Life as the Learner of the Year
Today’s guest blog is from Megan Rowland, Assistant Land Manager on Gordonbush estate. Brought up in a farming and crofting community, Megan relocated to the Highlands in 2012 to work within the conservation sector. After becoming increasingly interested in integrated land management and fieldsports, Megan chose to pursue a career within the industry.
The last couple of weeks since Lantra’s Land Based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year awards ceremony have gone past in something of a blur. I’ve found myself mainly trying to catch up on paperwork and trying to get back to something resembling routine.
When the Scottish Land and Estates team asked if I would write them a guest blog; about young people in rural areas, the opportunities available, and where I see myself going; I was happy to do so, but I’ll add the caveat that I can only write from my personal experience, and I’m sure other folk will have views and perspectives!
At present, I am studying with the North Highland College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands family but finish my course in June; this has prompted me to look forward and think about the future.
I know this coming year I will be involved with a few ventures, extending on from Lantra. One of these is the Rural Youth Project. An international project, looking at the challenges facing young people in rural areas, and then taking its findings to policy makers to try and create more opportunities for rural young folk. I’ll be travelling, researching, tweeting and blogging as much as usual, and will be experimenting with vlogging this year too.
On a work basis, I am teetering between continuing to work with my current placement provider or becoming self-employed and working as a contractor. We’re living in an interesting climate – globally, environmentally, politically – and I am still information gathering, with regards to either option. I feel there is a lot of pressure today for people to make snap decisions – sometimes it does no harm to sit back on your haunches and thoroughly weigh up all options and outcomes.
Originally something I didn’t enjoy too much, I am now keen to continue my education going forward; focusing on integrated land management, the opportunity cost of sustainable development and utilising natural capital. I’ve looked at some of the courses SRUC have on offer (sorry, UHI!), and am in the process of applying.
I was asked by SLE to discuss what opportunities I see for younger folk in rural Scotland. Now the fact that projects such as RYP are up and running, would suggest there aren’t huge opportunities for rural youth. Again, writing from my own perspective, to get where I am today, I have had to have a dogged perseverance and a degree of luck. I’ve also taken quite an unconventional route into academia and work.
I was studying a BSc in Environmental Science but felt it didn’t meet my needs or aspirations. As such, I began to work part-time, and undertook voluntary work for just shy of three years to gain experience in the sector I was interested in. Whilst volunteering I applied for a number jobs in the Highlands, usually getting to interview, but being presented with the old catch-22 of “lack of experience” – most young people, especially in conservation, will be familiar with this one!
While volunteering, I became more and more interested in sourcing food sustainably, and in integrated land use. This piqued my interest in wildlife management and hunting, especially in a woodland context and following a more Scandinavian model. I had the opportunity to spend a season away from the Highlands, working on a low-ground estate in Perthshire. While I was there, it became clear that if I wanted to achieve my ambitions, I would have to retrain. As such, I signed up to the National Certificate course in Gamekeeping, run by North Highland College, a land-based course, rather than classroom-based.
The NC year proved very interesting, and I followed this with a HNC in Game and Wildlife Management, which I will conclude this June. On a positive note, everyone on either course is moving into work in rural employment, and in conversation with colleagues in forestry and agriculture most of their students are following a similar route. This underlines that building skills on the ground is, in my opinion, one of the best ways forward for young people in rural areas. There are more education options all the time; distance learning, apprenticeships; but luck and “who you know” definitely plays as big a part in finding work in rural and remote areas, as anything else.
Winning the overall Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year award is still taking some time to get used to. It was a big surprise at the time, but I’m pleased my passion for my work and where I see the future of land management got across to the judges. I hope the award will boost my platform in coming years, and I can continue to promote some of the changes I would like to see; more resilient approaches to a changing landscape and climate, changing demographics, and a more integrated approach to land use.