Six months of Skills for Rewilding

Trainee Group 02

15th February 2019, by Paul Greaves. Image © Alex MacLeod; Trees for Life. Trainees left to right, Nick, Callum, Tim and Rhona.

Paul Greaves catches up with our ‘Skills for Rewilding’ trainees to find out how they’re getting on now they are halfway through the programme. Paul is responsible for the Skills for Rewilding programme based at Dundreggan, coordinating the training that’s giving fifteen people, over three years, the chance to learn new skills in horticulture, forestry, community engagement and deer and estate management.

'The first half of the twelve month ‘Skills for Rewilding’ traineeships have flown by for Callum, Georgie, Nick, Rhona and Tim - I gathered four of them together for a chat on a cold snowy day at Dundreggan. With recruitment for the second group of trainees approaching, I wanted to find out what their experiences had been like so far.

The first topic of conversation was Dundreggan itself. Tim and Rhona said, ‘as soon as you walk out of the door you feel like you are in a wild place.’ Callum vouched for that, having had a close encounter with a golden eagle on the estate. Recently we have spotted pine marten tracks in the snow, right around the buildings. Nick added that our central location has been ideal for exploring other parts of the Highlands at weekends.

The conversation moved on to the day-to-day experience of learning practical skills associated with rewilding. Everyone felt that they had learned a lot and that the support they’d been given by the Trees for Life mentors had been invaluable. Learning from experts in their field, in a spectacular setting, is what makes these opportunities exceptional.

Trainees have the opportunity to go on work based placements to broaden their experience and I wanted to know what they thought of the opportunities presented so far.

Tim and Nick, Tree Nursery and Horticulture trainees, inspecting the next generation of trees in a polytunnel at Dundreggan. Image © Ewen Weatherspoon.

Nick and Tim have spent several weeks gaining experience at different tree nurseries ranging from Christie-Elite who produce 10 million trees a year to Taynuilt Trees who produce 80 thousand. Nick and Tim were really pleased to find that the skills they had gained in the first six months meant that they could dive right in. That’s exactly what employers are looking for and what these traineeships provide. All the trainees said that the placements had broadened their awareness of where conservation sits in the wider context of land management in Scotland.

Rhona spent time working locally with Glengarry Community Woodland and the award winning Shieling Project on activities linking young people with nature. Rhona also gave an example of going on the Reforesting Scotland ‘Land Revival study tour’ where she saw real world examples of projects balancing the complex needs of communities with utilising land in an environmentally sensitive way.

In addition to developing new skills the trainees tell me that there have been some unexpected highlights which have them buzzing. Four of them live together on site, in accommodation provided by Trees for Life, and living in close proximity they have formed close bonds. They have been able to offer support to each other when needed and they tell me that they talk for hours about their specialism. The constant flow of volunteers is another aspect of the traineeships that they find enjoyable. This has helped them to get a better understanding of the full range of activities which are involved in rewilding an estate with the help of lots of volunteers. Nick in particular enjoys meeting new people and working with them, which isn’t surprising as there are some pretty inspirational people that come to work with Trees for Life.

Nick and Tim, tree nursery and horticulture trainees, and a group of volunteers listening to an informative talk given by Emma Beckinsale (seasonal nursery assistant) at Dundreggan tree nursery. Image © Stephen Couling.

Over the coming months the trainees will be given increased levels of responsibility and continuing to develop their skills - invaluable experience when applying for future employment. I’m really looking forward to the next half of the traineeship and working with each of the trainees to identify the next steps in their journey.'

Find out more about our traineeships


The Skills for Rewilding project is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. This project is making a significant difference in the short term to the employability of the people being trained. In the long term the trainees will go on to take their new found skills into employment where the benefits to wider society and the environment will grow and grow. ​

We also would like to thank all the organisations and individuals that are supporting the trainees in their learning experience. In particular those that are providing, or have offered to provide work placements or learning opportunities. These include, but are not limited to, Taynuilt Trees, Glengarry Community Woodland, RSPB at Corrimony, Christie-Elite, RSPB at Abernethy, Scottish National Heritage, Glengarry School, The Shieling Project, Grace Banks, Reforesting Scotland, Little Assynt Tree Nursery and the University of Highlands and Islands.

Stay connected

Sign up to our mailing list to receive our monthly ‘Tree News’ e-newsletter and other occasional emails about volunteering, events, appeals and fundraising. It’s the perfect way to stay up to date with the latest news about the wild forest and it’s wonderful wildlife.

Sign up