A Day on Work Placement

Libby Norton

I am currently a student at the University of Sheffield studying BSc Geography with Employment Experience. Being a geography degree there is a wide variety of topics covered and skills learnt. While I have not studied rivers formally since GCSEs, I have been studying modules focused on water quality and conservation principles which both make up important parts of the river ecosystem. I also have experience with GIS (geographical information systems) which is useful for creating LiDAR maps which look at the elevation change in river systems, or mapping out education sites.

Once I have completed the course I would like to continue working in the environmental/conservation sector whether it be for trees, rivers or a national park, although it would definitely be cool if I could continue working in rivers. The ecology aspect has really sparked my interest - thinking about how climate change will affect different species in the future and how they will adapt, whether going through behavioural changes or a range shift. This makes the work we do at the Rivers Trust incredibly important as it gives the species the option to move along the riparian corridor to expand their range or change their behaviour.

Currently, I think my dream job would be to create a masterplan of catchments, then look at biodiversity hotspots and how they are likely to move with climate change and human interference. Then from that create a wildlife corridor plan, which would allow the species to travel around more to reach a suitable habitat. Wildlife corridors are often based on river systems as rivers have a great natural cooling ability and they follow a gradual change in elevation allowing for a subtle temperature change.
However, while I am working up to that I am happy getting all kinds of experience and learning about all the different parts of the ecosystem, while improving the environment for both wildlife and people. Which makes what I am currently doing perfect!
I really enjoy being able to get out of the office and into the river so I would love it if I could continue doing that in my next job whether it be from an in stream river restoration aspect or looking at the impacts of microplastics on the species, or something completely different like working in woodland, or working to engage people with nature.

Working at the Trust has given me a massive variety of experiences; from water vole surveys, to nature trail creation, to electrofishing. I have been making the most of this year getting involved with all different parts of the trust to gain as many different experiences as possible, so I can take that knowledge into future jobs. It has been great seeing all the different aspects and how they all link together to create some amazing river restoration. It really makes you appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work, from the preliminary desk study looking at the LiDAR data. Then conducting walk overs and carrying out water vole surveys and topography surveys. I have not got to the stage of drawing up designs and writing bids for grants yet, but it is all to come. The education team has also been booking me up for a lot, ranging from education sessions with schools to creating a nature trail and going out to events. It has been great teaching children about the importance of rivers and our natural environment. Creating the nature trail has been really exciting as it will be a great opportunity to engage people with the river.

It is the classic “no two days are the same” as there is such a range of jobs I get involved with which keeps it exciting. However, my day might look something like this:

I tend to start work at about 8:30 and do some admin for about an hour. Then I will leave my house at about 9:30 to make it to site for 10 where I might be carrying out a water survey, which are always really interesting to do. For the water vole surveys we tend to have two people in the river, one surveying each bank working upstream, so we can see the river bed as the sediment kicked up by us will flow downstream. The vegetation on the bank will alter how easy it is to survey as when all the vegetation grows up in the summer it obscures our view, but it is great for the wildlife. When surveying we are looking for evidence of water voles so we might spot runs, feeding remains, droppings or a burrow. When we spot a sign we will record it and take a photo to add to our evidence, so we can build up a picture of the water vole population and how it changes temporally and spatially. We have not found many signs of water voles this year, we are assuming this is due to a population boom in mink.

After this I might go onto another site to conduct another water vole survey as if we are out we tend to get multiple ones done at different sites to be more efficient. If I go home or to the office I will have a quick lunch then start on some more work. This could be anything from drawing up some cross section data to doing a bit more research for another site.

I will normally finish work at about 4:30, this gives me the rest of the afternoon and evening to get on with my own activities. I quite often use this time to go down to Southampton and go kayaking - so I am surrounded by water all day!

With thanks to the Linbury Trust for supporting this work placement.