Work Experience: A Blog by Edward Harriss

We’ve been lucky to have Ed join us for several work experience placements here at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. Here he writes about his first experience here: 

My name is Edward Harriss, I am 19, and I am a Level 3 Student of Animal Management from Stamford College. I live in Crowland, just North of Peterborough, and I could not have asked for a better place to be brought up. As a dedicated Birdwatcher, the area around me is the perfect habitat for wildlife, I have a woodland just at the back of my house which is perfect for birds like Woodpeckers, even more intriguing is the fact that Jays have been using the town as a place to overwinter. I visit Deeping Lakes quite a lot as it is just down the road from me. If you visit it in winter you are always guaranteed a sighting of different overwintering wildfowl, like Goldeneye, Goosander, Pochard, Wigeon, and, if you are lucky, you may even get a sighting of Long Eared Owl. Birds have always been a passion of mine, and I have been studying at Stamford for about 3 years now, hoping to go into conservation one day. I don’t just want to help conservation projects, my main goal is to educate the public, pass my knowledge on to the next generation.

Work experience with Rutland Water has been one of the best parts of my life. I had visited the centre a few times before, mainly for the sole purpose of seeing the Ospreys, which I did, but I wanted to know more about how the reserve worked, and how important the project was to Ospreys. In year 10 at Spalding Grammar School, I was required to do 2 weeks mandatory work experience, so I took it with Rutland team. I already have a big passion for Birds and other British wildlife, and Rutland gave me a closer look into the responsibilities of the jobs in conservation.

On Monday, I was in the Birdwatching centre at Egleton. Meeting the staff for the first time was a pleasure. The team were extremely welcoming and were ready to put me to work straight away. Getting an insight into work behind the retail counter was definitely different to simply buying something from it. I had to ensure the shelves were fully stocked for the day, clearing as many boxes from the storeroom as possible, and make sure there were enough maps on the counter to go around for reserve visitors. I was behind the counter for most of the day, seeing the different people coming on and off the reserve and getting to talk to them about what they had seen was fascinating, because I knew from this that the reserve would make a great day of birdwatching should I take the time to come back again. The view across the water from the visitor centre is amazing, with the telescope set up at the window, you can see everything, all the way across the Lagoon. You never know what you might see, I have even had the pleasure of seeing a Garganey Drake in one of my past weeks of work experience.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I was out with the habitat team, and these were the days where I was able to get a proper insight into how big the reserve actually is and what sort of work happens around there. At the start of the day, we gathered at the old work yard (the volunteer training centre wasn’t properly built in 2015) to pick up our equipment, and divide the team into separate groups for the day. My task was to go with a group over to the livestock area near Redshank hide, in order to repair the fence down there. This is a regular task for the teams, as the fences around the reserve can be beat down by the weather so they need constant maintenance. We loaded the Polaris buggy with fresh fence posts, staples, nails, hammers and pliers, and a post ram. We also had a mechanical post ram on the back of the tractor, so we brought it with us. When we put the new fence posts in, this is where I had my first experience with a post ram, which was mounted on the back of a tractor. We had to re-staple the fencing, and also trim back some willow around the water’s edge. Wednesday, we were doing some work at Egleton, I had to help them construct a dipping platform around the new pond that was being dug. I have been there to do some more work this year and I was amazed to see how much it had changed, when I had worked on it before it was just a gravel pit, but now it has been filled with water and it teeming to the brim with pond life and also birds. A moorhen family were just leaving their nest when we were working there this month.

On the Thursday, I was at Egleton again, helping out with the educational team. We had a class of about 25 come in for the day, aged 5-6. We had 3 activities for the day, first was pond dipping. We took them down to the old dipping pond, and helped each child with controlling the dipping nets, as they were too big for the kids to handle themselves. I was intrigued with how interested they were with each task, as educating the younger generation into how important wildlife can be is one of my main goals. I don’t know that much about pond life either, so I was interested to see all the different beetles, larvae and boatmen that the children fished out of the water. Searching for creatures in the woodlands was also intriguing, we found some insects that I had never seen in my life, including a red cardinal beetle. After lunch, we did some birdwatching, my favourite part of the day, handing out ID charts to the kids to give them an idea of what to look for. The good thing about the charts is they are not too complex, as children of 5 & 6 may not notice as many various species as adults, like a sedge warbler that flew past us in the hide. All in all, working with the children was definitely one of my more enjoyable days at Rutland.

On Friday, I was with the Osprey project at Lyndon, and I was introduced to Paul, who managed the team. He showed me some of the different projects going on at the Lyndon area besides the Ospreys. These included nesting sites for Tree Sparrows, which have suffered massive hits to their numbers, a decline of about 93% between 1970 and 2008. After the short walk to Waderscrape hide, I got acquainted with the volunteers and sat down to watch the Ospreys. The two on the reserve at Manton bay are Blue 33, a young male who was ringed here as a chick, and Maya, and un-ringed female from Scotland. As it was the middle of June, the chicks were just over a month old, but they were looking strong. They had just had a roach brought to them by 33, and spent nearly all day taking it apart. At certain times of the day we had intruders come through the area, which we had to mark down in the book, as any activity that goes on between the ospreys has to be monitored. As well as the ospreys, I got a chance to see the rare water vole, which I know is also a major conservation project here at Rutland, so I found it a real treat to be able to see one.

The second week was pretty much the same structure, but with a few different tasks to do with the habitat team. It has been amazing to work with the team at Rutland though, I have returned many times after Grammar school to do a block week or two with Rutland, because I know there is always something interesting going on, or new birds to see. I have had many surprised in the many weeks I have spent here. New sightings of elusive birds like Water Rail and Spotted flycatcher, the majestic Great White Egret, the fast and furious Hobby, even something so plain as the humble stock dove was a pleasure to see, as I have never seen them up close before. I have seen the reserve grow more and more, as I came back to the reserve in my first year at college and was amazed to see the new training centre. I have also helped out in constructing the new Teal hide at Lyndon. Rutland is an amazing part of our British landscape, and I am happy to be a part of it. It had really helped me to choose my place in life, and realise my calling.