By Matt Pendry.
As summer comes to an end, and the Biodiversity Gardens Project starts to wind down, my six month contract as a Biodiversity Surveying Assistant for the project has now ended. I can happily say that I have learnt a great deal during my time here and it has been a real help in acquiring and honing the skills I need to get a job in the ecology industry.
My main role within the project was to organise, co-ordinate and lead a team of surveying volunteers, carrying out simplified Phase 1 habitat surveys of people’s gardens. I then would write up a report detailing what we found; what was good; what was bad; and what we would recommend to improve the potential for wildlife and plant diversity in the garden.
It all started back in March when I saw the advertisement for the role on environment job and eagerly applied, as surveying gardens and offering advice to promote biodiversity sounded like a fantastic idea and one that I could really get behind. Following an interview and an initially daunting ID test, I was informed I had got the role!
The first survey was quite overwhelming, as although I knew many animal species, my botanical knowledge didn’t stretch far beyond daisies, dandelions and buttercups. However with the helpful guidance from experienced ecologist Dave Warburton, I soon learnt the various traits and physical characteristics that define the different group of plants. I was rarely told what a particular plant was but instead encouraged to use what I had learnt to carefully narrow it to a group and then a species using the detailed field guides.
After a few months of supervised site surveys at churches, and other community spaces I was finally competent enough to go off and do a survey without the help of an experienced ecologist. The first garden survey was carried out on the 15th of June and since then I have done over 15 different surveys of gardens of all shapes and sizes, from very neat gardens with lots of colourful ornamental plants to huge wild unkempt jungles full of wild species! I have managed a great group of enthusiastic surveying volunteers, organised with homeowners when and where surveys would be taking place, and written up detailed reports of explaining what we found and what we could recommend to improve biodiversity.
Outside of the project itself, I have also helped lead environmental education activities like pond dipping with groups of children at the Sutton Ecology centre. I have helped out at Wallington Grammar school, creating a pond and wildlife area, and also giving a talk in an assembly about the project.All of these skills have greatly improved my CV and will be a real asset in helping me achieve a job in ecology. I have learnt so much in 6 months and with my vastly improved CV have already been contracted by Thomson Ecology to do field surveying work with them, with the promise of more work in the future; something that I would not have achieved without the experience I gained through this role. I would recommend anyone who wants to develop a career in ecology to work with the great people at the Biodiversity Gardens Project.