Reflections on a New to Nature placement

Research shows that the UK’s environmental sector is not always reflective of the communities it seeks to engage with and serve. So, in response to this, the New to Nature programme was set up, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to provide paid work placements for young people from diverse backgrounds in nature and landscape organisations across the UK, and kick start their careers.

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

Earth Trust was delighted to take part in the scheme, and welcomed Hugh Hedgecock as our Access All Areas trainee in April 2023. Before this placement, Hugh was working at his local branch of Tesco, after graduating from the University of Reading. Despite the transferrable skills Hugh gained from his chemistry degree, he had no prior education or experience that would allow him to gain entry into the environmental conservation sector. New to Nature was able to provide this, and harness his passion for the environment.

Now coming to the end of his placement year, we interviewed Hugh to find out what he has achieved in his time with us, and how he feels the initiative has helped him.

Tell us about your experience with the new to nature programme. Has it been what you expected?

I didn’t really know what to expect when I came into it, but I’ve been able to do a really broad range of work. The three key projects I’ve been working on are surveying ancient and veteran trees for the protection of woodlands, measuring carbon emissions for Earth Trust’s journey to Net Zero, and creating opportunities for young people to engage with their local green spaces through a young volunteer scheme. I didn’t expect that I’d be working in those sorts of areas, but I did want to get that sort of variety, which I’m happy about.

What aspect of the work you have undertaken are you most proud of?

I’ve been working closely with Nic Williams, Volunteer Officer, to develop a young volunteers scheme, and I’m really proud that I’ve not only been able to help with devising the scheme and planning and delivering the pilot, but I’m also overseeing the roll out, as the scheme officially launches this spring. It’s been a really special experience for me to engage and interact with local young people, and to see them being inspired to volunteer with us. I’m hoping that, in the years after I leave, the project will expand with even more roles and even more young volunteers on board. It’s a great legacy to leave behind.


What has been the most challenging for you?

With the Net Zero carbon project, where I’ve been looking into the carbon emissions from the Earth Trust Centre operations, I had to deliver a presentation to the Senior Leadership Team of the findings from the data collection, which was really nerve racking! I think I did ok though? I also presented at a staff meeting about the tree surveying, and that was quite daunting, too, but people told me afterwards how interesting it was. It’s funny to think that I’m now in a position to teach others with the specialist knowledge I’ve gained.

What’s been your favourite part of the whole placement experience?

I’d say my favourite thing really has been getting out and about with the ancient tree surveying. Protecting our woodlands is something I’m passionate about.  Under the guidance of Earth Trust’s Senior Ranger, Tim, I’ve learnt how to identify and map these trees, and what we need to do to protect them. Depending on the tree, there’s some small differences that make them ancient, veteran or notable, so I feel like I’ve become quite a specialist at identifying those nuances myself. In fact, wherever I go now, whenever I pass trees, I can’t help but think to myself, “What do we have here then…? How hollow is the trunk, how large is the canopy…”, and I’ll be doing a quick analysis in my head. I guess that’s going to stick with me for life now. I’ll never look at a tree in the same way again!

Hugh New To Nature

What do you see as the main barriers that might make it difficult for young people to work in the environmental sector?

I think it’s mostly to do with experience. Unless you’ve done a degree or specific education relating to this field, it’s near impossible to actually get some experience. Often people don’t know that they want to work in this sector until they’ve gone down a different route with their education, and they can’t then easily backtrack and do something else.

Talking to the other people in placements, they have all had the same issue with lack of experience. The placement opportunity, as well as the ongoing support and sector-specific training that this initiative provides, is really great.

We also now have our own little ‘New to Nature’ community, as we’ve shared our experiences with each other along the way. We’ve had a few online sessions, and met up a few times in person. We all have very different job roles, which has been very interesting.

This role has been good because it’s given me some broad experience, and now jobs that I had previously looked at and wouldn’t be able to get a chance at, I feel I’ve got my foot in the door. This placement has also given me a real confidence boost. With my tree ID skills, I have a totally new skillset that I didn’t know I was capable of.

What are you going to miss the most?

At risk of sounding clichéd, it’s the people. Everyone here is really lovely, and genuinely passionate about what they do, and what Earth Trust does. For instance, I’ll be talking to Marianne about accounts, but then we’ll find ourselves talking about national bird counts, and we’ll have a really long chat about that! It’s so nice to work with people that are so enthusiastic and like-minded. Everyone here is really respectful, and it’s just a very nice working environment. Everyone wants to do their job, everyone wants to push forward their project, because they’re genuinely interested in it, which is a nice thing. I think I’m very lucky that I’ve got my first year’s experience with this organisation.

Plus, I’m not totally going away… I will be back as a volunteer! The Spring Festival is coming up in May, and I’ve got my name down to help out with the event.


Hugh joins our hedgelaying volunteer team as they receive a donation cheque for tools from our local ASDA store

New to Nature aims to provide life-changing experiences for young people who are disadvantaged in the labour market, whilst building capacity in the environmental sector, making it more inclusive and diverse.

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.

New to Nature is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the celebrations to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the King’s Coronation, delivered through a partnership of Groundwork, The Prince’s Trust, Disability Rights UK, Mission Diverse and the Youth Environmental Service. Read more about it on our project page.