Diary of an Apprentice

August 19, 2021

We’ve been told that one of the best things about doing an Environmental Apprenticeship is getting the opportunity to try lots of different things, to help work out what interests you the most.

Jack Dryden joined our Environmental Apprenticeship scheme this year, working for Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Here’s a snapshot of his work diary from June, showing just how varied an apprenticeship can be…

Avocet ringing at Rockcliffe Marsh

Monday 7 June – Brush cutting

First time brush cutting under the supervision of Northern Reserve Officer, Kevin Scott. Approximately 400m of footpath was cut back to keep the vegetation in check for visitors at Drumburgh Moss nature Reserve.

Today also saw the first solo use of the quad bike since becoming certified. It was used to transport old waymark posts off of the reserve.

Whilst there a pair of Curlews (Numenius arquata) were in territorial display flight, so they are likely a breeding pair.

Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata), defending their territory, also clashed with one another above the pools. These large dragonflies are distinguished from other chasers by the four dark marks on their wings. They are very active, sticking to an area of the pool, chasing and colliding in the air when other Chasers come too close to their territory; you can almost hear the collisions through roar of the brush cutter and sound-proofing of the ear defenders.



Wednesday 9 June – Volunteer work party at Eycott Hill

A volunteer work party day at Eycott Hill, repairing a gate and re-supporting tree plantings that had been toppled by invading neighbouring sheep.

A wet woodland of Alder and Willow is gradually becoming established, through planting efforts, along Naddles Beck at the Eycott Hill Nature Reserve. The new woodland borders farmland, and the boundary dry stone wall has toppled in places, enabling livestock to climb into the reserve, where they use the tree planting stakes and tubes as scratching posts. Consequently, as much as half of the tree plantings have been effected. Using lump hammers (mash hammers if you’re Cumbrian), any weakened tree stakes were hammered back into the ground and the tree tube protectors adjusted accordingly using cable ties. Between five of us. Approximately 300 young trees were re-supported and 100 spent tree tubes collected.

In between working, some wildflowers were identified, such as Water Avens (Geum rivale), which were found on the roadside verge just outside of the reserve. And Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), which derives its name from its flowering period being said to coincide with the arrival of the Cuckoos. The Cuckoo Flower is also the larval plant of the Orange Tip butterfly.

Thursday 10 June – Rockcliffe Marsh 

The day was spent at Rockcliffe Marsh, an approximately 1100 hectare large saltmarsh in the eastern crook of the Solway. The day was spent doing three things: helping ring Avocet chicks, trialing the setup of trail cameras, and assisting the Rockcliffe Marsh Warden, Joshua Burge, with a wading bird survey.

Avocet ringing

My role in the Avocet chick ringing was to be situated in the bird hide with binoculars, guiding the ringers by radio towards the chicks. The location was a shallow, manmade body of water (a scrape), and approximately 30 chicks could be seen in the area. As the ringers approached, the adult Avocets took to the sky, calling in alarm. The chicks scattered, many running to hide amidst the thicker vegetation along the edge of the fence. The chicks were gradually gathered and placed in garden trugs or sacks, taking care to remember which chicks had been together and where they had originally been located so that they could be released together after being ringed. Altogether, 26 Avocets were ringed. A significant number, considering that in recent history there have been no recorded breeding Avocet pairs in Cumbria.

Avocets at Rockcliffe Marsh

Trail camera trials:

16 trail cameras needed to be set up at the Gullery (the area of the marsh where the gull colony lives) to try and get some photographic evidence as to why the gull colony population is struggling. The early afternoon after the Avocet chick ringing was spent figuring out what would be the best way to set up the trail cameras, as the Gullery is a 90 minute walk away, we thought it would be best to plan and know what we were doing first. A wooden stake, hammered into the ground with a lump hammer, with two nails hammered into the stake to hold the bottom of the camera, which would then be tied to the stake with string was opted for. The nails had to be hammered into the stake first to avoid displacing the stake when in the ground, so extra planning as to where to position the cameras before putting the stakes in the ground was important.

Wader transect:

Having practiced completing transects with the Rockcliffe Warden, we decided I could attempt this one on my own.

Tuesday 15 June – A visit to Muker wildflower meadows

Muker meadows

The cloud of white in the picture is Pignut (Conopodium majus), a small umbellifer with an edible tuber that flowers between May and June and is popular with hoverflies. As well as being the larval food plant of the chimney sweeper moth (Odezia atrata).

The clusters of yellow are buttercups – mainly meadow buttercups (Ranunculus acris), and Yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus minor). Yellow-rattle is particularly important for the establishment of wildflower meadows as they are semi-parasitic, stealing nutrients from the roots of grasses, which weakens the grass, creating space for other wildflowers.

The day also involved a visit to Waitby Nature Reserve, where the honorary reserve manager talked to BBC Radio Cumbia about the reserve, particularly the abundance of Orchids there. And myself and the southern Apprentice, Keziah Taylor spoke about starting our apprenticeships.

Friday 25 June – Craven College, drystone walling 

The second session at Craven College involved a first attempt at erecting a dry stone wall. It took from 10am until 4pm for four of us to put up about four meters of wall.

Drystone walling at Craven College

First, the ground is prepared, with a shallow foundation dug out – this was already done for us, as a practice wall was already standing where we intended to work. We took down the practice wall, placing the stones far away enough from where we’d be working that they would not trip us, to reveal the foundations. A dry stone wall is actually two walls next to one another that gradually lean towards each other as it’s built. The largest stones went on the bottom, so working in pairs we each took a side of the wall and laid the larger stones out in a line that was as straight and level as possible. The space between each side of the wall is filled with fillings or ballast – smaller stones that help give the wall strength and make it easier to lay the next line of stones. Moving up the wall we went from larger stones, to mid-sized stones, to smaller stones, with very large through stones laid frequently across each side of the wall to bind the two together. Care was taken to cover the joints from the course below with the next course of stones to keep the wall strong, as well as placing the stones with their long axis running into the wall. Although placing the stones this way takes longer, it is far better for the structural integrity of the wall, as it distributes the weight of the wall into the center, making it more stable, creates more contact and friction between the stones, and makes it so greater leverage is required to dislodge the stones. Once the finishing height is reached, the top stones, or coping stones, are placed. These are heavy stones of a similar shape that are placed upright and again help to bind the wall together.

Like the sound of an apprenticeship? Find out more about current opportunities as part of our Environmental Apprenticeship Scheme.