It’s a TRO life for us

 

Find out what Trainee Reserve Officers Emily and Anna have been up to on their first months at Rutland Water Nature Reserve.

As a new member of any habitats team you are always thrown in the deep end, but as the new Trainee Reserve Officers (TROs) here at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, we literally were – for the first few weeks of September, we were either waist-deep in lagoons or losing wellies in knee-high mud fields.

Although this sounds like some sort of initiation ceremony, this is just the annual autumn, island cutting in preparation for the winter migratory visitors. We ventured out to the islands on the lagoons and cut the vegetation down with various tools and a dedicated team of wader warriors - This is necessary to stop vegetation succession before it progresses to a scrub or woody phase. It also creates the ideal flat, open habitat for many wildfowl species.

During the weeks of island cutting, we learned to use a BCS (power scythe), brush cutter, and most importantly, how to wade through mud without getting stuck! We both knew that this year wasn’t going to be boring!

Of course, it wasn’t long until the lockdown stopped many of our habitat management plans, but it didn’t stop us! During November and December, we focused on more essential work, such as fencing, livestock, and site safety. 

Tree safety was really interesting as we were taught how to inspect the health of a tree and recognise signs of death, decay or fragility (and it is a fantastic excuse to go exploring in the woods). Some of the ash trees in the reserve have ash dieback, so it was really useful to be able to detect signs of this disease. This was followed by removing any trees or branches that were deemed unsafe. This was great for us both because we began our chainsaw training.

We spent several days in the woods learning how to safely cut down and process trees. Eventually, Emily managed to fell her first tree, which was an incredible experience (it may seem strange to celebrate cutting down a tree, but it benefits nature, promise!). AND she kept all her limbs.

In addition to the beginning of chainsaw training, we both successfully completed our Tractor Training! Driving around big machines like that was a big deal for both of us.

We learned how to drive safely and operate the machinery of different tractors. Joe (Senior Reserve Officer) explained the differences between the tractors we can use, and we all had a go at hitching and unhitching trailers and other implements, as well as picking up hay bales. There is a lot to remember, but we should get a lot of practice during our stay here and use the equipment available to us.

Each of us had time to practice our mowing skills on a field in December. Being out on our own with a tractor for the first time was both exciting and terrifying, but Joe taught us well and we all became more confident and relaxed with the practice. We soon realised what a spectacular view you get from the tractor and how some flying visitors might follow you around and keep you company.

The best new friends we have made are the Dexter cows and Hebridean sheep we look after. One of the most memorable livestock experiences so far was when we helped Fran (Reserve Officer) with worming the sheep together with Stella, one of our wonderful habitats team volunteers. 

It was all hands on deck as we caught individual sheep to give them oral worm medicine. They really took us for a ride, sometimes it took three of us as a team to hold on to one sheep…eating all that grass must give them some sort of superpower. Once the worming was finished, they were moved to the next field to keep doing what they do best. 

Checking the sheep and cows regularly to make sure they are healthy and well looked after is one of our regular tasks. It’s great to see the benefits of the work they do by grazing vegetation down to the ground and opening up areas on the fields for the birds. They are definitely the most hard-working on the reserve, but also the ones who receive the most cuddles from us!

Although we are now in the second lockdown since we started as TROs, we are so amazed by everything we’ve done in a short amount of time and full of excitement for the next stage moving into spring. 

Thanks for reading,
Emily & Anna