It has been four years since the first Skills for Rewilding trainees arrived at Dundreggan. Providing on-the-job training and mentorship to people less likely to work in the conservation sector, the programme will finish in June. Everyone at Trees for Life agrees that the trainees' energy, enthusiasm, and ideas have profoundly impacted our work.
From collecting native tree seed from the end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula to establishing red squirrel populations in remote parts of Sutherland, each year the trainees have a taste for the range of rewilding work we do at Trees for Life. They have helped grow, plant and protect the next generation of Caledonian pinewoods. They have got to grips with deer management. They have strengthened our links with local communities. And most importantly, the trainees say that they have had a great time doing it.
Each year of the programme has been different, reflecting the diverse characters of the trainees themselves. Sometimes the trainees have discovered interests outside of their main chosen area of specialism, which we have nurtured where possible. This year's trainees were interested in using natural materials to build everyday items. We found a willow weaving course where they learned how to construct traditional Highland baskets, called creels. They also took part in a Woodland Activity Leadership course, gaining a qualification in this field - and a host of outdoor skills that will serve many career paths.
This year's trainees, Angus, Alice, Heather and Daniel, are busy with job applications and interviews. They join an alumni of former trainees, many of whom are breathing new life into the world of nature restoration in Scotland - and beyond. All the trainees who have graduated from Skills for Rewilding have gone on to find employment. Callum is now working as a deer manager for a prominent estate in Sutherland. Catriona is managing a farm in Norway. Georgie is a woodland consultant. Heather is a gardener at a Scottish castle. And Tim went on initially to be a horticulture trainee with the National Trust for Scotland and is now employed at a botanic gardens in the south of Scotland.
For each year of Skills for Rewilding, we received a huge number of applications. This shows a growing public appetite to take part in restoring the natural environment. This is fantastic, but many applicants were already very well qualified - applying for entry-level roles. Nationally, we need more investment in skills development in nature restoration so the sector can harness this appetite. There is much rewilding work to be done, and lots of people are interested in doing it.
At the outset of the programme, we wanted to encourage applications from women and young people as two underrepresented groups in the environmental sector. Only 4% of applicants were young people in the first year, but this rose to 62% by the final year. Women also made up more than 50% of applicants. This enabled us to recruit trainees who will help address this lack of diversity.
We would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund for investing in nature and people through the Skills for Rewilding project.