Our next post for the Identification Trainers for the Future project introduces our third new trainee for this year (meet Alex and Steph in our earlier posts). April Windle found out about the project at the NBN conference in 2015 and applied for the final group of trainees. We were very impressed with her ‘bog in a box’ display at selection day in December looking at plant composition in restored and unrestored bogs in Exmoor.
Hi, my name’s April. Zoology graduate, nature lover and aspiring conservationist from Devon. To me, the UK’s natural environment is absolutely fascinating, whether it’s the overwhelming openness of the moors or the secluded nature of a wooded combe, every aspect of our British wildlife never fails to amaze me.
Having grown up in the South West, it’s difficult not to have an unrequited love for the countryside, and all the wildlife wonders that you can find there. On my doorstep, there has always been plenty to explore, and ample opportunities to see the most stunning array of biodiversity.
To complement my love for the natural world, (ironically) I decided to move away from the beautiful Devonshire countryside to London, where I studied Zoology at the University of Roehampton. The short walk to the idyllic settings of Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common proved a real asset to my degree, and provided plenty of opportunities to go out and experience London’s wildlife.
Although this hugely contrasted to the biodiversity I was used to, it showed a very different side to ecology in particular, how nature has this fantastic ability to positively respond to human interference. This combination of open space and internationally renowned organisations scattered across the city, provided the perfect tools to fuel my ambition to further understand our natural environment.
After finishing university, like most other graduates, I was certain that with a good degree and a range of voluntary experience I was going to land myself the perfect job within the conservation sector. Unfortunately, I soon came to realise the harsh truths of the competition I was up against. So, after three years of studying in London I moved back home and started working for the RSPB in their fundraising team. With my determination to pursue a career in conservation, alongside my job I found myself volunteering at Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve, Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, and I continued falconry as a pastime at Hawkridge Birds of Prey Centre.
The unsustainability of working 7 days a week began to take its toll, but the hard work payed off. In April 2015 I was offered a full-time position working for the Exmoor National Park Authority. Here, I established, coordinated and managed the Natural Environment Record, which is the Park’s central database for environmental information. Admittedly, I do really enjoy using, manipulating and visualising datasets, and my admiration for GIS is undeniable. But, I started to realise that despite having this fantastic collection of data at my fingertips, I wanted to be the one out in the field collecting and managing my own biological records.
Having the whole National Park to play with, I tried to involve myself in any biodiversity projects that came my way. Luckily, I have been involved in some really amazing recording schemes, covering a variety of different taxa, including birds, butterflies, riverflies, crayfish and some botanical surveying. With regards to biological monitoring, one of my favourite projects I have been involved with is the Exmoor Mires Project, a South West Water initiative to restore peatland habitats on the moors. Here, I completed a series of botanical surveys, to monitor the change in vegetation on site in response to the restoration work that had been completed.
When I first heard about the ID Trainer position at the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) conference in 2015, there was no doubt in my mind that this role had my name written all over it. Unfortunately, by this time, I had just missed the application for the second cohort, so it was a waiting game and a period of mass preparation for the third round to open. Patience is a virtue, and in this case, it definitely payed off.
Understanding the natural world is such a beautiful way to spend your time. The UK is extremely proactive and has a long history of biological recording, which is something we should be incredibly proud of. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more apparent that there is an ever-growing ‘skills gap’ in people with the ability to accurately record and distinguish the subtleties between the lesser known groups. However, it is this knowledge that is absolutely crucial to influence the decision makers at the top. With the natural world under increasing amounts of pressure nationally, it is so important that we develop the skillset across amateur naturalists to truly understand our environment.
This traineeship offers so many opportunities to learn about the world around us, which will hugely benefit myself and my future career. The Natural History Museum is the perfect establishment for the traineeship, with over 300 scientists and over 80 million biological specimens across various collections. The expertise and resources are at hand to further develop and hone in on my biological recording skills.
I would just like to take the time to say a huge thank you to the Natural History Museum, the National Biodiversity Network, the Field Studies Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund for providing us all with this amazing opportunity. I feel this traineeship is going to complement everything that I have already achieved within the conservation sector, and I am incredibly excited to see what the upcoming year has in store for us!
April Windle, Trainee, Identification Trainers for the Future.