Careership with the National Trust
Dan Billington tells it straight


ow employed in what he describes as 'a fantastic job': Dan worked through the Careership training scheme, and whilst doing so found the time to write an account of how he got onto it, and what his own views are on the value of the scheme.

I’ve wanted to be a Ranger/Warden since I got my first taste of it at the age of 16 during work experience from college. After completing my A levels I took the predictable step of undertaking a BSc in Conservation Biology which appealed to me as it seemed a fairly practical based course. The only problem being they meant 'white coat' practical, not 'big muddy boots' practical! It lasted for the first semester, which is when I plucked up the courage to tell my folks “Sorry, this isn’t for me, I want to get… muddy!” As you can probably imagine that went down like a lead balloon.

After a year of working at a DIY store and the occasional bit of labouring, whilst volunteering with Lancashire countryside service at the weekends I applied for, and was accepted onto, the National Trust's Careership programme, I was delighted. Only problem was that I’d been accepted for a job at a Place called Trelissick in Cornwall, and Cornwall was about 400 miles from my home in Lancashire.

Anyway, I bit the bullet and made for Cornwall… I can safely say it’s the best move I’ve ever made.

The first few weeks were hard work. I thought I was fit, boy did I get a shock! I’d stagger home and sleeps like a baby (a baby with aching muscles) until the next morning. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work, but also very rewarding. I was doing what I’d wanted to do for years and, in my opinion, in one of the most beautiful places in the country.

I’m now in my third and final year and have learnt absolutely loads, I’ve been taught to drive tractors, use chainsaws, brushcutters, welders, basically a wide variety of kick-ass (can I say that?) machinery, all manner of hand tools and the woodwork, metalwork and construction skills to put them all to good use. As well as practical skills I’ve also been taught habitat management, both at college and at work. At Trelissick there is mainly parkland and woodland as well as the foreshore so I have been taught ‘on the job’ about those habitats. At college we have been taught about other habitats that I don’t have experience of such as heathland, sand dunes and wetlands.

As I’ve already mentioned it I’ll say a bit more about college. At the moment the Trust sends all the trainees to Bicton College in Devon. All travel costs are paid for by the Trust, as is accommodation and food whilst you are there. It was a bit scary going for the first time, and a bit daunting meeting up with 7 other people who you don’t know and with whom you are going to spend 10 weeks every year for the next three years. It worked out well though; we all get on really well and its good to chat with people doing the same thing in different parts of the country. You learn a lot from each other as you are all on different properties and have different experiences. In my year there are 8 of us. The youngest was 16 when he started and the eldest was 29, 6 lads and 2 lasses, working in places from Dartmoor in Devon and Camarthenshire in Wales, to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire and the North Downs in Surrey. As for the NVQs, once you get past the jargon its quite simple. That doesn’t mean its easy, you still have to work hard at it but you get a lot of support from both the college and the Trust to help you along.

What else can I say, after 3 years I’ve learnt and carried out my own work programmes such as a thinning programme, organised and conducted surveys into heather regeneration, lead guided walks, planned and lead education visits for kids, felled trees, planted trees, learnt about live stock, built fences, hung gates, supervised volunteer groups, delivered talks to groups, and I still sleep like a baby (but my muscles don’t ache as badly anymore) the list goes on. So if you want to be a ranger/warden then careership has got to be one of the best options around and to top it all you are working for one of the country's (and possibly the world's) leading conservation organisations. (Sorry just couldn’t resist that bit of propaganda). So go for it, and good luck. As I said it’s the best move I’ve ever made.

Dan Billington Nov 2001