One good thing about a global pandemic – if you’re joining an Ambios training placement – is being forced to isolate in deepest Devon for a week. Seven of us spent the time eating home-grown food cooked by heroic volunteers, swimming in the River Dart, and getting to know the local wildlife –slow worms, bats, little egrets, kingfishers and weasels were all spotted, and there was even a rare sighting of an instructor before he disappeared for a brief hibernation between courses.
We have all descended on Lower Sharpham farm for the intensive 12-week course in nature conservation skills and to help rewild fifty acres of a former non-organic dairy farm. Running since 2014, three times a year, the placements have been designed to fill a skills gap identified by employers, and to provide practical work experience often lacking from university courses. As well as recent graduates keen to land that first important job, the course attracts career changers and people wanting to deepen their knowledge of the natural world. Our cohort is no exception with biologists and environmental scientists rubbing shoulders with educators and artists.
For our first proper week we have been getting to know each other, our instructors, the farm and what the next three months have in store. Our community is becoming established – cooking meals for each other in the bunkhouse (much apprehension but no disasters so far) and sharing duties on the farm. We help tend a characterful troop of cows, sheep, hens, ducks, quail and guinea pigs alongside a regular team of people with learning disabilities, whose work here is supported by the charity United Response. Inclusivity and connecting people with nature is central to the Ambios ethos, and we have been encouraged to look out for ways to share what we learn between ourselves, the Sharpham community and well beyond.
It is a week designed for introductions and team-building (think unorthodox adventures with vegetables, extreme cow-counting and miming the word ‘calcareous’), but the desire to dive in has been irresistible on all sides. Sentences frequently start with: ‘I won’t go into this in detail now…’ only to be followed by a wealth of detail and barrage of questions about, say, the botanical differences between meadow and creeping buttercup. A session on general background information is more than likely to veer off into the politics of rewilding.
One task today is to write postcards to our future selves about what we hope to gain from our time here. If fostering a sense of purpose and meeting like-minded people figure highly, week one has been an exceptional start – and, of course, for not confusing our buttercups.
Written by Hester Musson