After a summer of hard effort and an intense selection weekend, Keilidh Ewan from Aberdeen and Nicola Kerr from Perth have been announced as the winners of the Cairngorms Nature ID competition. They each win a scholarship on a specialised LANTRA Accredited Nature Identification course run by Speyside Wildlife.
Launched in April the competition was aimed at young people (16-30) who have an interest in a career in nature, whether that be as a wildlife guide, a ranger or even a wildlife photographer. Entrants were asked to spend at least 8 weeks watching wildlife in their local area and detailing their observations in a field journal to submit for judging.
Sally Dowden, Owner of Speyside Wildlife explained the reason for being a partner in the competition: “Providing opportunities for young people is crucial to the future economy of the National Park. Partnering with the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) for this competition has meant that we can offer these two bright young women a chance to enhance their skills and job prospects. It also ensures that there will be at least two more passionate and educated people working for nature in the Cairngorms National Park in the future.”
The competition was rigorous, after receiving entrants’ field diaries the judges created a shortlist and the finalists were invited to a day in the Cairngorms National Park. They met with the judges, including TV naturalist Nigel Marvin, and spent the day out in the field where they were assessed on their passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for nature.
Lucy Ford, Conservation Engagement Officer at the CNPA was one of the judges, “It was a tough decision picking two winners from the finalists as they all had strengths. Nicola and Keilidh really stood out for me as dedicated and passionate, both of them are already taking steps to realise their dream of a career in wildlife/conservation and hopefully a place on this course will be the boost they need to achieve their goal.”
On hearing that she had won a scholarship Keilidh, 26 said, “I’ve always been so inspired by nature. Walking and photographing wildlife are some of my favourite pastimes and have taught me what an important role nature has to play in our health and wellbeing. For me, this scholarship will provide the knowledge needed to progress a career working with wildlife, and I feel like there is no more an appropriate time than now to learn as much as we can about our natural environment”
Nicola Kerr, 29, told us “I just can’t believe that I was one of the finalists, never mind one of the winners! I have always had a passion for wildlife and conservation work. I love identifying new species whether it’s in my back garden or on holiday, wildlife is always on my mind and the feeling of seeing something new or rare is such a thrill! This course means that I can broaden my knowledge of specific habitats and the species that depend on them.”
The course is run for 12 months and includes five weekends spent in the field and classroom, plus a large amount of self-study to produce a detailed field notebook. It culminates in a final assessment on all aspects learned. By the end of the course participants should be able to identify the mammals and major birds in the Cairngorms National Park, know what species live in specific habitats and have an appreciation of what wildlife guiding entails.
The winners each receive a funded place on the course and accommodation for each of the weekends in the Cairngorms, provided by: McInnes House Hotel, Kingussie, Greystones B&B, Kingussie and Duke Of Gordon Hotel, Kingussie.