Six pairs of capable hands can achieve a lot in an environment where access can be very difficult

  • Contributor information: CNP

Last year Fell Futures won our Park Protector Award. Matt Eaves, volunteer and apprentice coordinator from the Lake District National Park Authority shares his personal experience about the impact of winning the award.

My own career path has been varied and winding, from outdoor instruction, university and onwards to forestry contracting. However, the common theme has always been the outdoor environment and sharing it with others. Looking back it can often seem as if everything happened for a reason – leading to what I can honestly say is my dream job, combining the great outdoors and the chance to share it with others. Working for the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA), running the Fell Futures project has provided not only the opportunity to live in a place as special as the Lakes but to help look after it as well.

Winning the Campaign for National Parks Park Protector award was a real boost, for myself and the LDNPA, it acted as an external seal of approval on our hard-work, something to show off about and an opportunity to tell everyone about the benefits of volunteers and apprentices. We have utilised the prize money to provide extra uniform, waterproofs and tools for the volunteers.

The 2016 Park Protector Awards are now open – find out more now

Fell Futures trains young people and volunteers in order to fill an identified skills gap in the sector and keep traditional skills alive. It also provides people with the support necessary to access the industry. The project started in 2012 following a successful grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our remit was to train 9 apprentices, 30 volunteers and recruit industry based mentors to help over the 3 years. A daunting prospect initially as it was a first for the LDNPA but one that has been exceeded, with 12 apprentices trained in total and 30 volunteers having passed through the scheme to date.

Over the 3 years, 11 young people have been employed as apprentices at levels 2 and 3, they have studied environmental conservation through Newton Rigg with some staying for the full three years on offer before moving into full-time roles. They have benefitted from a comprehensive training programme comprised of vocational qualifications backed up by the chance to put them into use. Qualifications in their own right don’t make a skilled person. In order to build experience we utilise real projects, one of the biggest was Rawfold Bridge. 60m of parapets were rebuilt and repointed in lime mortar, a traditional and dying skill applied in a real world situation…what more could you ask for!

The apprentices we train are lucky enough to draw on the vast amounts of experience found not only in-house but with the schemes partners.  The apprentices are sent out on placement with our partners the Forestry Commission, Environment Agency, Fix the Fells and National Trust on a ‘skills-exchange’, their time in return for the opportunity to learn about Forestry, River Corridor Management, drystone walling and Upland path maintenance in detail.

Working with the apprentices has been a fantastic experience, their enthusiasm has been inspiring and made a positive impact on the Lake District National Park. Six pairs of capable hands can achieve a lot in an environment where access can often be very difficult and the only method is to use people power to get the job done.

Volunteering is a subject close to my heart and continues to be so, having just taken on the role of a Deputy Team Leader with Keswick Mountain Rescue team. I entered the industry through the well-trodden BTCV (now TCV) route and it’s fantastic to be involved with a project that can give back so much. The conservation sector can be a difficult one to get started in, the appeal and benefits are enormous. For those wishing to change careers or who are just starting out we are able to provide opportunities to gain experience and qualifications to make that difficult first step into the sector. A great success story has been that of Kevin Unitt who whilst studying at university volunteered with the LDNPA, he now works for Loch Lomond National Park as seasonal Ranger.

I only wish that I could have had such a fantastic opportunity when I set my sights on working for National Parks, my driving aim has always been to provide the best training opportunities available for those involved with the scheme. The next challenge we face is re-funding the scheme so that the good work can continue….watch this space.