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30 Jul 2019

Insights on Arran

Written by Johnny Wells
Three women stand with a National Trust for Scotland omega sign at the back of a van
University of Edinburgh students Hayley, Sybil and Niamh
When three students joined the Brodick and Goatfell Footpath Thistle Camp, they had to pack hiking boots and waterproofs as they experienced the outdoor conservation work of the Trust!

Often when people stumble across a Thistle Camp on a hillside building a footpath, their first reaction is surprise at the number of people in front of them. This is followed by confusion as to whether they can walk on the new path and finally gratitude that somebody is doing the work and that it’s volunteers carrying out the tasks rather than contractors.

Three new Thistle Campers were recently introduced to the world of conservation, where they got first-hand experience of this range of reactions. All are University of Edinburgh students taking part in the university’s Insights programme. This is the second year Thistle Camps have teamed up with the university to enable students from a variety of backgrounds to develop skills in environmental management. The Insights scheme was set up to inspire students, increase their personal and professional confidence, and widen their networks. The students benefit from the university alumni hosting them and sharing their knowledge and experience of various job sectors.

Seasonal Thistle Camp leader (and University of Edinburgh graduate) Johnny Wells was joined on Arran by first year students who had the opportunity to work with Trust staff including Kate Sampson (head ranger), Patrick Hayes (head gardener) and Nan Morris (mountain footpath team), who all experienced very different career paths before joining the National Trust for Scotland.

A group of around 10 people on a hillside on Arran
Brodick and Goatfell footpath Thistle Campers

Johnny’s involvement in the Insights programme came from wanting to emulate those who informed his own career path by sharing their knowledge and passion with him, ultimately inspiring him to work with groups in the outdoors. With environmental issues garnering increasing public awareness, he explains: ‘With Thistle Camps I truly believe we have an amazing way to help people get first-hand involvement in protecting Scotland’s landscapes and heritage for generations to come. The National Trust for Scotland has the opportunity to lead by example by creating future forests, capturing carbon through bog restoration and protecting fragile environments through path building. While we’re getting vital work done we’re also changing individuals’ understanding of our work, their appreciation of Scotland and creating future members for years to come.’

Hayley, one of the students, added:

‘The work itself on the footpath was challenging, and at times it could be frustrating. I was paired with another volunteer for the week and we were tasked with building a cross drain using natural materials that we had to find on the hillside. It surprised me as to how technical the task became, and as a keen hillwalker it has really made me appreciate the work that goes into creating access to areas like this across Scotland. On a recent walk, I even stopped at one point to look in more detail at a cross drain that had been built into a path at a higher altitude!’

Two women in waterproof jackets and midgie nets building a cross drain on a hillside
Michelle and Hayley building a cross drain while battling the local midgie population

She continued: ‘Overall, I genuinely had a great time on the Insights placement. I learned a lot about the National Trust for Scotland as an organisation and some of the roles that fulfil the important work they do in maintaining Scotland’s heritage. I met lovely people who have inspired me to take up some volunteering with a local conservation group and I would like to do more work with the Trust in the future.'

A woman carrying footpath surfacing from a gravel pit
Carrying footpath surfacing from a gravel pit

Sybil, another of the students, also took time to reflect on her experiences:

“During my time working with the National Trust for Scotland I learned a lot about the importance of the hard work of the footpath team and their volunteers.”

‘As a hillwalker myself, I gained an even greater appreciation for the beautiful footpaths we have in Scotland. The team at the Trust shared their incredible knowledge and gave a fantastic insight into all that the organisation does. I learned that the Trust works with external partners to give groups such as the homeless and refugees the opportunity of a week in the hills, immersed in breathtaking Scottish scenery and working for a good cause. I was extremely impressed to discover this as it showed me that the work of the Trust not only has a positive impact on those who love and appreciate nature and the outdoors, but also wider social groups in Scottish society. From the creative work of the footpath building team to the baking skills of the Thistle Camp leaders, my experience left me with a praiseworthy impression of the National Trust for Scotland and its skilled and kindhearted team.’

So, the next time you come across our Thistle Campers busy at work, feel free to stop and ask the volunteers what impact the trip has had on them – you might be surprised at what they share!

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