I have just completed a summer placement with ACT and my experience has filled me with hope, writes Finlay Heppell. It was a great learning opportunity for me and I met many knowledgeable and passionate people who all share the same goal of tackling the climate crisis in Teignbridge.
I contacted ACT after finding the website while searching for placement opportunities that would be relevant to my studies as a geography student at Bournemouth University. I got involved with both the Carbon Cutters and Wildlife Warden schemes ACT runs, as well as learning about how energy is used in Teignbridge and the psychology behind influencing/attracting people.
I attended several Carbon Cutter training sessions where I realised there is still a lot I do not know about carbon emissions and the climate emergency. One of the new things I learnt was the idea of reducing carbon emissions in an intelligent manner. A great tool that ACT has is a carbon footprint tracker that allows you to accurately work out your carbon footprint and explains how you can reduce it in a smart way. Using numbers is such a great way of helping people understand how to reduce their carbon emissions as numbers are often treated as fact.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience with the Carbon Cutter scheme as I learnt so much new information and it allowed me to get a bigger picture of what people/groups in Teignbridge district are doing to try and reduce carbon. As a young person myself it is really encouraging to know that lots is already happening in my local area
Carbon Cutters was set up to help address the climate emergency. The other scheme I participated in, Wildlife Wardens, focuses on the ecological emergency through helping nature. I learnt many practical skills, such as identifying types of plants and the impact that our carbon emissions are having on the environment in Teignbridge. My first experience of this was at a Wildlife Warden training session on Orley Common with the Devon Biodiversity Record Centre (DBRC). This session consisted of teaching Wildlife Wardens how to fill out a County Wildlife Site survey. This was a great introduction to how site surveying is done as I was around people who were very knowledgeable with regards to identifying plants.
On top of this training session, I attended an actual survey of a meadow in Trusham. This visit allowed me to assess how much of what I learnt had stuck, but more importantly, reinforced what I had learnt. I have learnt so many new things from these two sessions.
The other side of my experience with the Wildlife Warden scheme was focused more on working directly with wardens and helping out with their projects. This included researching information for an article on the health of the river Teign, clearing a flowerbed and planting wildflowers in Newton Abbot, and assisting with a nature trail project in Kingsteignton.
Another aspect of ACT which taught me a lot was learning about the psychology involved in working with the public. The Public Engagement group within ACT particularly considers this. It was an area I was interested in because I don’t have much of a psychology background, so a lot of the information was completely new.
The focus of this subject was to listen, understand, engage, and take action. The complexity of this topic was interesting as many things have to be considered when approaching people. The key takeaway for me was that evoking emotions in people is an essential part of enabling them to make changes, perhaps by overturning their cognitive biases. In this instance it would be changes related to cutting carbon.
The last part of my learning with ACT was the IT aspect, which included the gathering of data and creation of maps for the ACT website. This area was interesting as it tied in with a module that I had just finished at university. The module was about using Geographic Information Software (GIS) to gather data and create maps from it. Being involved with this side of ACT allowed me to see the real-world applications of what I had been learning at university.
As a young person it fills me with hope knowing that the district I live in has such a large and organised group tackling the climate crisis. The schemes cover a wide variety of problems, from ecological issues with the Wildlife Wardens, to how much carbon is being used through the Carbon Cutters scheme. On top of this, each scheme has further projects within it. This allows ACT to try and address multiple and diverse issues surrounding the climate crisis.
ACT is independent of Teignbridge District Council while still working closely with them and providing advice. The independence is important as it allows for much more freedom, and makes it easier to collaborate with many other smaller groups in the area.
In conclusion, my time with ACT was valuable both for what I learned and the people I met. I return to university feeling more hopeful about what we can all do to take action on the climate and ecological emergencies, especially if the ACT model is replicated throughout the country.