Guest blog: A perfect opportunity to gain conservation experience
UHI student Carrie Weager reports on her work placement with the Trust
As an Environmental Science student at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), part of our fourth year ‘Engaging with External Agencies’ module involves carrying out a work placement with a relevant organisation. With my desire to pursue a career in conservation, and a life-long love of hills and wild places, the John Muir Trust offered the perfect opportunity to gain conservation experience in the type of location where I am most interested in living and working.
My time was split between the Trust’s Strathaird property in Skye, and the Sandwood and Quinag properties in North West Sutherland.
Under the supervision of Skye conservation officer, Sarah Lewis, much of the work at Strathaird consisted of monitoring blanket bog for the browsing and trampling impacts of deer. We also spent a day with footpath contractor Donald Mackenzie, conducting Amber surveys to assess the condition of paths in the Elgol area. The weather varied throughout, from warm sunshine to blustery showers, with the odd midgie thrown in!
One of my days involved walking out to Camasunary Bay (pictured above) to look at the condition of the fords along the path, and to report on the marine debris on Camasunary beach. A beach clean had been carried out at an earlier point, and the litter secured into two large piles above the strand line. Sadly, since then more debris has accumulated, or been blown from the piles. The amount of it was shocking to see, and highlighted for me the real challenges faced by those cleaning remote beaches in areas without vehicle access.
My time at Quinag involved carrying out tree transect surveys (pictured above) with conservation officer Romany Garnett, and at Sandwood with property manager Don O’Driscoll, monitoring deer impacts on dwarf shrub heath.
With autumn fast approaching the weather was becoming more mixed, however I enjoyed my time working in this location every bit as much as I knew I would. The landscape here never fails to take my breath away at any time of year. But autumn brings a special feel to the place: the last blossoms are still on the heather, while the bracken begins to die back and mingle the purple with burnt orange, and the sinking light brings out every texture of the landscape.
The wildlife of the Highlands was in evidence throughout the placement, although for me the golden eagles of Skye and the peregrines and kestrels of Sandwood were outdone by an inquisitive weasel near Oldshoremore (pictured above), who was worth enduring a prolonged midgie attack to film and photograph!
My time working with the John Muir Trust has felt like perhaps the most valuable part of my degree to date, and has finally brought clarity to the difficult question: ‘so what exactly do you want to do when you graduate?’
Photographs by Carrie Weager