Volunteer Josh Pridding shares how his experience volunteering at Gosforth Nature Reserve and with NHSN has helped him start his career in ecology and conservation.
Students at university can feel the impending pressure of their highly anticipated post-graduation life. I was in a similar situation toward the end of my journey at university. I didn’t have a plan, but I had a passion for ecology and realized I had to put the work in. By volunteering with the NHSN throughout my final year I formed solid relationships with reliable contacts and eventually got a reference that helped me get my current job. I graduated Newcastle University with a 2:1 in Marine Biology and I’m now employed by Biomatrix Water Solutions. This is a practical conservation company who design and install floating ecosystems.
I started volunteering for the NHSN in July 2021 after receiving an email asking for volunteers to help with an open day at Gosforth Nature Reserve. While there, I got chatting to other volunteers about career prospects and someone informed me about the Student Awards Scheme. the Student Award Scheme rewards volunteers with a certificate of achievement which is dependent on how much time and effort you put into work at the NHSN. The beauty of this certificate is that it shows the time you’ve spent outside of your degree gaining experience. It can be something you put onto your CV and LinkedIn to make you stand out.
The certificate isn’t just great for your CV. It’s great to develop your personality and your memories of your time in Newcastle. Gosforth Nature Reserve is a gem of natural beauty. The variety of wildlife at the reserve helped me reconnect with nature after three years of limiting myself to the city. Additionally, there is a real sense of community in the team. Members of the Wednesday morning volunteer group use the nature reserve as a social opportunity as well as a chance conserve nature. Working outdoors is my bread and butter, so this aspect of working on the reserve was my favourite. Jobs like clearing Himalayan Balsam taught me about the management of invasive species and it gave me a chance to get into the depths of the nature reserve. This is when you feel as if you’re in the middle of the wilderness, which is so hard to come by when you live in a city. Other experiences, such as building a new hide gave me some basic woodworking skills that will no doubt come in handy later in life.
If conservation management isn’t for you, there are other things you can do! Welcoming visitors, assisting with Bioblitz’s in Newcastle parks and Northumberland Nature Reserves, writing blogs or speaking at an 1829 talk. There’s something for everyone of all abilities and availabilities. The volunteering is flexible, you aren’t under any obligation to turn up every single week making it accessible. I worked part time in hospitality while at university and my ever-changing schedule meant I couldn’t make it to the reserve every week. Luckily, this didn’t mean I couldn’t volunteer. This worked perfectly for me as I could balance my time between deadlines and work while still gaining experience with the NHSN.
How did this lead to me getting a job when I finished university? My volunteering experience with the NHSN allowed me to stand out in my interview by talking about field experience outside of university. In addition, I got a reference from NHSN Director Clare, a lovely lass who wants the best for the NSHN and her volunteers. I’ve been informed by my new boss that my reference from Clare was glowing, and my volunteering experience made me stand out.
I want to make it clear that volunteering with NHSN does not guarantee you a job when you come out of university. However, it does give you talking points for interviews and a potential glowing reference which comes with a good work ethic and a motivation to start your career. It’s good for character building where a few rainy days on the reserve make you resilient to other life issues like exams, assignments and your own individual battles.
It’s these values and benefits from volunteering with the NHSN that made working with them nothing short of an absolute pleasure. I could not recommend this place anymore to someone working towards a career in ecology and conservation. It is a great way to prepare for post-university life.
Are you a student and want to get involved? Take part in the Student Award Scheme.