Writtle College student’s work on BBC Springwatch

July 2014

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(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

She readily admits that even two years ago her wildlife identification skills only stretched to the "odd garden bird and butterfly" but now Jenny Cox's surveying ability has developed to such a degree that she landed a conservation student's dream job - working on BBC Springwatch.

The 23-year-old from Ipswich, who is studying for a Conservation and Environment degree at Writtle College, near Chelmsford, has worked with the RSPB at Minsmere for the duration of the hit television programme and will be continuing to volunteer with them over the Summer.

She said: "It's been brilliant surveying some of the fantastic wildlife shown on Springwatch and to show visitors the wildlife they have seen in their living rooms in front of their own eyes. Every day was different and there was such a buzz about the place, it was really exciting.

“My highlight was being part of the audience of Springwatch Unsprung and meeting with the presenter Nick Baker before the show. It was really interesting to see how live television works.

“I'm a massive fan of Springwatch and the presenters; I look forward to it every year. I'm a big fan of Chris Packham, I grew up watching Michaela Strachan on The Really Wild Show and you can't fault Martin Hughes-Games for his enthusiasm for the show and wildlife!"

It was while she was on a bird identification course with the British Trust for Ornithology that Jenny heard rumours on, appropriately, Twitter that Springwatch may be going to Minsmere in Suffolk. She applied for a volunteer role with the reserve and was successful, so her induction involved seeing the production village and the now infamous rabbits nesting nearby (they were soon predated, mainly by magpies, providing one of the dramas of this year's series) - all under strict secrecy ahead of the BBC announcing where the programme would be based.

Hosting the programme obviously boosted interest in Minsmere – the reserve saw a 50% increase on its expected visitor numbers at this time of year - and Jenny's role was to help with this increase, from working in the cafe to informing them about the conservation success stories on the site such as the bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tit.

She said: “Meeting a variety of visitors at the reserve and introducing them to the reserve has been so rewarding and it was wonderful to show people their first bittern or bearded tit. I found I really got a kick out of inspiring people about the wildlife I'm passionate about and I think this is what will give me job satisfaction once I graduate from Writtle College.”

While volunteering at the reserve, Jenny clocked up her first ever sighting of a nightjar, along with a herd of red deer in the distance.

“I've had some fantastic wildlife experiences,” she said. “My personal wildlife highlights have been walking into one of the hides at the reserve and seeing bittern, marsh harrier, hobby, kingfisher and cranes all within the space of 20 minutes, which was utterly fantastic! It was also great to be joined in the hide by the photographers from the BBC.

“It's a privilege to be able to watch such secretive birds such as bitterns flying over reedbeds. I took part in Bittern Watch - recording weekly observations of the flights of bitterns - and, after never seeing or hearing a nightjar before, I carried out a survey of them. I also have the opportunity to survey butterflies at North Warren reserve, south of Minsmere.

"I was thrilled to be offered this volunteering opportunity; it has provided me with an insight into how reserves are managed and the surveying opportunities have been, and continue to be, really exciting.

I've been able to learn from the RSPB staff about managing a reserve for threatened species and the surveying techniques required to monitor species to ensure survival."

It is a dream position for any Conservation student and shows how her Writtle College degree, which she will complete in September 2015, has given her the skills she needs to succeed in such a competitive environment.

Jenny, who hopes to work in ecology, conducting field studies, working on habitat creation and management plans once she graduates, said: "When I first started my course I think it's fair to say my identification skills regarding wildlife were pretty poor! I could identify the odd garden bird or butterfly so the course has improved my identification skills a huge amount to the point where I'm showing people wildlife at RSPB Minsmere and surveying wildlife!

“The course lectures on habitat management, landscape ecology and biological surveying have provided me with a great knowledge which I was able to exhibit in the interview, especially regarding heathland, wetland and woodland, which are habitats discussed in detail on the course and present at Minsmere. I never thought, when I applied to Writtle College two years ago, that I would be working on BBC Springwatch - and I haven't even finished my course yet!"

• The BSc (Hons) Conservation and Environment degree at Writtle College is now accredited by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). To find out more, including a bursary giving new applicants £1,500 towards their tuition fees, visit www.writtle.ac.uk