Quantock Hills Blog

Mabel’s blog

- Our work experience student Mabel takes a look behind the scenes.

Katy Coate

Posted by Katy Coate on 07 July 2014

Mabel’s blog Last week I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how the beautiful Quantocks and surrounding areas is managed and maintained for my Work Experience.

On my first day, I spent most of it learning the various aspects of the Quantock Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). I spent a majority of the day in the office at Fyne Court, meeting the staff and learning their roles. Although not particularly glamorous, it was quite eye-opening to see how much work and effort actually goes into maintaining the Quantocks, and seeing that not all of it takes place out on the hills, even the Rangers spend time in the office.

On Tuesday I got to go out with Rebekah West, one of the AONB Rangers, and one of the regular practical volunteers. We began by checking Withymans Pool, which showed signs of off-roading and Dead Woman’s Ditch, walking down along one of the footpaths and up through the forestry. Along the way we saw a small herd of Quantock ponies, one with a very cute young foal and a beautiful blue roan gelding in the car park by Withymans Pool. We then spent most of the day up on Cothelstone Hill. We checked on the small herd of Exmoor ponies that reside on the hill, nine in total, as well as insuring that the reservoir that the ponies get their water from was full enough. We then spent most of the day trekking over the hill checking the heathland for Ragwort, a plant which can be highly toxic to horses, pulling it, and also walking some of the bridleways and footpaths to make sure they were clear and safe.  It was a good day, and although there was a lot of walking involved, the sun never stopped shining and Cothelstone Hill was covered in wildlife that I had never really bothered to stop and look at before.

Wednesday was another practical day. Ranger Owen Jones and his lovely Springer Spaniel, Moby took me to do some practical maintenance in Bicknoller, on a piece of fencing that had completely rotted away, causing the post to become unstable and wobbly and the gate dropped.  We ended up having to take the gate off and completely remove the post, which actually broke in two as we removed it from the ground. We then spent the next few hours digging the remainders of the rotten wood out of the ground, taking out more soil, and breaking the concrete that had been used to put the original post in as the new post was slightly larger. It was very hard work (my arms still hurt now!), but it was very satisfying once it was finished and also gave me a good insight into how much work it takes to maintain all the public paths and bridleways etc on the Quantocks.

Thursday was quite fun and interesting, without having all the physical strain of the previous two days. I spent the day with Nichola Penn, who organised the whole of my work experience at Quantock Hills AONB. Although there was some office work, we also went out around Fyne Court, then Cothelstone Hill to survey the butterfly populations. The sun was shining for a majority of the day and there was little wind, so the butterflies came out in their numbers, and it was very interesting to be with someone who could identify all the different types, instead of just “pretty butterfly!” It also gave us an excuse to walk around Fyne Court and Cothelstone Hill on such a lovely day. At the end of the day we attempted (emphasis on the word ‘Attempted’) to set up a moth trap to run overnight. Unfortunately we couldn’t get it to work, so no moths, which was a little disappointing but not the end of the world.

I spent Friday with Nichola again, helping her make posters and other promotional stuff for the AONB (as well as finishing up this!) and finishing off the paperwork given to me by my school while I was on work experience. It was a nice quiet day to end the week, and as it was quite cloudy and a bit chilly, it wasn’t too bad staying in the office.

All in all it was a pretty good week. The practical days were quite tiring, but I thoroughly enjoyed them; if anything, I wish I had been able to go out more. All of the staff were incredibly friendly and explained everything, answering any questions I had, and I wasn’t afraid to talk or ask questions. I luckily had a very warm sunny week to do my Work Experience, and was able to see some of the more interesting parts of working with the AONB. The Rangers gave me plenty of jobs to do, so I felt like I was useful instead of just standing around and watching them do their job. I am very grateful to the Quantock Hills AONB for allowing me to spend the week with them, as I have been told I was their first ever school Work Experience student.

Mabel Matthews, Haygrove School.


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