Crayfish, catchment mapping and conservation - Charlie's year at ERT

by Charlie Priestley,

Ecology and Wildlife Conservation student at Bournemouth University

Cumbria… home to The Lake District, Hadrian’s Wall and most importantly, Eden Rivers Trust whom I have been fortunate enough to spend my 30-week placement with as part of my degree studies. If you’ve ever wondered what a university student’s placement involves … read on! 

Why Eden Rivers Trust?

In April 2022, I contacted Eden Rivers Trust about a potential placement year and after a Zoom call discussing what I would be doing and a bit more about the Trust, my placement year was sorted.

I chose Eden Rivers Trust because of the Eden catchment’s setting in between the Lake District and the Pennines and, after visiting Cumbria a couple of times previously, I knew it was a great opportunity to meet new people and go to new places … all with a fantastic view.

In at the deep end ... literally

Upon arrival in September, I was greeted with the surprise task of going to Hartsop to conduct a fish rescue. This uses electro-rod fishing to catch as many fish (we caught salmon, trout, eel, minnow, and bullheads) as possible in a closed-off section of river to move them to a safe stretch of river upstream of a river restoration project. The rest of the week was spent getting to know the team through inductions and site visits.

In my second week, I was thrown in the deep end as it was time for the trust’s 5-year strategic plan. Being new to the trust, it was interesting to hear what has been achieved in the past and what the goals and aims are for the next 5 years.

I was then introduced to the mink control programme in the Lowther catchment. This has been put in place with the eventual goal of being able to reintroduce water voles. At first, I was just building and setting up traps, however minking is a slippery slope and soon found myself extracting stinky mink scent which can be used as lures for the traps, a skillset I will proudly display on my CV.

Helping to set up the Eden Community Tree Nursery

people stood round a table sorting different types of seeds

Research and trials

Around November time, the phrase ‘nutrient neutrality’ started to pop up around the office and I was soon tasked to try and find as much as I could about how effective different mitigation strategies (such as wetlands and buffer strips) are at preventing phosphorus and nitrogen from entering water bodies. Although tricky, I eventually produced a review after which I was given the opportunity to give a short presentation to CaBA (Catchment Based Approach) on my findings.

I was then let loose with ArcGIS (mapping and data analysis software). I originally used it to identify potential sites across the Westmorland Dales for a natural flood management project, however, it came in useful for a range of other mini projects too.

ArcGIS also comes with other applications such as Survey123 which allows you to make online surveys. Around January time we trialled a vehicle condition and mileage survey for the work vehicles as an alternative to using paper which has been a success so far.

Practical conservation in The Great Outdoors

Being out in nature is one of the reasons I got into conservation, and during my time at the trust I regularly got out and about across the Eden catchment, This included joining in on walkovers in the Caldew catchment, doing natural capital surveys, taking photos and videos of past and current projects using the drone and undertaking eDNA sampling for signal crayfish and crayfish plague.

I also regularly joined the volunteers on their work parties; whether it was helping with the construction of the tree nursery on a Tuesday or tree planting, hedge laying, coppicing, or hedge planting on a Thursday.

Altogether it has been a fantastic placement that has given me a great insight into what working in conservation is like and I would like to thank the wonderful team at Eden Rivers Trust for having me.


Eden Rivers Kingfisher Icon
Eden Rivers Kingfisher Icon