Amee Hood is an SNH Reserve Officer for the Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss and Loch Lomond National Nature Reserves near Stirling. She tells us about her experience on a student placement, and as a young person within SNH.
Before I started working for SNH I had the opportunity to do a lot of travelling, which included working abroad in Australia and Canada for many years. It wasn’t until I lived in Canada and worked within the Banff National Park that I decided I would return home when my visa ran out, with a new-found aim of going to college to become a park ranger. I had a clearer vision of where I wanted my career to go.
In 2015 I enrolled in a HNC Countryside Management course at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) Oatridge. I found the year very hard: there was a lot of theory. At the age of 26, I discovered I was dyslexic: I struggled with reading and writing and often spent many hours a night fighting just to complete one paragraph. With a large number of essays to write, this eventually took its toll. I had given up a lot to return to full time education including sacrificing a full-time wage so I didn’t want to waste my year. I put my heart and soul into doing well in my HNC and in the end I passed with distinction.
I was told about a student placement scheme run by SNH in partnership with SRUC for students to take a year out from their studies to gain practical skills within the National Nature Reserve team. I had a decision to make: I felt this was a great opportunity to gain more skills and learn in a different way. Moving away from theory, I find it easier to learn by carrying out a practical task as that way I can visualise it a lot clearer.
Within my year’s placement I had great mentors, all unique with different expertise which helped broaden my knowledge. I was allowed to think for myself and carry out my own placement project to get the most out of my year, which saw me carry out: hen harrier winter roosting counts over the three reserves and freshwater sponge surveys at Loch Lomond NNR. I was given the opportunity to gain tickets (certified training courses) which continue being put to good use: I completed my chainsaw certificate, herbicide spraying ticket, brushcutter and strimmer ticket and outdoor first aid training. I was also able to lead volunteer events which helped build my confidence. All of these are great additions to my knowledge and skills base.
Whilst with SNH I also secured a Seasonal Ranger position with Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park to help me through the summer financially, which saw me working a full seven days a week.
It just so happens that when my student placement was about to end the NNR team looked completely different to when I started a year before, moving from a team of three individuals to a single member of staff. I was extremely lucky to be offered a short term contract for three months initially, which was then extended for a further four months. Having had my contract extended another two months; this will see me through to the end of March.
Whilst short-term contracts are not ideal, many organisations are facing these dilemmas due to funding cuts. As a young person, within the conservation and environmental sector, it can often be very difficult to secure a long-term position. I have been lucky to secure work, and have focussed my dedication, and hard work to gaining and strengthening my skills.
I hope to further my career within SNH: I plan to return to the National Park for a second season as a seasonal ranger – as every little bit experience will help further my career.
A student placement is a great opportunity for any young person to get involved, and I would thoroughly recommend it to those who are studying or wish to get real on-the-job experience.
All images © Amee Hood/SNH