Saving swans and helping hedgehogs

I’m a wildlife apprentice at The Royal Parks, the first it’s had.

At the age of 16 I started an Animal Care National Diploma at Capel Manor College in The Regent’s Park and then became a veterinary nurse.

Although it was rewarding work, I never felt quite satisfied in the field. My dream has always been to work with wild animals in their natural environment, so when the wildlife apprentice opportunity arose I knew I had to go for it.

My apprenticeship began in October and without a doubt it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. As well as learning on the job I’m also working towards my Level 2 Diploma in Work-based Environmental Conservation.

I work mainly with the Royal Parks Senior Wildlife Officers Malcolm Kerr and Dave Johnson, and Conservation Officer Tony Duckett. Between them they have over 100 years experience in helping to care for the wildlife that inhabits our central Royal Parks so I am learning from the very best.

I usually work Monday to Wednesday in The Regent’s Park and Thursday and Friday in the remaining central Royal Parks – St James’s Park, The Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

In a nutshell my job is to help look after the wildlife in the central Royal Parks and help create habitats for them. For example, if a member of the public reports an injured swan it’s my job to help safely capture the animal and bring it to an organisation that can help it such as the Swan Sanctuary.

Feeding the gregarious pelicans and the ornamental collection of waterfowl is another part of the job. This ensures they remain in the best of health as generally the type of food the public feed the waterfowl is bad for their health.

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a number of habitat improvement projects. Under the guidance of Mark Rowe, Assistant Park Manager for The Regent’s Park, I’ve been trying to boost the population of hedgehogs by building tunnels under mesh fencing so they can get about easier. It’s said our hedgehogs can travel up to a 1.5km a night foraging for food and looking for a mate, that’s just under a mile!

In addition I’ve helped install boxes in trees for bird species such as tawny owls and robins as well as clearing reed beds on the wetland pen to attract dragonflies. You can see the pond is full of algae now so our next step will be to clear some of this.

I still have just under a year left of the apprenticeship and I can’t wait to see what challenges await.

**Frances Butler’s wildlife apprenticeship post has been made possible by a generous donation from the Berkeley Foundation. She is employed through The Landscape Group, the landscape maintenance contractor for The Regent’s Park.