Students on Speyside Wildlife’s year-long course are basking in the knowledge that all their hard work has paid off and they can now confidently identify the key birds and mammals in the Cairngorms National Park by sight and sound. When they began over 12 months ago, their knowledge was patchy, so the improvement in their skills in just a year has been considerable.
The students on this first course were largely local and ranged from under 25 to just over 55; most were looking to broaden their knowledge and use this to help and enthuse others, whether as a ranger, teacher, scout leader or tour guide. For most, this was an opportunity for a career change and to follow their passion for wildlife.
Mark Tate, CE Cairngorms Business Partnership said: ‘The Cairngorms National Park is internationally recognised for its wildlife and large numbers of visitors come here to enjoy it. Giving them a good guided experience is an essential part of the local economy. Furthermore, being able to teach our children about the wonderful environment they live in will be an important part of looking after the National Park in the future.’
Trainer Roy Atkins said ‘when I took the students on their Introductory weekend, I knew immediately that the task ahead was quite a challenge, so I’m absolutely delighted with their achievement. I was truly proud of them when I was observing their field test with the external assessor and witnessed their ability to recognise pretty much everything they saw and heard on call, in what were challenging conditions on the day’.
Owner of Speyside Wildlife Sally Dowden said ‘I am often approached by people wanting to be wildlife guides, but I have become increasingly aware over the last few years that competency displayed by potential guides at interview simply isn’t adequate. They may have been able to do it from books but being out in the field at different times of the day, in different weather conditions and at different times of the year, opens a completely different level of skills base needed. The courses just weren’t there to give students that knowledge, so we decided we’d have to design and produce a course that was fit for purpose. We wanted a course that would teach them ‘how’ to go about identifying birds and mammals in the field.’
The course lasted a year and took the form of five taught weekends, in between which students were expected to use their own time to go out into the field to watch birds and record what they were seeing and hearing in their own field notebooks. “Homework” consisted of various challenges set via a closed Facebook page and this was also how students shared their findings and experiences, as well as receiving feedback from the trainers.
Successful student Judith Nott said ‘When I began this course I had a huge passion for wildlife, but insufficient knowledge to really appreciate it. This has been a fantastic learning journey with outstanding tuition from wildlife experts. The teaching weekends throughout the year have been intensive and thorough and the online support incredibly positive and helpful. Above all it’s been great fun, with many new friendships developing among participants. Having the qualification obviously opens new doors and as a teacher I’m excited by the possibilities that may exist to further develop programmes in Field Studies for children in and around Badenoch and Strathspey.’
Local Scout Leader Peter Wright, another successful student said ‘The wildlife ID course has helped me understand the cycle of wildlife in the Cairngorm National Park and reminded me to stop, look and pay attention to our fantastic surroundings. I shall certainly be passing the skills I have learnt to the young people in the Scout Troop.’
The course is Lantra accredited, so the students will receive certificates from that organisation as well as Speyside Wildlife. Funding to develop the first course has been provided by Cairngorms Leader. The course is running again over the next 12 months for students who are all looking to enhance existing skill sets, including outdoor guides who wish to be able to expand their guests’ experience, an accommodation provider who wants to enhance their own product offer and those who wish to become wildlife guides. Speyside Wildlife is in discussion with organisations who are looking to achieve a similar course in other parts of Scotland.