A land-based college in Dorset has won a prestigious award for ensuring their students are well prepared for working in ecology and conservation. Jenny Ashdown is one of two students on the course that have gained work experience on the CRT’s Bere Marsh Farm this year.

After working in office and sales roles for 25 years, Jenny decided she wanted to work outdoors and became a gardener. Now, she is studying towards a level three qualification in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset.

Jenny said: “I have always enjoyed being outdoors in the countryside and watching wildlife, so I wanted to go into conservation.”

Her course has just been awarded University Programme of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) – an accolade usually won by degree-level programmes. The course is led by Brian Heppenstall, formerly a ranger at Hengitsbury Head nature reserve in Bournemouth.

Jenny said: “The whole course has been very practical, gearing us up for the real world. I am so glad I’ve been able to do work experience at Bere Marsh Farm as part of this. I’ve been involved in all sorts, from hedge-laying and scrub clearance to putting up dormouse tubes and surveying trees. I’ve worked with Andy Fale, the CRT’s Wildlife Monitor for its Dorset farms, and amongst the farm’s friendly group of volunteers.

“For my college project, I’m working with Andy to assess the current condition of the River Stour, where it flows through Bere Marsh Farm. So far, I’ve done some chemical testing of the water and I’m carrying out National Vegetation Classification Surveys to record the plant species present in the river and on the riverbanks. We also plan to survey birds and look for water voles. This will all help to understand how the biodiversity in and around the river can be increased.

“I’ve learnt so much and the CRT staff on the farm have been brilliant – they are so supportive and grateful for their volunteers. I’ve got another year of the course to go, starting again in September. When I complete the qualification, I’d ideally like to have a career in conservation carrying out surveys and creating land management plans.”

Sharing knowledge and experience with the next generation

In addition to work experience opportunities, the course at Kingston Maurward College was recognised for arranging site visits and bringing in external speakers. Bere Marsh Farm Manager Elaine Spencer-White delivered a talk to both environmental and agricultural students at the college. She spoke about the link between what is farmed (and how it is farmed) and the quality/seasonal availability of locally produced food.

Brian Heppenstall, the Programme Leader at Kingston Maurward College, said: “Our aim is to provide the conservation sector, both in Dorset and beyond, with excellent candidates for entry-level positions, ready with all of the abilities and knowledge required. If you supplied work placement opportunities, hosted field trips, delivered guest talks or supported the students in any other way - this award is partly for you too.”

To read more about the programme and why the CIEEM designated it University Programme of the Year click here.

The CRT is delighted to offer work experience or placements wherever possible, to support new entrants into conservation and land management. In the summer edition of The Lark magazine, we featured an interview with Katie Morgans, who got stuck in delivering lambs and surveying wildlife on a work placement on the CRT’s Turnastone Court Farm in Herefordshire.

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Jenny Ashdown carrying out a National Vegetation Classification Survey in the fields of Bere Marsh Farm in Dorset. Surveys like this will help the CRT to plan its future management of the farm’s habitats to increase biodiversity.