How Wild Talent work placements helped me learn new skills

London Wildlife Trust trainee Matthew Rich writes about his experience of two work placements with large conservation organisations

As part of the amazing Wild Talent trainee programme run by London Wildlife Trust, this year I completed work placements at two other wildlife conservation organisations. Both gave me great experiences and new skills that I can take into my future career in conservation.

The first was with Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) in east London. The Lea Valley Regional Park is 42km miles long and more than 4,000 hectares in size - four times bigger than Richmond Park. It was created by a unique Act of Parliament as a “green lung” for London, Essex and Hertfordshire, starting in Ware and ending at the East India Docks. It is hugely important for migrating birds and one of its most popular wildlife spots is the recently-opened Walthamstow Wetlands, managed by London Wildlife Trust. 

I starting my LVRPA placement at the Waterworks Centre in Leyton. We met the conservation team and had a brief talk about the history of the site, the rapid expansion of London, and the outbreak of cholera which prompted the building of the Waterworks and the adjacent Middlesex Filter Beds in 1852.

Because of the size of the site and the large amounts of water bodies there is unfortunately a big problem with fly tipping in the Lea Valley. This was evident during the previous couple of weeks, when the team had spent hours collecting as much as possible and storing the waste in the tool yard, which needed to be sorted out into relevant piles. We found mopeds, shopping trollies, fridges, sofas; these are not only massive eyesores but they are hugely damaging to the environment, leaking hazardous chemicals into waterways and adding to huge problem of plastic pollution.

Red admiral butterfly

Red admiral butterfly credit Matthew Rich

During the rest of my month with LVRPA I carried out a variety of tasks including site checks, clearing ponds of rubbish and reeds, cutting back bramble using brush cutters, and building paths and steps through a reserve. The footpath construction was on a clay surface which made it very tricky work to do, but was still a fun day and I felt a great sense of achievement when it was finished.

We were also involved in a staff day, which included different teams meeting to take part in a joint workday. We were completing a new campsite and had to build and secure the benches next to the firepits. Even though it was raining everybody was in a great mood and we got things done quickly. During lunch the other trainee on placement was surprised with a birthday cake, a really nice touch from the great management team at LVRPA.

It was such a privilege to work with people who are doing everything they can to help wildlife survive and thrive.

My second work placement was with the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, which is managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. The centre is one of nine that are dotted around the UK and was opened in 2000. It is 30 hectares in size and is made up of five reservoirs linked by waterways, marshland, and huge patches of reedbeds. Birdwatchers, amateur or advanced, can use five hides giving a view from different angles. It is hugely important site for wetland birds and remains one of the best places in London to spot the famous 'booming' bittern. 

London Wetland Centre

London Wetland Centre during the 'Beast From The East' credit Mathew Rich

Meeting the lovely staff and volunteers at London Wetland Centre on my first morning, I was really excited to get started on the work of clearing reedbeds. This is done on rotation to keep a variety of stage of growth giving different types of habitats and draw in as many species as possible. After the reeds have been cut they need to be cleared to prevent to the silt that the reeds grow in from drying up. It was such a treat to work in an area where the public are not allowed and we were also lucky enough to spend the second day with a group of stonechats showing off their flight skills!

Another task was the planting of trees around the reserve to help increase the biodiversity; this was a great day as we explored all of the site. We got to see the cows which are used as a traditional grazing method for managing their marshes and meadows.

In my breaks from working I would visit the bird hides and be amazingly surprised at the volunteers who would point out different birds to spot and let you view them through a mounted scope. The hides also have identification posters and guides, which is a great way of finding out what you’re looking at if you';re not already an expert. 

I cannot say enough how amazing all the staff are at London Wetland Centre. I learnt so much there and would recommend anyone to visit.

About Wild Talent

London Wildlife Trust's Wild Talent programme has trained dozens of enthusiastic recruits eager to learn new skills and start a new career in conservation. It has been funded to challenge the barriers that exclude some people from working in environmental conservation and aims to address skill shortages in the nature conservation sector and increase diversity. 

Wild Talent is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.