Returning to Skelton Grange
I was around 8 or 9 years old when I visited Skelton Grange Environment Centre for the first time. My memories from then of kind, enthusiastic adults who seemed to know everything about nature are warm, if hazy. For a kid wanting to be a zoologist when I grew up, they were certainly people to look up to.
It wasn’t for another 15 years that it occurred to me I could decide to come back. I’d graduated university a year ago and the days of unemployment were blending together into a dull sort of drudgery that had me feeling very low. I went outside very little.
On the very first day I arrived to volunteer, I recieved a friendly welcome. I then had my first introduction to using tools like hatchets, saws and billhooks while I learned how to hedge-lay. Like others previously, I had lots of fun. It was refreshing to be out and amongst people and satisfying to get stuck into work that would help the environment straight away. Even though the group was pretty big that day, the officers leading the session still made time to get to know me and find out why I’d come. Before my first day was over, the TCV staff at Skelton Grange had recommended that I apply to the Natural Heritage Traineeship. This is a long term training placement to help people learn natural heritage skills, and support others in engaging with their local environment.
From there everything seemed to move pretty fast. The traineeship meant I could go to Skelton every week day if I wanted to! Suddenly my days were lively, full of new things to learn and experiences to have, all while doing meaningful work. I quickly lined up for all sorts of learning opportunities to gain useful new skills.
My time as a Volunteer Officer
I’ve learned a lot of things about the practical sides of conservation that my zoology degree never made time for. These range from hedge-laying, to tree felling, to the keeping of a community garden. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn about bee-keeping when the weather gets warmer!
I’ve also gained confidence in more day to day things. Working at Skelton turned me from someone who had barely held a screwdriver before to a person who can confidently handle bow saws, hatchets and scythes. I built my first bird box and I’m very proud of it (even if I’m still working on not being scared of using the drill)!
Everything at Skelton is a team effort. Hedge-laying is best done with at least two people, and vegetation clearing, tree felling and pond clearing are all fun and go quickly with company. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know and work with both TCV staff and the other regular volunteers. Everyone is friendly and enthusiastic, both in helping out and in helping others learn the intricacies of environmental management. There’s not a single person lacking interesting experiences to share! Wanting to become experienced enough to be as knowledgeable and helpful as all the wonderful people I’ve met at Skelton has been a great motivation to me in the past year.
Even during lockdown, that community and support were never too far away. TCV Staff quickly organised zoom meetings and conservation activities. Everyone was eager to see one another well looked out for during isolation. When the centre re-opened and I got to volunteer again, it felt as if I’d hardly been away at all.
Looking to the Future
It seems appropriate that, writing this a year later, my most recent visit to Skelton had me hedge-laying again. I was self-satisfied to find I remembered the process almost perfectly. Then I was even more smug to hear that my first attempt came out near perfect! My time at Skelton gives me hope that soon I’ll be able to make ecology and conservation my life’s work. I hope that in another year I’ll be writing another blog post to look back on my time volunteering once again, so I can tell you about what a great help it was in bringing me to my newly started career in conservation!
Posted by Eleanor Lister about experiences on the Grass Roots project; delivered by TCV at Skelton Grange Environment Centre and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.