Catching up with our Access All Areas Trainee

In April we welcomed our first Access All Areas trainee, Hugh. Since then he’s been gaining experience across the organisation, from learning about minibeasts with year twos, to knocking in fence posts with the land management team. Hugh is now taking the lead on three key projects – surveying ancient trees, measuring carbon emissions and creating opportunities for young people – and is proving that having a different background can be a huge advantage.

Hugh originally found the role at Earth Trust through the New to Nature programme, which supports people who might not normally have access to a career in the environmental sector. Hugh had previously studied chemistry at university, but despite a keen interest in the outdoors and other volunteering experience, he struggled to secure a role that combined his skillset with time in nature.

Increasing the number of “green jobs” and opening up who can apply for them is high on the agenda for organisations like Earth Trust. The Nature 2030 campaign, which is calling for political parties to commit to reversing the decline of nature in the UK, highlights how crucial green jobs are for conservation – something that Hugh has already been able to contribute towards with his first project:

“I’ve been surveying the woodlands at Earth Trust to look for ancient or veteran trees. These are trees that are very old for their species and have certain characteristics, for example they might be decaying on the inside, they’re hollowing, there are birds nesting in them, or there’s lichen or moss.

All of these characteristics show they’re supporting loads of different wildlife – one ancient oak can have more biodiversity than a thousand 100-year-old oaks. ”

Surveying these trees will help us to better understand the makeup of our woodlands, the biodiversity we’re supporting and how to continue managing them.

earth trust youth volunteers

As well as needing to increase the number of roles available, recruitment also needs to become more inclusive, with research showing that the environmental sector doesn’t reflect the people it wants to engage with. So alongside taking part in schemes like the New to Nature programme, we’re also looking at other ways to grow and diversify our teams. Hugh’s second project is all about connecting with some of those who are currently under-represented within our volunteering community:

“I’m also working to create volunteer opportunities for young people in Oxfordshire. It can be hard to get young people to volunteer for lots of reasons – sometimes they’re looking for more independence, or it’s too far to come and travelling is more difficult for young people. So we’ve created a set of roles based at our community reserves in Abingdon and Didcot where they can come for an introduction and then take part whenever they want. Young people can go out and volunteer for us without having to come to the Centre and without being supervised the whole time.”

Hugh hopes to launch this scheme for young volunteers later this year, and will continue to work on it until he finishes his placement in the spring.

Hugh’s final assignment that he’ll be working on through the autumn and winter is the second part of our “Net Zero” project. Earth Trust’s farmland has already been surveyed to find out how much carbon we’re producing and absorbing, so now Hugh will be taking a look at all of our other activities at the Centre:

“My third project is to work out the emissions from the Earth Trust Centre – so that’s staff emissions, boiler emissions, education session emissions … all those sorts of things, so that we can find out as a whole how much carbon we produce.”

One of the advantages of the New to Nature programme is that it offers ongoing support, such as regular check-ins and sector-specific training. This includes carbon literacy training, which will be particularly relevant to this project for Hugh as it will give him specialist knowledge on the topic, and the chance to learn from experts.

New to nature access all areas trainee at earth trust measuring trees

Hugh’s scientific background means he’s been able to add real value to these projects from the start. He’s taken the lead on data collection and will be interpreting and presenting the results over the next few months – a process he’s enjoying as it plays to his strengths:

“I like the idea of coming up with a methodical approach. The woodland’s been divided into sections, and I do each section in a specific way and then move onto the next one. …What I’ve done with my net zero project is put into play things which will allow me to collect data without specifically being there, so I’ve already set up models and worked out how I’m going to do things. It’s purely data collection now. I’m gaining a lot of experience in different areas and in driving my own projects. It’s nice to have that variety.”

We look forward to sharing more on Hugh’s findings in the coming months. In the meantime, you can find out more about the New to Nature programme and Nature 2030 – and keep an eye out for Hugh’s young volunteer programme that we’ll be launching soon!