Chagos Environment Training Course
In 2012, ZSL ran the first Chagos Environment Training Course with a successful team of twelve Chagos Ambassadors from both the Manchester and Crawley Chagos communities.
This year, we embarked upon a new intensive summer of learning and activities. Once again, we are bringing together twelve committed and energetic Chagossians ready to experience some wild outdoor adventures. The course has run throughout the summer, interspersing weekend workshops with residential courses and away days. It all started at Sayers Croft activity centre where the Manchester and Crawley groups first met.
We are now in the final stages of the 2013 training and eagerly await this year’s Award ceremony.
ZSL Connect Chagos: People and Wildlife is always thrilled to hear from potential candidates for the course. If you are interested please email the team: firstname.lastname@example.org
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To find out more about what to expect follow the blog below with experiences from the course students themselves as they embarked on this 9 week intensive foray into the world of conservation...
Challenge one - Two teams one challenge
The Chagos Environment Training Course kicked off at Sayers Croft activity centre, Surrey. The team building challenge for the whole group brought back some great memories of last year, especially when the 2013 team once again smashed the centre record for least number of penalties.
An extremely busy weekend followed: high ropes, team building exercises and land restoration projects.
We couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the course and to the new team players.
Tracy comments: “What a great adventure I have just had. I loved it! It was really a great experience meeting everyone, making new friends and also working as a team. The things I have loved during this weekend were working with everyone, helping others and boosting my confidence to work with others. At the end of the day, I have enjoyed the various activities that I have done. I did not expect much as I thought that the weather wouldn’t be nice but it was hot and sunny so therefore I enjoyed it. It really was amazing, so far so good… Can’t wait for the barbecue and wish for more good things to come!”
Lia comments: “First of all, it was a great day for me by meeting some new people. At first, we didn’t know each other at all but by the end of the weekend it was like we knew each other for a long time. I also loved all the activities that we have done, things that we have never done before. I wish we can have it again and again. Thanks”
Challenge two - Introducing land management for conservation
The Manchester trainees had a fabulous day exploring habitat management at Risley Moss nature reserve, Cheshire with the great support of the reserve rangers and Natural England.
The issues suffered on site surprisingly mirror those being tackled on the islands of Chagos. With an invasion of Rhododendron and increasing damage from other invasives the trainees helped out by getting stuck in to some control activities, before building a dam to assist part of the mini-moss restoration project.
“Great day out with all the rangers at Risley Moss, lots of hard work, team work and fun”
Back down in the South east, the Crawley crew spent a day at Hampstead Heath, with Justin and Grace from the ranger service.
They too learned about invasive species on the heath such as the infamous Himalayan balsam and non-native crayfish that have crept in to the ponds, threatening our native species.
Practical activities showed the team how these problems have to be managed properly and in the long term. This was followed by a chance tree climbing – an important skill in the management of woodland.
Challenge three - Coral reefs as you've never seen them before
Corals are certainly challenging to understand; from the basic structure and differentiating the species, to understanding the multiple threats they face from global and local actors.
With activities planned using aquarium collections (a bit more close-up than the reefs of Mauritius) the Chagos trainees were truly immersed in coral identification skills, and got some bonus face time with amazing fish and other sea creatures.
By introducing the different forms, wall structures and distinguishing features of numerous corals the trainees were able to successfully tackle their own coral keys. An introduction to climate change was put in to perspective by introducing its effects on the world's reefs. All thanks to two amazing coral experts and aquarists: Rachel Jones at London Zoo and Graham Hill at The Deep aquarium, Hull.
Tracy comments: “I have embraced new skills as I am now aware of coral reefs, polyps, calcium within coral and more. I have really increased my knowledge on sea habitats and understand the importance of climate change. It helps me to find new ideas to try to stop those problems to occur again."
Challenge four - Inspiring conservation
A morning session focusing on communications, hosted at Manchester museum, involved discussions with various staff and volunteers all playing different parts in the museum’s efforts to inspire its visitors.
After an introduction to event planning from Anna, the ZSL team got them thinking about methods within their own community and the trainees then planned and pitched a ‘Communicating Chagos’ event using one of the bursaries ( funding available to all the trainees - handily introduced that morning) for funding.
The activities were further brightened by a short introduction to the living collections with Andrew Gray with some frog and snake handling. In the afternoon, Anna introduced us to Communication and event management, before they have to go and create their own ‘Chagos event’ as a group.
Lia comments: “I had a really nice day and I’ve learned quite a lot today, especially about how to protect the environment and also learnt about snakes, frogs and much more. It was also about communication and how to plan an event. I have also learn what ZSL does in general and very interesting ways of letting people know about global warming and how to protect things”
Yvanne comments: “I was really excited about holding a snake for the first time in my life”
Challenge 5- Discovering Wales – the bird and marine life of the Menai Strait
The CETC team spent three wonderful and thought-provoking days in north Wales, hosted by Dr. John Turner at the School of Ocean Sciences, University of Bangor.
For the first day, the group were introduced to sea bird monitoring with the help of Kathy and Ken, wildlife professionals from Naturebites. From the sea cliffs of South Stack RSPB reserve we were able to explore the star species of the region: Choughs; Guillemots; Razorbills… It seems that only the famous Puffin was missed (by just a couple of weeks).
Topping this off was a quick visit to the nearby North Wales Wilidlife Trust’s Cemlyn nature reserve. Scanning the skies in search for a few remaining migratory Sandwich terns soon led to the trainees spotting a small colony of Grey seals hauled out on a nearby bank or swimming in the shallows. A real highlight.
Day two involved our ZSL marine specialist, Rebecca Short, introducing the trainees to the fisheries of the open ocean, the need for Marine Protected Areas and the current state of protection in the big blue. An introduction to the conservation challenges in the marine environment was cemented through participation in a role play.
Groups of trainees represented key stakeholders in a meeting concerning the gazetting of a marine reserve. The introduction of a ‘speaking stick’ did little to quell the chaos. This was essential in understanding the various challenges that NGOs, governments and fishermen face every day.
For the afternoon the trainees were treated to a taster of Chagos’ pristine islands and marine wildlife by Dr. John Turner before a trip to Church island at low tide for an introduction to biological survey and the incredible diversity of life near Menai Bridge. The trainees really enjoyed exploring British wildlife and identified species ranging from brittle stars and edible crabs, to encrusting bryozoans and sea squirts.
The final day gave the trainees an opportunity to get some of their finds from the shore under a microscope. Getting up close and personal with the ‘gills’ of a sea slug, or the fascinating feet of a common starfish was an eye opener for most.
Over lunch we took a boat to Puffin island in order to catch a few more species of bird, including Shags, Cormorants and Kittiwakes and also a lucky spot of another Grey seal in the calm water.
Lastly, the trainees took to the pool of the Plas Menai watersports centre where they ended the weekend with a try dive guided by the expertise of Steve Barnard and the Bangor University dive team. For most this would be their first time underwater with SCUBA gear and it was greatly enjoyed by all!
Challenge 6 - From the ground up - botany and plant life of Chagos
The finale of ZSL's Chagos environmental training was dedicated to botany at The Ness botanical gardens near Liverpool. With microscopes, scalpels and steady hands the trainees discovered plant anatomy up close, followed by a guided tour of the gardens where they learnt about flowers, pollination and the plant-based ecosystems we are all so reliant upon.
The highlight of the day was discovering some of our everyday fruit and vegetables that we all need to stay healthy can actually be poisonous if consumed in large amounts! The intricacies of creating the perfect conditions and managing your own vegetable gardens sparked much interest throughout the group.
Along with the beautiful flowers and species of tree in the gardens, they also learned about the diseases that sometimes blight them and how to manage it for both the trees, and for people.
The Reward - Connect Chagos Award Ceremony 2013!
The Connect Chagos project, led by the Zoological Society of London and in partnership with many supportive organisations, has completed its environmental training course for the second year. Eleven participants from Chagossian backgrounds took on the challenge of learning new environmental skills. From marine surveys on the coastline of Wales to exploring invasive species in Hampstead Heath, the trainees have been exposed to ecology and conservation from multiple angles.
The nine week training course closed on an inspiring note. An award evening was held in the historic site of Manchester Museum. Forty people were present, including the trainees and their families but also our project partners such as John Turner (Bangor University), Tania Paschen (Pew) and the Tom Moody (Foreign and Commonwealth Office). The event opened with an inspirational talk from ZSL Education Officer, Ana Pinto, followed by the story of the training as told by Lia Tallot, one of this year’s trainees and Rudy Pothin, Assistant Outreach Officer. John Turner then took some time to remind the group why this project is important in conservation of the ecology of Chagos. Heather Koldewey, ZSL, finally closed the event by awarding each trainee with a certificate and a medal.
Huge congratulations to the Connect Chagos: People and Wildlife Ambassadors of 2013!