Week 27 – The Grand Finale

So here we are, 6 months down the line, all graduates of year one of The Mountains and the People level 2 SVQ traineeship in Environmental Conservation.

And what a great 6 months it’s been! April began with munro bagging, path maintenance on The Cobbler followed by our first ever path site at Craigmore just near Aberfoyle building a new path from scratch.

We then spent a week learning professional techniques in Drystane Dyking with Gordon Kydd based at Luss Estates.

We carried out smaller scale maintenance tasks on Conic Hill and along the West Highland Way near Beinn Ghlas Farm.

My mandatory path skills work placement was with The National trust for Scotland’s Mountain Path team working on Ben Lawers NNR with Ben Farrington and Nan Morris.

And I had the chance to spend two weeks with Becky Austin and Ami Lee at RSPBs Loch Lomond Reserve as part of my work experience placements. This focused on the habitat management and surveying course modules and I was given the opportunity to work alongside Becky’s volunteer work party, carry out non-native species removal, tree planting, bird and butterfly surveying, fence removal, woodland inventories, fen burning on the Aber bog, path maintenance and species identification. It has been great to see how a relatively new reserve has grown and progressed over time and as a volunteer with the National Park, I plan to continue returning to the reserve to help out as much as I can.

We then re-built the approach path to Beinn Dubh in Glen Luss using stone pitching techniques.

Focusing again on our habitat based modules, we spent a week on Ben Lomond aiding in the peat bog restoration project with Alistair Eckersall of NTS. He explained why the peat bogs are so important for the worlds carbon capture and taught us the most effective techniques used in damming the deep drainage ditches, creating reservoirs to help re-saturate the mountain bogs.

I was also lucky to be selected for another work placement with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. This was kindly arranged by Tom and Charlotte Wallace and was a really mixed schedule allowing us to focus more on our modules which looked at promoting public use of the outdoors and environmental good practice. We looked at the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the Land Reform act in more detail with the access and planning department. I spent a day cycling a section on National Cycle Network 7 between Callander and Balquidder. Wednesday was spent in Balmaha discussing education, inclusion and engagement and gave us a chance to work alongside the seasonal rangers in the visitor centre. We worked with the maintenance rangers on Conic hill carrying out some path work on Thursday and finished with a black grouse habitat survey linked with the parks Wild Park 2020 project.

Returning to where it all began for our second last path site, we stomped up The Cobbler for 4 weeks carrying out a path refurb on an area requiring a lot of stone pitching to be either built or re-built to reduce a steep gradient. We built drainage features including cross drains and water bars and finished it all off with new surfacing and landscaping.

I worked along side Rosie and her volunteer work parties at Inversnaid and on The West Highland Way to repair some path sites.

And finally, our last site was The Harry Lauder Memorial path in Glenbranter. This project was planned and funded by The Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and we transformed an old, tired route using the stone building skills that we’ve developed over the last 6 months.

Breaking it all down to what we have achieved over the course puts it all into perspective. It’s really wonderful looking back at all that we have done. I have learnt so much and had the opportunity to meet so many interesting and knowledgable people along the way. I’ve been involved in lots of great conservation projects across the National Park and feel so much more confident moving forward in my career.

Spending the last 6 months with 7 blokes on the side of a mountain has been an absolutely fascinating experience. I sometimes felt like it was all a big wind up and I was being secretly filmed for some kind of hidden camera show, and those lads don’t half moan! But I’m certainly going to miss them all dearly.

I also just wanted to say thank you to all of you for reading the blog throughout the course. I committed to writing it when I began and the kind comments and support from everyone has been a real driving force for me to keep it up. My readers stats have been so overwhelming and I’ve really enjoyed writing and consolidating each week along with all my photos. I’m happy to have been able to help promote year one of the project and provide an archived blog which will be useful for future years.

Tom is kindly putting me forward for the Lantra learner of the year award and I think the blog will play a big part in that. I’m going to take a bit of a break from it at the mo, but it isn’t necessarily disappearing forever. For now though, thank you for reading!

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