Reflections on an SNH graduate placement

From cuddling pufflings to fieldwork up a mountain in gale-force winds, Natalie Cozzolino, one of our six graduate placements from 2015-2016, recalls her varied year with SNH.

With a puffling on the Isle of May. Photo, Elspeth Christie

With a puffling on the Isle of May. Photo, Elspeth Christie

Last summer I was one of the lucky six to be selected for the SNH graduate placements in 2015. Prior to this I had struggled to find a job in the natural sciences. I graduated in 2009 with an undergraduate degree in Geography, worked in various odd-jobs, did a lot of volunteering, did a Master’s degree in Eco-tourism, did another Master’s degree in Geographical Information Systems, and then at long last, I saw the SNH graduate placement opportunity advertised. I had the interview on a Wednesday in June and got the phone call that very evening to say I was successful.

The view half way up Ben Lomond, the wettest and windiest day I've experienced on the hills. Photo, Elspeth Christie

The view half way up Ben Lomond, the wettest and windiest day I’ve experienced on the hills. Photo, Elspeth Christie

My placement was a nine month position in the Forth unit working alongside Operations Officers to support the delivery of work on nationally designated sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves (NNRs). My role was nicely varied – I was involved in Site Condition Monitoring (SCM) (SNH’s methodology for assessing the health of Scotland’s notified habitats and features), and so had the opportunity to visit plenty of sites across the Lothians, Fife and Stirlingshire. I found SCM visits both useful and enjoyable, and they provided a great way of reinforcing the desk-based learning I was undertaking. There were a few visits that will be remembered forevermore, like climbing (to the very summit of) Ben Lomond in pelting rain and 50mph winds to search for a rather inconspicuous plant which I was assured was extremely rare and important. Also the day I assisted in the SCM of Duddingston Loch SSSI and hadn’t properly appreciated that we were in fact getting INTO Duddingston Loch – dry suits non-optional!

Modelling the drysuit before wading through Duddingston Loch. Photo, Gavin Johnson

Modelling the drysuit before wading through Duddingston Loch. Photo, Gavin Johnson

In addition to the SCM work, I supported the delivery of three projects: one about invasive non-native plant species at Loch Lomond NNR; the second involved sea-buckthorn management along the East Lothian coastline; and the third looked at ways of improving and updating SNH’s site management statements for SSSIs. Through my participation in these projects I had the pleasure of meeting and working with amazing people who are truly dedicated to the conservation of Scotland’s natural heritage. I also gained valuable skills in project management, communication and team working, and greatly improved my understanding of land management issues.

Steve Longster helping myself and another graduate, Maddie Taylor, to identify plants. Photo, Gavin Johnson

Steve Longster helping myself and another graduate, Maddie Taylor, to identify plants. Photo, Gavin Johnson

I learnt a huge amount about Scotland’s species and habitats and discovered my new passion, botany, with a particular interest in vascular plants. I had an excellent manager who was extremely encouraging and helped me to break through the scary introduction to plant identification and since then my enjoyment of it of  has grown and my skills have improved. I am now a member of the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland and am assisting in recording sessions this summer.

My experience of the graduate placement with SNH was absolutely fantastic and I can’t speak highly enough of the people who helped to make it as great as it was. Any university students or graduates who are reading this and are keen to pursue a career in conservation or land management, I would strongly encourage you to consider an SNH graduate placement. For those who are successful for 2016, I urge you to make the most of your time with SNH. The more you put in, the more you will get out of it. Don’t be afraid to chase opportunities within the organisation, and make the most of work shadowing and training.

Wetland Bird Survey at Loch Leven - at the end of a hard day's work. Photo Natalie Cozzolino

Wetland Bird Survey at Loch Leven – at the end of a hard day’s work. Photo Natalie Cozzolino

The best bit about my story (for me, and hopefully my colleagues!) is that just as my placement was ending, a permanent job within SNH as an Operations Officer became available. I interviewed for the post and was successfully appointed the position at the end of March. Happily for me then, I am still with SNH continuing to learn, develop skills, meet people, and am making a positive contribution to the conservation of Scotland’s natural heritage. So, for anyone who is finding it hard to begin their career in the natural sciences, don’t give up! It’s tough, and at times can be disheartening, but I promise, it’s totally worth it.

SNH is now recruiting for its 2016-2017 graduate placements. If you’re interested you can read more about them here or apply on the SNHjobs site.
Closing date for applications is 5 June 2016.

 

 

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