Lineside Conservation Volunteer Assistant, Charlotte Baldwin, talks to us about how she became part of the Lineside Conservation Team as a Student Placement and what it's been like volunteering with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

I have experienced quite the change of scenery in the past year: from spending most of my time behind a computer screen, writing essays, to now exploring the NYMR lineside on a weekly basis. When I first tagged along to a wildlife survey last summer, I did not expect it to turn into a student placement for the NYMR.

This year, 2022, would have been my final year of my BSc Biology degree at the University of Sheffield. Instead, I chose to spend it as a Lineside Conservation Volunteer Assistant here at NYMR, and I am so relieved that I did! My degree would normally have many lab sessions and field trips, yet due to the pandemic, many of these vital practical experiences were lost. Working for the NYMR in its unique environment, has allowed me to develop many practical and transferrable skills, and for that I am so grateful.

The very first wildlife survey I attended was a bat survey, where we were looking at the features of trees used by roosting bats. Even though a common pipistrelle can eat over 3,000 insects in one night, I ended up with an anklet of insect bites as I made the mistake of wearing cropped trousers - a mistake I shan’t repeat! I really enjoyed the survey and went along to a couple more through the summer of 2021, before deciding that I was keen to take a year away from my studies to gain some practical experience.

I asked Kerry Fieldhouse (Lineside Conservation Officer for the NYMR, who leads the surveys) if she could take me on as a placement student and she very graciously agreed to do so. My journey with the railway officially started in October 2021, when I became a member and completed my PTS.

Charlotte identifying fungi on a boundary inspection.

A big focus of my role is habitat management for conservation. I was fairly useless when I first started working at the railway. I’d never even been near loppers before! I was very lucky to have Kerry and the Lineside Conservation Team who were very patient with me and supported me the whole time. I can now confidently use a range of hand tools and have a brushcutter certificate.

Whilst much of my time has been very hands on and practical, spending some time behind a computer has been beneficial. I have helped to write risk assessments for the Lineside Conservation Team and created species guides, both of which have allowed me to gain confidence when working on the lineside. One task that I particularly enjoyed was helping to create the wildlife monitoring plan for this year, as I was able to see what beloved creatures I might get the chance to come across in the coming months.

Vermillion waxcap. A small but vibrant mushroom I spotted whilst working on the lineside.

I had no idea how out of touch with nature I had become whilst at university. My degree is based on animal and plant sciences; however, it is often looking at tropical forests and global issues. It was easy to forget the beauty and diversity of our own countryside whilst looking out of my window in central Sheffield on a dreary day.

I did manage to escape to the Peak District a couple of times in between exams and essays, yet I did not stop to truly observe my surroundings in the same way that I do now after working on the lineside. I feel honoured to work in such a special little area, with so many different habitats and species. It would be rude to not give it all my attention.

Not only have I gained practical conservation skills, but I’ve also learned much about the history of the railway. Taking part in the restoration of the lineside huts has been incredibly interesting and I look forward to seeing how they will look after a little more TLC. Furthermore, I have a personal connection to the railway and its past - my grandfather joined the railway shortly after WWII and worked his way up to station master at Coxwold, before its closure in 1964.

My grandfather (front of photo). Photo taken from the Railways of Ryedale by Patrick Howat.

As spring gets into full swing, I welcome the warmer temperatures and all the life they bring to the lineside. I have seen a great burst of activity already, with shoots sprouting and reptiles making use of any warm spots they can find. I am truly excited for the remaining months of my placement at NYMR, to listen to the endless lessons that our natural world has to teach. In September, I must return to my studies in Sheffield. It is without a doubt that I will miss my time here dearly, and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to work in such a special place.

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