A dream job in river restoration

In our latest guest blog with Lantra Scotland, we hear from environmental conservation apprentice Niall Provan on his work to restore Scotland’s rivers with the Forth Rivers Trust, and his journey into a conservation career.

Niall (centre) carrying out an electro fishing exercise, surveying fish populations. ©Niall Provan

I have always had a passion for the outdoors. I’ve spent many happy hours out hill walking so it was natural step to find a career where I could develop practical skills and be part of nature. After I left school I applied for a countryside management course at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), then looked for a Modern Apprenticeship. I heard that the Callander Landscape Partnership (CLP) was looking to take someone on, which sounded like the ideal stepping stone for my career, especially as I was learning while working and earning a wage.

I applied and was lucky enough to get a place. Working for CLP has really opened my eyes to the possibilities. I have been involved in so many varied and interesting projects including an archaeological dig at a Neolithic site near Callander where we collected artefacts, dug trenches and undertook geological surveys. This was followed by digs at an Iron Age hillfort and roundhouse in Stirlingshire. I also got involved in some environmental conservation work, managing invasive species like Rhododendron, and installing and surveying bird and bat boxes. This kind of work really piqued my interest in conservation and habitat management.

Restoration work as part of the River Larig Restoration Project with Forth Rivers Trust ©Niall Provan

After I finished my apprenticeship, I landed a job as a Project Support Officer with Forth Rivers Trust which has been a dream for me. I am part of a select team working on the Larig Restoration Project, which aims to improve the River Larig and its surrounding habitat through tree planting and in-river and bankside restoration works.

The work is really important because it will improve the biodiversity of the river and the surrounding area as well as provide shade and refuge for migratory Atlantic salmon. Salmon populations are currently on a downward trend, due to pressures such as pollution, over-fishing and climate change. These kinds of projects will create areas of sanctuary for salmon to spawn and help boost their numbers.

Flying a drone as part of site surveying work, using digital imaging software to show impact of their work along the river. ©Niall Provan

As with many land-based jobs today, the ability to harness new technologies is an important skill and I’ve been lucky enough to learn many useful skills and techniques. I think the most fun has been using drones to survey and map areas under investigation. We use digital imaging software which gives us before and after images so we can see the effect our work is having.

I also get involved with river surveying, sampling, and electro fishing, a technique that allows us to capture and survey fish without doing them harm.  I really love getting stuck into a long-term project like this and seeing it progress. You get to see the positive results of your work and the changes happening in real time. There is a bit of desk work to do, but most of my time is spent outdoors on site, getting my hands dirty and doing the practical work, which is what I really enjoy.

Driving a quad bike on site ©Niall Provan

What I have learnt as a trainee starting off, it that environmental conservation is a very competitive industry to get into. Forth Rivers Trust is one of the biggest organisations of its kind in the country, yet only employs 20 people, so you really need to stand out.

What employers are looking for is a demonstration of your commitment, so you want to be doing as much voluntary work as you can. As well as helping out and learning lots of different industry-specific skills, you’ll also meet up with people already working in the industry, so it’s a great way to network and make connections which will be a big help in finding future jobs.

Lantra Scotland helps people get the training, qualifications and skills to succeed in the land-based, aquaculture and environmental sector. For more information, visit: https://www.scotland.lantra.co.uk/

For more information about nature-based jobs, see: https://www.nature.scot/professional-advice/planning-and-development/social-and-economic-benefits-nature/nature-based-jobs-and-skills

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