This post was originally written by Eli Graham in the summer of 2023. Eli has recently written a job profile for us about their experience in the sector so far, so has kindly allowed us to re-publish the following from their workplace’s blog to share a more in-depth look into the role.

Reflections on starting the role

“After reaching the end of the third month of my New to Nature placement, I thought I would take some time to share and reflect on what’s been an amazing experience so far.

The New to Nature programme that I and many other trainees across the UK are currently on, offers us supported employment, learning sessions and any additional resources we may need to help us get into the nature sector.

My experience began on day two of the role when I was given the opportunity to attend the first-ever Forth Rivers Trust conference at Edinburgh Napier University. Attending the conference was an exciting start and allowed me to learn more about the organisation and the work I’d be getting to be a part of. A great day of engaging presentations from colleagues left me looking forward to getting started.

I knew I wanted to work a nature-related role following my studies in Environmental Science and Outdoor Education at university, but the unfortunate timing of graduation (ie. right at the time of a global pandemic) meant that, until I was successful in applying to New to Nature, I was working in an industry far different from what I’d studied, requiring me to balance working and gaining unpaid experience to better my chances of success in the environmental sector.

Following the conference, I could see the active, enthusiastic approach at the Trust for restoring rivers across the Forth to bring benefits for all, and I was excited to be a part of this and to see what opportunities my placement would bring.”

Skills and experiences

The first few weeks of my job included getting to tour some of the project sites the Trust is working on and getting to grips with the role by undertaking some online learning with the help of a digital marketing course. This was important learning for me since my undergraduate course focused on theories in Environmental Science and communications and digital marketing were new to me.

I’ve always been quite a visual learner, enjoying graphic design (yes, unironically, graphic design is my passion) so my application to the Communications Assistant role was what I saw as an opportunity to blend both my enthusiasm for nature and my enjoyment of visual communications, playing my part in restoring the natural environment by sharing its importance, and gaining additional skills and experience along the way.

I began my online learning and attended some training about Innovation in Species Conservation, networking and learning about different species conservation efforts by other similar organisations. While it was still early days in my placement – with a lot to take in and some impostor syndrome to work past – my first online session with New to Nature trainees allowed me to chat with other folks in a similar boat and learn about all the different roles and organisations involved. I remember coming away from this feeling excited about what lay ahead.”

Social media takeover

“In May, I was given the chance to travel to London and experience the launch of the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s new strategy at a parliamentary event and to do a social media takeover with a fellow trainee. National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) is one of the partners behind the New to Nature programme, working alongside Groundwork, The Prince’s Trust, Disability Rights UK, Youth Environmental Service and Mission Diverse to get more young people into the nature sector.

At the event I attended, I got to speak with people behind NLHF, meet some parliamentarians, and share a little about the value of getting to undertake a placement like this. We were both excited to have been given the opportunity to take part – it was super enjoyable and a great learning experience too. My thanks to Lisa for being a pleasure to work with and thank you to NLHF for inviting us along also.

Here are some photos of London below alongside the reel that Lisa and I recorded as part of our social media takeover and some photos from the event.”

To view the video, click here.

Visiting a fellow trainee

“Month two of my placement had lots of activity including a trainee link-up day. I headed along to a Water of Leith Conservation Trust to meet Michael, a fellow New to Nature trainee, and participate in a community cleanup at the picturesque Dean Village. We trimmed back some of the vegetation along the path and cleared some rubbish, finding interesting things that don’t belong in a river, from shopping trolleys to a rugby ball which – once cleaned – will make a dog out there very happy.

Michael and I then did a second ‘exchange’ day where he travelled with Forth Rivers Trust staff and volunteers from Royal London and the Japanese Garden at Cowden, to assist with some balsam bashing on the River Devon. Ongoing invasive work at the Trust, funded by Crown Estate Scotland along the Devon, is allowing us to pull balsam in areas that haven’t been reached before and all the efforts this year will help prevent its spread.

Seeing the extent of invasive non-native species across the Forth catchment has been eye-opening and the chance to work alongside a trainee on the same New to Nature Placement as me, sharing experiences and efforts between the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and Forth Rivers Trust, has been valuable and fun. Photos from both days are below.”

Final reflections

“The key part of opportunities I’ve been lucky enough to get in my placement so far is the chance to get up close to some beautiful rivers (and some, less so – learning more about and seeing firsthand issues and ongoing threats our waterways face across Scotland). Freshwater habitats nurture life and are integral for so many species, and getting up close to them as part of my work has highlighted that now more than ever for me.

From learning about barrier easement and habitat restoration to seeing the results of these firsthand at project sites across the catchment, it’s been an amazing few months of my placement with Forth Rivers Trust with both passionate people and rewarding work, and there’s plenty more to keep me busy as it continues.

The opportunity to break into the nature sector has been invaluable, more than I can put into words. I know that regardless of where my career path may take me, I’ll enjoy playing a part in protecting and restoring the habitats and species that need it most.”

About the New to Nature scheme

The New to Nature Placement is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and delivered in partnership with Groundwork UK, The Prince’s Trust, Disability Rights UK, Youth Environmental Service and Mission Diverse.

The programme provides placements of up to 12 months for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, offering employment, experience, and skills development. New to Nature aims to provide life-changing experiences for people who might not normally have access to a career in the environmental sector, with young people who are from an ethnic minority, who are disabled or who are from low-income homes being encouraged to apply for roles across all areas of the sector.

New to Nature trainees are paid a real living wage for 12 months, get on the career ladder with support from an employment mentor, gain experience and boost their job prospects to build a career that protects the planet.

This position is also partly funded by Forth Rivers Trust, and my endless thanks go out to the organisation and to everyone else whose support has allowed me to be a part of the New to Nature placement. You can read more about the legacy of New to Nature at this link.

Originally published on the Forth Rivers Trust website. Text and images provided by Elijah Graham.

For more information on traineeships as a route into the sector and where to look for them, see our job vacancies page.

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