Natural Talent is a training project operated by The Conservation Volunteers. It has achieved a huge amount over the past few years as was demonstrated at the Showcase event I attended this morning at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Since 2006 Natural Talent has trained 44 apprentices - 31 women and 13 men - of whom 33 are now employed in the conservation sector and 8 are studying or have completed PhDs. Apprentices have been involved in training and mentoring, outreach, sharing their knowledge with other professionals and engaging the general public, including school children.
The concept of the apprenticeship scheme has been to build up a future generation of people with expert knowledge in less well-studied areas of species and habitat identification and biology. We need to know about species if we are to conserve them. Apprenticeships have included:
8 studying lower plants or fungi
11 studying invertebrates
18 studying specialist habitats
2 studying soil biodiversity and
2 studying marine plankton
Apprentices have made substantial contributions to ecological science and conservation including:
* helping to classify the Island of Canna as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for waxcap fungi
* helping to create a Local Nature Reserve on the site of a rare solitary bee
* investigating the effect of climate change on the distribution of a fungus associated specifically with Mountain Avens.
* researching and planning citizen science projects
* finding new sites where rare species occur
* feeding into peatland conservation programmes
There was a lot of discussion around how to engage people in less well known species. Kirsty Barclay who was a zooplankton apprentice with Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) talked about how she had made a presentation at McDuff Marine Aquarium Shark Week, talking about zooplankton as sharks' favourite food. So all the shark fans out there suddenly became interested in something they may previously never have even known existed.
An important point that came up in one of the workshops was that for any conservation project to work politicians and decision makers need to be made aware of the value of nature. For example Edinburgh City Council Planning Department know about the nationally red and amber listed seed eating birds that live on the Cammo fields and they know that the Edinburgh City Local Biodiversity Action Plan commits to conserving these birds and their habitat, but still seems determined to build on these fields and destroy the birds' habitat. It's that mismatch that we really need to address, as in the end, no matter how many enthusiastic young ecologists are out there and no matter how much they engage local schools and communities, it is ultimately the decision makers who need to be convinced of the value of nature.
The scheme has extended this year across the UK and now offers traineeships rather than apprenticeships (though that seems to be as much a change in terminology as much as a change in the training itself).
In addition to learning about Natural Talent itself, the take home lessons of the day were:
* to find out as much as we can about any aspect of nature that interests us and pass that on to the people around us
* to take part in citizen science projects around recording nature (which in the UK include Birdtrack and i-Spot (which helps you to identify species you've seen but aren't sure what they are)
* to join in capaigns to potect important habitats and species in your local area and further afield
* to get out there and enjoy nature!
As ever, red text includes hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.