being close to nature was part of my experience growing up. I first realised I wanted a career in conservation when I was in sixth form. I went on to study zoology at university – thinking that would give me plenty of options.

I faced some challenges when I was trying to pursue a career in conservation. I quickly realised after university that it was more about experience than qualifications. A lot of the jobs I was looking at needed a minimum of a year or two’s experience with all the accreditations behind your name. I didn’t get the experience when I was at uni so I couldn’t get those jobs and needed to work as well to make money.

The application and selection process for the Wild Paths traineeship was different to the traditional method. The selection day was fun because it didn’t feel like everyone had to fight to show they were the best. It felt really balanced and nice; I could just be myself.

Being here with Avon Wildlife Trust, I have gained lots of key practical skills like chainsawing which is quite important in land management work for doing things like tree coppicing. I’ve also learnt how to do scything which is almost meditative. When you get in the swing of it and move your body just right, it’s an effortless swipe through the grass. We had a training session with Andi Rickard - she’s the UK champion! I’ve learned how to do brushcutting – like strimming but with a big blade.

I already had a bit of experience of leading groups from a previous volunteer conservation role. I wasn’t very confident in it when coming here as it had been a while since I’d done it, so it was nice to be in that kind of setting again.

I feel more confident about a lot of things now. It’s difficult to apply for loads of jobs, trying to get into conservation and not get very far. It makes you feel a bit rubbish and I guess this is confirmation that I’m on the right path, doing the right things around the right people. I feel more confident in the tasks too. Doing stuff that’s technically difficult is building my confidence. And my species identification has improved. It’s good to be out in nature, see a tree then know exactly what it is based on the bark or buds. It’s a great team, the people here are really good to work with and I know if I have a question, they’ll fully answer it.

My highlight so far has been when we get together with the other trainees from different wildlife trusts for residential trips. It’s great to hear their stories and learn what they’re struggling with. We can give each other help and tips with the placement and then get back out and carry on with it when we get home. We were in Dorset for one of them in a farmyard. It was beautiful. We went for a walk to start with and ended up all swimming in a river in November!

I love being outside every day. Before this I was working in an office which depressed and drained me quite a bit. I would go to work then come home and be so tired I wouldn’t really do anything else. On my placement at the end of the day my body was knackered, but my mind good to go, and I could take other stuff in. I’m not cut out for offices!

One of my favourite landscapes is Avon Wildlife Trust’s Dolebury Warren reserve. It’s acidic grassland heath mixed with limestone calcareous grassland which is a really strange mix so there are loads of different species there. It’s open on a hilltop with an amazing view and there’s woodland there too so it’s got a bit of everything. Loads of crazy fungi too!

Since starting the Wild Paths traineeship, my understanding of wildlife, conservation and the challenges facing the natural world has changed – it’s much more complex than I thought. We can have a positive effect, but it’s really complicated and not many people get the chance to actually look into it all. It’s only through doing this I now understand issues facing UK conservation on a practical level.

The Wild Paths programme is running at four other Wildlife Trusts in addition to Avon Wildlife Trust and is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Each Trust offers a full work-based training plan over the nine-month placement and a bursary of £1000 per month, to pay for rent, bills and food whilst trainees are on the placement. Launched in 2018, Wild Paths aims to deliver 30 placements across three years.

More information about Wild Paths: dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/WildPaths

Due to the COVID-19, the recruitment has been postponed for the 2020 Wild Paths trainees until later in the year – Dorset Wildlife Trust will make announcements on social media when they are open for new applicants.