An Exciting Week of Work Experience

Recently, NHSN was joined by A-Level student, Johnny Bullar, for a week of work experience. In his diary below, he details what he got up to and how its has worked as a stepping-stone into a future career in conservation.

Johnny doing fieldwork as part of his A-Levels

My name is Johnny, currently an A Level student hoping to go to university in 2023 to study Environmental Sciences.

My interest in the natural world started early, watching programmes by inspirational presenters like Sir David Attenborough and Steve Backshall. I have volunteered at the Gosforth Nature Reserve (GNR) for a while and have been taking part in a variety of NHSN activities to support my school studies, so I was thrilled to be offered a week’s work experience at the NHSN.

I hoped that this week would deepen my understanding of conservation and how organisations such as the NHSN protect, preserve and maintain the future of the natural world. I also hope to take what I learned from this week further by basing my Extra-curricular Project Qualification (EPQ) on my chosen subject ‘How has COVID-19 impacted GNR and my local area?’.


On Monday, I spent most of my time in the NHSN office at the Great North Museum: Hancock. I have been coming to this museum for years enjoying exhibitions and events held there. I was excited to learn that this special place was also the location of the NHSN offices.

After a friendly welcome from the team, I was given an introduction to the museum, the NHSN archives and library by James Common, Senior Naturalist, who was very supportive throughout the week. I look forward to using the NHSN archives for my EPQ research on GNR. NHSN Director, Clare Freeman, was kind enough to talk me through the history of the NHSN and the Great North Museum: Hancock. She also took a keen interest in my EPQ proposal. It is brilliant to have her full support and encouragement to access NHSN resources for this project. I was also able to meet Ellie Coleman, Naturalist and newest member to the NHSN team, a very helpful and engaging person. It was inspiring to see someone further in their career than myself working with the charity. Later, I sat in on the ‘weekly catch-up meeting’ between all the staff members at the NHSN offices. I was impressed by how organised and motivated the staff are and their positivity was infectious. This was a brilliant introduction to the NHSN, and I couldn’t be happier to have met all these wonderful people doing their part for conservation.


Tuesday was my favourite day out of the week as I was able to spend the entire day at Gosforth Nature Reserve. The first 2 hours of my day were spent on a self-led walk around the reserve, documenting wildlife. I was able to spot Grey Squirrel, two Roe Deer (one with a fawn), a Greater Spotted Woodpecker and even a Hedgehog, which I was surprised to learn are quite a rarity at GNR. After this I shadowed Des Matheson, one of the volunteer rangers at the reserve. We had a short chat about the history of GNR and about his experience as a ranger throughout COVID-19. This gave me a lot of insight into how GNR was impacted and the measures that were put in place to mitigate them. It was fascinating to hear Des’ direct experience and personal opinions, which will be extremely relevant to my EPQ. To support my EPQ research, he kindly provided some information on GNR over the past 10 years to pair with my time in the NHSN archives for which I am grateful. It was an absolute blast seeing the smiling faces of both staff and visitors over my time at GNR. I am also very aware that my wildlife photography skills need some serious work!


I assisted the weekly practical conservation team on the reserve, led by Paul Drummond, Reserve Warden. My main job of the day was to create a large clear area of land where the new hide is going to be constructed. I was instructed on how to properly use the tools provided and this ‘glamorous’ photo was captured by Ellie of a very damp but cheery me. I was impressed by how hard-working everyone was as they even offered to stay behind once the day was over to do any more work in the reserve. I now realise how intrinsic the volunteers’ time and efforts are to the functioning of the NHSN.

Johnny joining volunteer work party at GNR


Thursday was another great day of work experience as it gave a new perspective for my EPQ. In the morning I went on another walk in my local area. I went to Northumberland Park to try and spot some wildlife to compare to some of my findings at GNR. The weather was too cool and windy for wildlife, so my spotting results were rather limited. There was a plentiful supply of Mallard Ducks but sadly not a single Kingfisher, which can sometimes be spotted there in the summer. By contrast, the second half of my day was a citizen science walk at GNR with James Common to help gather data for the ‘North East Ladybird Hunt’. Over our time at the reserve, we spotted: 1 Pine Ladybird, 8 Harlequin Ladybirds, 14 10-spot Ladybirds and over 50 Larch Ladybirds. James told me that he had never seen such a large count of Larch Ladybirds at the reserve. They were only discovered the previous winter at the reserve and were thought to be quite rare.

I was struck by the contrast between my self-led walks and my experiences with the task-orientated walk with a professional naturalist at GNR. Mostly, I was impressed by James’ extensive knowledge on the different types of species of animal at the reserve. It was interesting how he was able to see the ladybirds before we even caught them. This made me consider just how much wildlife I would have overlooked on my self-led walks.


To end my work experience week, I assisted Jack Butlin on the Young Naturalist Project. I helped him create new and exciting ways to make the natural world more appealing to young People. We created a ‘Top-Trumps’ type of game where the children would need to use the information on each card to decipher what type of GNR animal was on it. I also assisted in creating a Ladybird matching game and to my surprise I was able to identify a few of the species just by looking at the picture from my citizen science walk with James the previous day. Jack and I had a chat about his role in the Young Naturalist Project and he expressed his enthusiasm for my future plans. Seeing Jack’s work with children it has helped me to reflect on the importance of communicating the joy and significance of the natural world to the younger generations.

I had a brilliant time over my week with the NHSN and I couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming, enthusiastic and positive experience. I wouldn’t change a thing! This has led me to reflect on myself and think about my future in Environmental Science. I found that my time with the NHSN was a very important stepping-stone into my future education and career as it gave me a much-needed first-hand experience into how conservation organisations like the NHSN function and their role in conservation. All the contacts that I made over the week have left a large impact on me and I am more motivated through their encouragement to pursue my future career and especially their support of my EPQ. Moreover, I felt my time on Friday was rather touching as I was able to help the next generation to perhaps take an interest in the natural world. This week has been the perfect foundation to build my future on and has been an invaluable boost of confidence in my chosen career of Environmental Science. I look forward to working with the NHSN over the summer and into the future.

Johnny Bullar
A-Level Student