I asked Jennie Comerford, the FSC's National Grants Officer, to tell us more. Over to Jennie:
"The scholarship continues to attract young people who surprise us with the depth of their passion for the natural environment and the knowledge they have already accrued for their young age. We asked the 2017 cohort what they hoped they would get out of their scholarship and some common themes emerged in their replies:
- Better identification of plants
- Learn more about conservation
- Increase my general knowledge of nature as I usually don’t have an opportunity to do so and help decide whether I want to do ecology at Uni
- Meet some new people who have similar interests and have fun together
- Increase knowledge of entomology
- Get connected with other YD scholars and experts and the FSC
- Become better at recording field studies and pick up more refined field techniques.
"The Scholarship is a unique opportunity and we now have over 100 YDS alumni with the scheme in its 7th year. Our first cohorts have graduated and many are now at early stages of their careers in the sector. They remain involved through various social media platform groups".
One of last year's Young Darwins, Oliver Spacey, wrote a personal account of his experience and he kindly agreed to share it with News & Views readers. Over to Oliver:
"Have you ever sat alone on a patch of grass, simply watching, listening and absorbing all the environment has to offer? If not, then that is far from uncommon and you may even think it slightly peculiar. I too had not experienced this myself until very recently, when the FSC allowed me to enter the remarkable mind of a 19th century naturalist and reconstruct my perspective of the natural world. If, in fact, you have had the luxury of sitting and observing your natural surroundings for even a mere five minutes, you will empathise with the fascination for wildlife that the FSC inspired in me when I participated in a five-day introductory course to the Young Darwin Scholarship, a unique opportunity offered to keen naturalists to support them for the future.
"Having been one of the fortunate fifteen young people that received the scholarship in 2017, I am now part of an extensive network of contacts including experts and other scholars, yet I did not quite realise how invaluable this support would be until I took part in the “What would Darwin do today?” residential at the picturesque Preston MontfordField Centre near Shrewsbury.
"Upon my arrival, any apprehension was soon abandoned as introductions and short team-building investigations revealed the many similar interests we shared, highlighting the mutual passion that is at the heart of the scholarship. In only several hours, it seemed odd to think we had previously been strangers, and our synergy was to be an integral part of both the residential and the scholarship as a whole. Activities over the next few days ranged from the exploration of a disused lead mine at Snailbeach (that was one for the geologists!) to a rather therapeutic walk across the impressive terrain of the Stiperstones, where we kept an eye out for red grouse scurrying about the heath moorland and listened intently to the entertaining folklore behind the mystic landscape. Furthermore, we were collectively rather successful at overnight mammal trapping before canoeing down the River Severn, past the birthplace of Charles Darwin himself, to ‘kick sample’ for aquatic invertebrates. On this adventure we revelled in the deep blue flashes of kingfishers darting past and even got a glimpse of a buzzard from only several feet away!
"Bat detecting, birdwatching and inspirational talks from ecologists were appreciated by all, and a whole day was dedicated to a fast-paced BioBlitz in which we attempted to identify and record as many species as possible within a time frame. During this investigation, Henry, Adam and I were personally captivated by the revelation of the mysterious world of springtails; microscopic invertebrates that go undetected by the many yet are in truth extremely diverse and unique. After a campfire and much reflection, alas it was time to depart, not forgetting the countless unforeseen things we had learnt.
"As well as enhancing my data recording skills and my ability to identify a whole range of wildlife, the beginning of the scholarship has taught me how to make the most out of being a naturalist, and I only anticipate how it will help me in the future with a myriad of opportunities to come. And if you ever do find yourself sat alone in your garden, or leaning against an oak surrounded by woodland, or anywhere in the vast outdoors, connecting with your environment, then you will learn what the FSC’s scholarship has taught me above anything else; there will always be more to learn about nature, the trick is to never stop discovering".
Many thanks to Jennie and Oliver for these accounts and to the BSBI membership for their continued support for the Young Darwin Scholarship. You can read here and here about how BSBI has supported YDS in previous years, including in 2017 when George Garnett [also the youngest person ever to address the BSBI's Annual Exhibition Meeting] enjoyed the YDS experience and shared his Diary of a YDS on these pages.