Simon Roper, Director of Ambios, tells more about the organisation’s role in training the next generation of conservationists and wildlife professionals…
Ambios Ltd is a not-for-profit company (limited by guarantee) providing nature conservation training. Being not-for-profit means that we can only spend our income on our mission, which is to ‘provide inspirational education, practical action, science and technology training and volunteering opportunities in nature conservation in the UK and abroad’. In short, we help people achieve their goals for nature, science, education and employment.
One of our objectives is to manage habitats both for wildlife and as a platform for training. We were established in 2001, and in 2012 we took on the lease of 80 acres of riverside farmland near Totnes in South Devon on an estate owned by the Sharpham Trust (an educational charity which manages 700 acres of tenancy farmland around the historic Sharpham House). Sharpham Trust tasked us with increasing the biodiversity of this part of the estate over a 10-year period. Our leased land at Lower Sharpham Farm is a mix of grazed unimproved pasture and areas of woodland and orchard. It is adjacent to the only area of saltmarsh on the River Dart. We are actively working to increase the biodiversity value of these habitats by improving their botanical and invertebrate species diversity.
At Lower Sharpham Farm we host around 60 residential learners each year (50:50 UK:EU) on work-based (12weeks+) vocational education and training (VET) courses with an additional 80+ UK learners on short duration (2 day – 2-week) VET studies. We deliver a range of practical work-based learning opportunities that showcase wildlife conservation in action.
At the farm we work alongside United Response who support adults with learning difficulties such as Downs Syndrome or Autism. Day-service users undertake practical farm and wildlife management activities. We have a wildlife focus where everyone brings different skills that contribute to the overall objective of understanding, supporting and increasing the biodiversity of the area. Our domestic and international trainees benefit from regular joint learning activities and interactions with the people United Response support, as part of their long-term training placements. These activities help to break down barriers and promotes community cohesion. Consistent positive feedback from trainees indicate these experiences to be a source of inspiration and personal development.
Our farm base acts as a focus for biodiversity improvement activities informed by an ongoing cycle of wildlife surveys leading to land use change, resurvey and land use adjustment. We are currently running a number of research projects focusing on different aspects of farmland biodiversity. These include Bumblebee Longevity, Bat Project and a Biodiversity Quadrat Project. These projects will be our focus for the coming years and each will reveal interesting stories about the biodiversity of Lower Sharpham Farm.
We put wildlife conservation science into practice and run both accredited formal and informal adult education in environmental conservation and technology. We also run programmes that explore teaching and learning, personal development, teamwork and communications skills as well as leadership and social entrepreneurship.
Over the years we have built a very strong network of partner nature conservation organisations (both in the UK and in Europe) with whom we work closely on a diverse range of projects that deliver practical wildlife conservation support and/or informal or accredited formal qualifications.
We continue to seek grant funding for wildlife management and training from a variety of sources. We were a key partner in establishing the excellence of the original 2005 Heritage Lottery Fund LEMUR (Learning Environments: Marine, Urban and Rural) bursary scheme which has, more recently, become the Ambios Ltd led LEMUR+ wildlife.technology.skills project (2015-2017). We have been actively involved with shaping vocational qualifications through our work with LANTRA (the former Sector Skills Council) on the Environmental Conservation Industry Group and more recently via discussions with employers around e-badging bespoke certificated training courses.
Recently we were involved with two Erasmus+ projects involving UK and European partners. The first was an adult education staff mobility project for Hungarian colleagues from a wildlife charity. Ambios trained 16 participants in new concepts in adult education and lifelong learning, a linguistic toolkit and entrepreneurship in the environmental sector. The second project – Careers In Conservation – involved partners from Higher Education and the voluntary sector in Portugal, Hungary and UK and sought to develop employability training for those seeking careers in biodiversity management.
Historically, we have received funding for a range of adult education / wildlife / technology focused projects from Heritage Lottery Fund, Awards for All, JISC (in partnership with the Open University) and the predecessor of the current Erasmus+ EU fund Leonardo de Vinci European Lifelong Learning. One of these grants was for a ‘EuroGIS-GPS’ project establishing a European common standard for technology use in wildlife surveys which are commonly conducted by Countryside Rangers, Nature Reserve and National Park Wardens and Volunteers.
The future is looking exciting as we move towards developing new courses, additional training locations and partnership work with conservation organisations in Europe. All of this activity has a single focus – to help train the next generation of wildlife professionals. Watch this space!
About the Author: Simon Roper is a Director of Ambios responsible for International Relations and Vocational Education and Training. His areas of work include both grant focused project fundraising and training delivering for leadership, entrepreneurial thinking, team working and science communication as well as badger and mammal ecology. His Master’s research focused on badger ecology and he leads the Sharpham Badger TB Vaccination project. He is also the Internal Quality Assurance manager for City & Guilds and Europass certificates. Simon is passionate about ecology, biodiversity and teaching and learning and co-founded Ambios in 2001 to help people achieve their goals for nature and employment.