Bridgwater College student named Countryfile’s Volunteer Wild Hero

A Foundation Degree Countryside Management student, Julie Merrett, has been awarded Countryfile Magazine’s Octavia Hill Volunteer Wild Hero award. Another member of staff, John Blaney, was also nominated in the awards in the Professional Wild Hero category, and came second.

Bridgwater College student named Countryfile’s Volunteer Wild Hero
Julie Merrett, who won the Volunteer Wild Hero award.

Julie was nominated by Simon Clarke, Senior Reserve Manager for Natural England. The Natural England team based at at Shapwick Heath, part of the Avalon Marshes, where she volunteers and conducts research as part of her Degree. From this Research Project and working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, as part of her course, Julie has found the only specimen of rare shrill carder bee the only specimen in the Avalon Marshes area since 2008!

Julie began volunteering in 2007 with the RSPB’s ‘Bird Friendly Schools’ project, and also with Natural England in 2011 as a work placement to support her degree. Julie now runs and arranges events for the Avalon Marshes Young Wardens Group and the Avalon Marshes Family Group. She organises the Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve Butterfly Transect teams, designs and produces very original environmental games for use by schools, and co-ordinates and designs the quarterly Shapwick Heath Newsletter. Julie has led on several successful ‘small grant’ applications for habitat improvements and is also involved in developing opportunities for secondary schools to learn on the local nature reserves and developing a volunteer species recording project called ‘RoAM’ (Recorders of the Avalon Marshes). Julie will have her work featured in a future edition of the magazine.

Julie, from Godney near Wells said,

“I have been involved in voluntary work with the aim of bringing children and adults to connect, appreciate and understand the natural world around them, for about the last 17 years. It’s what I love to do. It means the world to me to have my work acknowledged and appreciated like this. I am so grateful to the Natural England team at the Avalon Marshes Centre for nominating me and to so many family, friends, fellow parents, children and colleagues for voting for me. The encouragement, kind words and support I have received have been absolutely heart-warming. I also undertook my Forest School Leaders qualification at Bridgwater College,
fellow nominee, John Blaney, was one of my tutors. He was a great inspiration to me and has influenced the way I run my groups and work with children and adults!”

Alan Sinclair, Julie’s Tutor said,

“Julie’s enthusiasm, curiosity and professional attitude have contributed to her success in both her extensive voluntary work and her consistently high grades in her studies. A very worthy recipient of the award; we look forward to working with her in her final year of her Foundation Degree.”

Nigel Cox, Programme Manager for Countryside Management at Bridgwater College said,

“Julie has been a dynamic student, contributing extensively on her Foundation Degree course including representing our students in Europe as well. The courses available at Bridgwater College in Countryside Management provide the opportunity for students to progress from Level 2 Countryside and Environment or Environmental Conservation through to Countryside Management BSc (Hons) Top-Up Degree, and working alongside organisations such as Natural England provides a fantastic opportunity to develop those practical skills so valuable to those organisations.”

Bridgwater College student named Countryfile’s Volunteer Wild Hero
John Blaney, who came runner up in the Professional Wild Hero.

John, who was nominated for the Professional Wild Hero award, was nominated by Louise Coombes, Education Officer at Paignton Zoo, has helped introduce the concept of Forest Schools to the UK, and works with people both nationally and internationally, to teach them about the outdoors for both team building and education.

Karen Morgan, Section Leader for Health, Care and Education at Bridgwater College said,

“John’s work has inspired adults throughout the country to use the outdoors as a learning environment. His passion for Forest School is infectious, his influence has given thousands of children and young people a positive start in their education.”