University Placements at NT Studland Bay
Case Study Type:
Public Engagement Case Study
Sand dune system:
National Trust Studland Bay, Dorset
Case Study Subject:
Providing 8 university placement opportunities within the areas of citizen science and engagement.
About The Dune System Engagement Intervention
For 5-weeks (June/July 2021), eight placement students worked full time for the Dynamic Dunescapes project at Studland Bay, part of the NT Isle of Purbeck property in Dorset. Dynamic Dunescapes is a partnership project, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and the EU LIFE Programme, to restore sand dunes across England and Wales. Three university placements were offered: citizen science, engagement and combined.
The period not only provided meaningful work and experience for university students, but crucially indicated the benefit placements can have on a NT property: increasing capacity, producing high quality work, bringing in new ideas and broadening our audience. Here is a short report on what we did, how, why, and what difference it made.
Objectives: young people
As a young person it is incredibly difficult to gain experience in the conservation sector. As a result, students look to volunteering abroad or become disengaged with the sector. This creates a significant age and economic gap in the UK conservation sector.
Currently, just 3% of NT volunteers and 22% of staff are under 25 years old. University placements provide an opportunity to change these numbers and achieve NT’s Everyone Welcome ambition.
The student placements were set up to:
- Provide meaningful work experience for university students
- Provide insights for young people into the conservation sector of the UK
- Increase skills and confidence of young people
- Allow a tailored experience: the offer focussed on students being able to make the experience their own, depending on their interests and ambitions
- Advocate the skills and assets of young people in NT
Objectives: NT Purbeck
Volunteering in Purbeck is fairly standard for the sector, dominated by regular staff-led tasks and populated by a 55+ age group. We want to change that and explore how to work better with the HE sector. One of the Dynamic Dunescapes aims is to develop independent and diverse volunteer groups, giving us an opportunity to offer a different type of volunteering experience.
How we recruited placements
Recruitment occurred by utilising a variety of established networks: Bournemouth University contacts (careers page, BU placement coordinator and BU dune events), NT Studland Bay Instagram account, Dynamic Dunescapes website and newsletter, and DD volunteer groups.
What resources did it take?
Around 20 days of staff time were required for the placements (including 3 days planning, 2 days recruitment, 5 days training and 2 days weekly management), in return the students provided us with an extraordinary 200 days of work.
Citizen science placement outputs
- Students led the citizen science volunteer group, which occurs every Friday
- Students produced reports and collected a huge amount of data, during a peak recording season, which was essential in monitoring the impact of Dunescapes interventions
- Dipwells were surveyed for physical elevation, groundwater depth, pH and conductivity
- Scrapes and Southern Heath were surveyed for the colonisation of sand lizards and rare invertebrates (heath bee-fly, mottled bee-fly and heath tiger beetle)
- The strandline and embryo dunes of Shell Bay were surveyed for specialist plant species (prickly saltwort, sea rocket and frosted orache)
Engagement placement outputs
Placement students dramatically increased capacity during a peak engagement period, this not only enabled more work to occur but also increased the success and impact of the work:
- Instagram: Placement students took over the Instagram account, posting high quality content daily. This increased reach by 83% and interactions by 48% - incredible numbers when it comes to social media!
- Schools: Placement students delivered educational dune sessions to local secondary and sixth form schools (this enabled smaller sized group teaching, leading to more meaningful interactions and students being taught by peers of similar age, important from a role model and careers aspect).
- Resources: Students produced a wealth of educational and visitor experience resources including sand dune stories (for nature tots and primary schools), geocaching (for secondary schools and public), nature connection activity sheets (for schools and public) and ID sheets (for citizen science volunteers).
- Events: Students supported in engagement events (international sand dune day and Planet Purbeck), this increased capacity and allowed multiple activities to occur at the same time, as well as improving the visitor experience for a more personalised event.
- Volunteers: Students trialled the Purbeck Coast Volunteer Scheme and provided important insights into the functionality and success of the group. Also assisted in corporate volunteering.
- Communication: Students contributed reports, blogs and videos of their experiences, advocating their work, and providing resources for future recruitment
Feedback surveys and discussions revealed a very positive response from the placement students. In all cases, the placement was said to provide essential skills and experiences which couldn’t be found elsewhere and resulted in students wishing to continue their journey as a NT volunteer. Students have shared their experiences in the following blogs and video:
- Placement blogs: https://dynamicdunescapes.co.uk/student-placement-blogs/
- Placement video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pd7oCpQcUes&t=1s
Successes for the future
- Independence & ownership: Students planned and developed everything they delivered. The problem was outlined to them, and staff were there for guidance and support but the work and successes that the students delivered were their own.
- Teamwork: By having a group of placement students, they become their own support network.
- Unique engagement insight: The student’s work dramatically boosted social media and school engagement. This reveals the valuable insight young people have and how the NT can benefit and learn from them to achieve their Everyone Welcome ambition.
Improvements for the future
- Workspace: Having a working space for the placement students would enable them to support one another and work more efficiently together.
- Prior training: Organising a training workshop before the placement starts would enable students to feel more prepared and disseminate some of the technical Dunescapes information early on.
- Expectations: Future recruitment should be clearer on the plans and tasks of the placement.
The success of the university placements has given us the confidence to go even bigger next year, where we plan to offer even more placements and delegate more responsibilities to students.
Regarding our volunteering offer, we will continue to advertise broadly, increase responsibilities and work with the past placement students to develop their volunteer journey. Due to many people under 55+ being in full time education or employment, we will also look to develop two weekend volunteering groups, one targeting millennials and the other families.