by John Cooke
As the title of this blog suggests, my time at Natures Valley has reopened my eyes and given me focus for what I want to achieve in the field of conservation.
In 2020 I graduated in Marine Biology at Swansea University. Through this I gained valuable experience and knowledge in marine conservation and the wildlife it is of utmost importance to conserve. However I felt I needed to learn more of the world I would be conserving and the variety of life present. For this purpose I have been travelling and trying to discover more about terrestrial fauna and flora, to understand what interests me most and where would be best to apply my skills acquired from university. Through this venture, I found a 6 month placement internship with GVI, with half of my internship in Karongwe Game Reserve and a 3 month aforementioned placement period, which I was fortunate enough to take at Natures Valley.
Karongwe was an amazing adventure, in which I saw the most incredible terrestrial nature I could possibly hope to see. Seeing the big five is enough to ignite any person’s childlike passion and excitement for wildlife. However the most enticing part of this 3 months was the variety of life you see which is not usually at the forefront of a game reserve experience, the drastically wide range of bird species as well as small mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, as well as plants. However Natures Valley took this to the next level.
The range of ecosystem and the beauty of the area is something to behold. From the Fynbos to the rocky shore, the broad spectrum of life available to conserve and protect is something I have never witnessed before in such close proximity. This not only gave me an appreciation for the wildlife you can find in South Africa, but the wildlife you can find at all trophic levels, throughout any country or area you visit if you just go looking. Especially in the United Kingdom, in which I call my home, that can seem almost drab in comparison.
Through my experience at Natures Valley and the wide variety of conservation based work we took part in, I realised that I do not need to search for something so eagle eyed specific to put all my efforts. Now I see that I would prefer to be involved in a project in which I have a focus, but get to partake in as much different work and as many different variations of how nature thrives as possible.
Natures Valley allowed for work in birding, forestry, coastal studies, even the tracking and monitoring of the behavioural patterns of baboons. One really important aspect as well was work within local communities to promote the concept of conservation. Something I have always believed is that for true successful conservation to occur, there has to be a marriage of human and environmental needs to create a harmony that benefits both sides. To see Natures Valley putting such an emphasis on education and an understanding of how conservation benefits the local population, is another reason why I have loved this internship so much.
Whilst at Natures Valley my special project was naturally a focus on the marine side of conservation in the area. Originally helping to create a marine protection plan for the local coastal areas through conservational studies. After contributing to this venture, and then to see how the plan is unfolding was an incredibly satisfying feeling and something I am very proud to be a part of, after seeing first-hand what I have worked to protect.
Later in the internship I focused on creating studies to monitor the rocky shores of the valley. Creating these methodologies and then finally being able to carry out these surveys myself was especially rewarding and eye opening as to how much I love applying my knowledge learned at university in the real world. Learning the different species present on these shores and trying to gain an understanding of how they interact is an experience I will never forget.
Finally what also made the Natures Valley internship so special were the people I got to undertake it with. The staff were fantastic and all so enthusiastic about the areas they were working on, which in turn increases your own enthusiasm for the work. Professor Hendri Coetzee especially was brilliant to be around, and his plans for the Trust as well as how well he motivates others in this mission is something I will definitely want to learn from going forward with this career. My fellow interns also made the experience so worthwhile. From days out exploring, to trips to Cape Town, they really helped make this past 3 months as good as they were. I was also lucky enough to explore this beautiful place with my girlfriend who was also an intern, which elevated its value to me further still.
Leaving Natures Valley will be very difficult, however everything I could have hoped to have gained from a period of work like this, I have done. Thanks to this endeavour in particular, of the many I have undertaken, I understand which Masters course I want to hone my knowledge through, and how I want to apply it. I want to say thank you to the Trust and everyone involved in its running and creation, and add that I hope to return to this stunning area in the future. Perhaps continuing the work I have loved doing and have a new appreciation for as well.