What exactly does a reserve assistant do?

 A lot of people don’t quite understand what it is I do, where I am or what my job is. I explain to them that I spend a lot of my time outdoors, share my experiences with others, and thoroughly enjoy every day of the week. Most people are satisfied with that answer and the conversation moves on, but I’m going to expand upon it here because otherwise this wouldn’t be a very long piece of writing at all!

Himalayan Balsam becomes a large part of my life in summer.

Himalayan balsam becomes a large part of my life in summer.

My role with SNH has many names: ‘SRUC student placement’, ‘reserve assistant’, or even ‘trainee assistant reserve manager’. I’ll start with the first one. SRUC stands for Scotland’s Rural College and I study Countryside Management BSc on the SRUC Aberdeen campus. I completed my first year in the 2015/16 period and during this time I applied for a year-long internship with SNH to work on one of seven National Nature Reserves across Scotland. Obviously, my application went well as did the interview hence I am writing this now.

Carrying out WeBS counts at Loch Leven.

Loch Leven NNR.

I began my placement in July 2016 at Loch Leven NNR, with little idea of what the coming year was going to entail. This brings me to the second title I’ve been given; ‘reserve assistant’. As this suggests, I help with the general management of the reserve and this can range from counting the thousands of birds that use the loch to feed and rest on and around, to sawing down trees, to leading group events around the reserve.

This opportunity to experience so many aspects of how the countryside is managed is invaluable to me. I’m learning and understanding more every day and there is no better way of doing this than just getting out there and seeing or doing it for yourself. Carrying out a wide range of tasks, I have seen myself develop in many areas over the past six months.

Carrying out WeBS counts at Loch Leven.

Carrying out WeBS counts at Loch Leven.

There have been some unexpected aspects of the internship, but I have found myself seizing these opportunities to learn something new. One particular skill I have enjoyed discovering and developing during my time at Loch Leven has been the ability to share my passion for the natural world with others. Being outdoors for at least three hours every day, I see a lot of wildlife and I know that there are many people who either don’t have the opportunity or don’t have the time to see these things. Therefore, I love the fact that I can share the wonders of nature with people whether through social media with my photography or face to face on the heritage trail around the loch.


Working with volunteers to create flower-rich wet meadows.

One of my favourite moments of the internship so far is when, after asking two visitors to fill in a visitor survey form, I casually mentioned that the kingfisher had been flying up and down the River Leven beside us. The reply I got was quite ecstatic as this lady had never seen one before, and right on cue I heard the distinctive “zee-zee-zee” of a kingfisher as it rocketed off of its perch by the river. I managed to say, “there it is!” just in time for her to turn around and see the brilliant, electric flash of blue and orange as the bird blasted past us in a typically speedy fashion.


Red Squirrels have become one of my favourite features of the reserve.

This happens often, I’ve shown people their first red squirrel, opened peoples’ eyes to the number of lichens growing in the unpolluted air, and seen children amazed at the apple-y flavour of wood-sorrel leaves. Wherever I go, I always have my camera on me and always will. That’s another one of the many brilliant things about my internship – the opportunity to see new places. Although I am based at Loch Leven, SNH makes sure that I get about to experience different management on other reserves.

I’ve been to the awe-inspiring Creag Meagaidh with its dramatic landscape and healthy, regenerating birch woodlands; to the sometimes very noisy (seabird season and seal season) and sometimes very quiet (in between the aforementioned seasons) Isle of May with its staggering numbers of breeding seabirds and slightly messy but very cute grey seals; and to many other places that I can’t fit into this one piece! Suffice to say, I have cherished every moment.

This placement with SNH has been the most eye-opening and information-packed six months of my life, and I’m only halfway through! What I know I’m going to take from the whole experience is that nature is incomprehensibly important for people, and I am determined to spread that message to as many people as possible by helping them see and enjoy wildlife.

Follow the Loch Leven blog to see what Gus Routledge and the rest of the reserve staff are up to.

Find out more about Loch Leven and Creag Meagaidh NNRs on the NNR website.

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