Michelle’s apprentice success story!

When I first arrived I knew nothing!  Or at least I felt like I didn’t.  It was something completely new to me and I wasn’t sure if I would make the grade.  However, that soon became irrelevant and unimportant.

Changing careers can be a daunting prospect as you can never be totally sure whether it’s something you’ll be good at or even like.  I somehow knew though that my decision to change from working in an office doing admin to working as an apprentice for an environmental conservation charity would be the best professional decision I would ever make.

From sitting at a desk, where the only amount of  lifting and carrying I did was to pick up a telephone/biscuit, to working in the countryside where lifting things (very heavy things!) became the norm, was a big change but as I’m always up for a challenge, I persevered.  What could be better than exploring Lancashire’s green hills and getting fit at the same time?

I have been doing a horticulture apprenticeship at Ribble Rivers Trust since October 2017 where I’ve been able to get involved in a wide range of activities, for example fitting eel tiles on a fish pass, to allow eels to migrate upstream (see picture).  Having never used a chisel and hammer (seriously) before, this was a first for me, and only on my second day!  I was going in head first.

Next on the agenda, was planting trees.  And oh boy, was there a lot!   The first site had over 7000 trees and it was the first step I took into learning tree identification.  I remember having a conversation with a friend a few months earlier about how I wished I could identify trees just by looking at their leaves; well now I’m well on my way to doing just that with native trees from the North West of England.

Not long into my apprenticeship I was given the opportunity to lead on activities with volunteers.  My first task was to organise Balsam Bashing sessions during the summer months.  Himalayan Balsam is an invasive and non-native plant that contributes to riverbank erosion and out-competes our native flora, hence why we encourage pulling it out.  On my first day I was nervous to lead my own volunteer day, however my nerves soon dissipated when I met the volunteers who came.  I’m proud to say they are still volunteering with us today, so I must have made a good impression. Or perhaps it was the ground coffee I put in their cups instead of instant and they couldn’t resist teasing me about it again!

My skills were developing quickly, and I  was feeling more confident carrying out practical tasks. During the glorious summer of 2018, I spent most of it outdoors in the sunshine… I sense a bit of envy?  Hmm you should be.  I helped to construct a post and rail fence and made a hurdle to fit between the fence posts (see pictures).

Other activities I was involved in were creating woodland footpaths, hosting community litter picking sessions and creating leaky dams to help slow the flow of water downstream.   Aside from the practical learning, these types of activities helped to explain the importance of caring for our environment and making it a safer, cleaner and more enjoyable place to be in for wildlife and people.

During my apprenticeship I received qualifications in how to apply pesticides using a knapsack, and training I was desperately keen on doing was using a chainsaw, so I gained a qualification in maintenance and cross cutting.  These were things I could never have imagined doing, even a year before the start of my apprenticeship.  Another milestone I reached recently was reversing the utility terrain vehicle onto its trailer (not the easiest of tasks), and it’s something I have struggled to do without assistance in the past, but I managed it once and for all.

I was able to go on a placement to work in the grounds of Whalley Abbey with the Head Gardener (see picture).  Whilst there, I did a variety of tasks that ranged from planting up flower beds, to taking cuttings, to mowing and scarifying lawns.  I liked finding out what plants worked well together, on what aspect and in which soil type.  Having had both experience in horticulture and conservation, I feel I have been able to learn more and gain a wider range of practical experience in both areas which are closely linked.

Now, as I approach the end of my apprenticeship, I have made another leap and will be venturing into the world of amenity horticulture and working alongside other gardeners in a historic garden setting.  For me, working in a garden surrounded by plants is where my passion is and I’m excited to see where it will take me.

Working at Ribble Rivers Trust has meant that I have grown in confidence in my own abilities to do practical tasks but also notably my family have regularly commented on how I seem a much happier person, because I am doing something that I enjoy.  The apprenticeship has had its challenges, but I think it has only proven to me how determined I am to persevere and make sure I finish whatever task I started.  It has been a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills and meet like-minded people and I will take away so many fond memories, even of the singing and awful jokes!

Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway Project

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Primrose Lodge Blue and Greenway Project (PLBGP) is an ambitious project to convert the former Primrose Mill Lodge into a pubic open space within the heart of Clitheroe.

The project is receiving £500,768 from the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, through the European Regional Development Fund, as well as section 106 funding from Ribble Valley Borough Council and charitable funding from Ribble Rivers Trust.

The project will achieve its aims by improving the habitats, providing public access, and connecting the river habitat, and as a result the site will boast a diversity of wildlife for people to explore and enjoy. This project is hoped to be one of several to convert the whole of this site into much valued green and blue space for people and wildlife, unique in its placement with an urban surrounding.

A present day Primrose Lodge

A present day Primrose Lodge

Why is this work necessary?

In 1787 a 7 metre high dam was constructed to provide a consistent source of water that could be utilised to power a cotton mill, and laterally a print works, paper works, and lifting equipment manufacturer at Primrose Works. The Lodge is now redundant owing to significant re-development of Primrose Works negating the need for water supply. The construction of the Lodge prevented upstream migration of a number of aquatic species, but also created an interruption to and artificial sediment regime downstream.

Primrose Lodge Dam

Primrose Lodge Under Construction in the 18th Century

The Lodge was never decommissioned as part of the wider redevelopment, so the negative impact on the aquatic ecology continues, and is negatively impacting downstream as well as upstream. However the unique nature of the site, and lack of human intervention has resulted in the site being given a local conservation designation (Biological Heritage Site). The designation is based on the fact that the industrial activity and artificial nature of the site make a contribution to biodiversity in their own right, as well as supporting flowering ferns and plants that are classed as vulnerable in the “Provisional Lancashire Red Data Lost of Vascular Plants”. The key features already present will be retained and enhanced, whilst new features are also created.

What will the work entail?

The project principally consists of three stages:

    • A fish passage project
    • The de-silting of the redundant mill lodge and planting of marginal and emergent wetland plants, as well as clearance of litter and fly tipping
    • Creation of a footpath, bridge, viewing area, and signage.

You can see a plan of the different pieces of work involved in these stages here

 

What will the outcome of the work achieve?

The fish pass will connect of 9 hectares of Mearley Brook and lead to salmon, sea trout, and eels being present not only in the heart of Clitheroe, but beyond to Worston and into the streams on the side of Pendle Hill.  They will in turn support other wildlife such as kingfishers, herons and otters.

The de-silting will create a permanent open water habitat, which will be home to wildfowl and invertebrates that will support bats and other species, as well as a significant improvement of  the aesthetic value of the site.

The footpath will connect Primrose Road, and the lower end of Woone Lane to Whalley Road, and enable children to walk to school through a woodland walk and nature park.  The viewing area will allow people a much better view across the site, for people to enjoy.

How will we determine the projects success?

We will use a range of measures to determine the project’s success.  These will link to the different aspects of the project.

For the fish pass we will monitor how fish use the fish pass using “PIT tags” (Passive Integrate Transponder Tags), and radio tags, to see how, where and when they migrate, and importantly if they migrate successfully through the fish pass.  We will then monitor the fish populations upstream, and other locations, to compare changes in fish populations to determine if there has been a positive response.

Radio tracking tagged fish on the River Ribble

For the de-silting, we will monitor the water quality coming into and out of the Lodge, but also the water levels and plants, birds and mammals that use the Lodge.  This will be done using “sondes” automated sampling devices that will assess the water quality, and compare how clean it is coming in and going out.  For the plants, birds and mammals, we hope to work with volunteers and run training courses in species identification to gather records on species present after the works are completed, and compare this with the surveys done prior to the works.

The footpaths and viewing areas, we will hold events and undertake surveys to determine how well used the footpath is used, and what people think about the site, and works carried out.  We also hope to use these surveys to identify future work

Who will look after the site post works?

Very excitingly a new Trust – Primrose Community Nature Trust (PCNT) – has been established to own, manage and maintain the site into the future and ensure that it continues and increases its value as a public nature park.   For more information on PCNT please visit their website:

www.primrosecommunitynaturetrust.org