As early September rolled around, it was once again time to say goodbye to our previous years placement students and say hello to our new placement students.
The first month of the academic placement at Aigas has been a whirlwind of activity and I have enjoyed every minute of it. Each day has consisted of a new personal wildlife sighting or an educational insight into the day-to-day life of working at a field centre. My time spent in Falmouth prior to coming to Aigas had not prepared me for the diversity of wildlife and scenery that is now right on my doorstep; each day spent out in the highlands revealing stunning views and sightings of species that are often not found south of Scotland. The entire Aigas team has been incredibly friendly and welcoming with the move into the ranger accommodation Sequoia Lodge finally making the whole experience feel real! During these first few weeks we have spent time learning how to care for the wildcats and helping lead guests on fantastic tours throughout the highlands. Having never previously spent time exploring the highlands, each trip out to the surrounding straths and glens has unveiled stunning scenery and brilliant wildlife sightings each and every day. Nature has been on our side – welcoming us placement students with sightings of both golden and white-tailed eagles within the first week! Time spent in the hides has yielded sights of enchanting red squirrels and humorous climbing badgers. One of the highlights of my time so far has been the Fantastic Fungi week with Liz Holden, her enthusiasm and passion was inspiring and eye-opening to the diversity of fungi within the natural world, sparking an interest in mycology which I plan to build upon during my time at Aigas. The most rewarding aspect has been guiding and interacting with guests as they experience their own wildlife encounters, talking and exchanging stories about previous sightings and time spent exploring the natural world. My time at Aigas so far has been absolutely brilliant and I cannot wait to see what the next 11 months will entail.
The first few of weeks of my time at Aigas have been an absolutely amazing experience. The staff have been very welcoming, helping me settle in and begin to discover what life as a ranger in the Scottish Highlands is like. One of the highlights of my first few days here was exploring the site and beginning to see the vast range of wildlife on site. Badgers have been my personal highlight, but the diversity of birds, moths and fungi on site is mind-blowing, and my first ever Scotch Argus was a treat too. It’s a privilege to have so much wildlife, alongside astonishing views right on my doorstep! Work in the past few weeks has included going out with rangers and guests to various parts of the Highlands, along with feeding the wildcats and carrying out site tasks. The variety of opportunities at Aigas is what first attracted me to carrying out a placement here, as I look to forge a career in conservation. Getting hands on with the wildcats and their new-born kittens has been brilliant, but I’ve enjoyed the guiding aspect of the placement even more. I’ve loved learning from the amazing rangers about the Highlands and its wildlife, whilst in the presence of Golden and White-tailed Eagles, Black-throated Divers, Otters and much more. It’s been enjoyable talking to guests and hearing about their wildlife experiences, whilst sharing my knowledge. As a keen birder, I’ve explored various local sites on my days off, seeing some excellent birds at stunning sites, but there’s so much more to see, and I can’t wait for the rest of my year at Aigas!
My first month at Aigas Field Centre as an academic placement has already been filled with a myriad of amazing experiences. My first week alone bought with it a long list of fist sighting for me, from golden eagles and ospreys to badgers and pine martens. And the list seems to grow everyday. Being surrounded by the knowledgable team at Aigas this last month has already provided me with an understanding of our environment that I knew I could not gain within a lecture hall. From the history and geology that explains our landscape today, to identification skills of British flora and fauna. Arriving at Aigas, I was primarily interested in restorations ecology, and more specifically, Scottish mammals and birds. Yet surprising, a highlight for me since arriving has been ‘fungi week’ and having the opportunity to go out for the day with leading mycologist Liz Holden. Learning of the functional importance of fungi within our environment was eye opening, from its decomposing abilities to the fungal communities symbiotic relationship to over 85% of the planets plant and trees. Liz Holden inspired me to learn more about the fungal world, something that was not provided within my university course, and to share this knowledge with guests that may have also not yet had the opportunity to learn for themselves how cool fungi can be. I have also enjoyed time spent with Naturedays, sharing any knowledge I have, hoping it may spark a curiosity in nature that may not have appeared otherwise. I have really enjoyed my time at Aigas so far and am looking forward to see what the next 11 months.
From the minute I arrived at Aigas the team has been incredibly welcoming and friendly, and, therefore, although I have only been at Aigas for one month, I already feel at home! We were soon put into action on-site, learning wildcat and feeder duties, which I now feel confident about doing. I have also spent time working with the Naturedays team who teach kids of all ages about the natural world and plan all sorts of activities, from mammal trapping and fire-lighting to statistics sessions and experiment planning. I particularly enjoyed my day with them making plaster casts of animal tracks and seeing the kids so enthusiastic. We have also been very busy off-site going on days out with guests to the West Coast, Black Isle, Glen Affric, Loch Fleet and Strathconon. Strathconon was particularly memorable; myself, Emilie and our Aigas Wildlife group witnessed a stunning sighting of a white-tailed eagle and a golden eagle. Both soared straight above our heads, putting on a marvellous display and the image will be imprinted onto the back of my eyelids for a very long time! The rangers leading these days out really are specialists in their own right, knowing everything there is to know about highland ecology, geology and history. The site is also teaming with wildlife and I don’t think I will ever get bored of watching pine martens and badgers in the Campbell Hide or getting up early to see the beavers on the loch. I can’t believe how much I have already experienced and learned in my first month at Aigas and I’m curious to see what I learn about Aigas and the highlands as the seasons change and ranger training begins!