One of my tasks at Brockholes this week has been being helping to build and launch a raft for common terns (sterna hirundo) who begin arriving from Africa at this time of year to breed.
The tern raft was built from three parts like a sandwich – buoys, plastic crates, and a membrane divided into compartments by wooden boards into which to put gravel for the terns to nest in.
It was my job to help tie it all together. We then cut wooden posts and screwed them on for extra support and stapled on wire mesh to prevent the tern chicks from falling overboard.
On a sunny Thursday morning the tern raft was launched onto Number One Pit Lake by the Reserve Officers, three volunteers, and myself, all in waders, and to our delight and relief it stayed afloat.
Later in the day I returned with the Reserve Officers and a load of gravel in the bucket of the tractor to shovel into the compartments. This was the big test. Although the raft didn’t sink it was decided it wasn’t sitting high enough to weather a storm and more buoys were needed. That work will probably take place next week. Overall the launch was a success.
The launch of the tern raft feels like a good launching pad for my thoughts about the launch of my conservation career as I make the transition from volunteer intern at Brockholes (although I’m staying one day a week) to paid work as a Great Manchester Wetlands Trainee.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what I want to take with me on this journey and what I want to leave behind. Over the two years I have been volunteering in conservation I have not only gained practical habitat management skills such as planting, coppicing, and hedge laying, but the ability to erect an electric fence, and to use hand tools to put up bird boxes, fix a tool shed, and build a tern raft.
This has really helped with my self confidence as I come from a family to whom DIY is anathema. I was never taught how to make or fix things – if anything went wrong we would always ‘get a man in’.
This, along with other things, such as failing to gain funding for my PhD, to succeed in a career with horses, and to make a living from my writing, had put me in a position of learnt helplessness, and let to me struggling with anxiety and depression.
Last year I learnt that it was likely that I’m autistic and this has contributed to my struggles, making everyday tasks and, in particular, social interactions, far daunting for me than for neurotypical people.
In spite of this I have managed to master all the skills I need by making sure I listen carefully (if I don’t my autistic brain has a tendency to fill in instructions – usually the wrong ones!), ask questions if in doubt, and get loads of practice. One of my most interesting learnings is that memory resides not only in the brain but in the muscles and it’s one thing to know how to do a task and another to have the physical ability and dexterity to fell a tree correctly or to put a bird box up straight.
Gaining these practical abilities, along with having had CBT therapy for anxiety last year, have helped me to overcome some of the negative thought processes that have held me back over the years. Feeling ‘useless’, ‘worthless’, ‘helpless’, ‘impractical’, like I’m a burden to friends, family, colleagues. That the latter is not the case has been proved by the massive amount of support the Reserve Officers at Brockholes have shown me, not only being patient with my outdoor learning, but supporting me through the application and interview process, thus leading to me getting a job.
It’s taken a lot of work to gain the skills for this position and I am aware there will be further challenges ahead if I wish to progress from trainee to Assistant Reserve or Project Officer.
At this moment I am casting overboard the doubts that have held me back and adding new buoys to my raft – I am practical, if I follow my heart I will succeed, I am worthy of this job.
*Coincidentally at my monthly shamanic drumming circle with Way of the Buzzard we have been working with self-worth and one of the leaders, Nicola Smalley, has blogged on the subject HERE.