Photo courtesy of Rob Nicholls SDNPA
Photo courtesy of Rob Nicholls SDNPA


Born in Petersfield, Chris Gurney says he has spent most of his life on the South Downs. He was working as a furniture maker and looking for a new role when he saw the advert on the National Apprenticeship website. Shortly afterwards, he met a Woodlands Officer from the South Downs National Park at a local wood show and decided to apply. Anthony Brown, one of the College’s Apprenticeship Liaison Officers contacted him to arrange an interview and Chris was successful in securing the role.

According to Chris: “An Apprenticeship is by far the best way to break into this industry. I’m enjoying it even more than I expected – I love my job! The team here are great and have taught me so much already. My College tutor visits regularly, and it’s really useful to have an outside perspective. It’s too good an opportunity to miss – you can gain so much from it.”

South Downs National Park

In September 2014 The South Downs National Park Authority, with the support of Sparsholt College,  recruited Apprentice Chris Gurney to the Environmental Conservation Apprenticeship Framework.  The National Park had been in talks with Sparsholt about a potential Apprenticeship opportunity since January 2014 and Chris applied through an advertisement on the National Apprenticeship website.

Nicola Mouland from South Downs National Park’s HR team explains: “The organisation is committed to creating future opportunities and the post of Countryside Ranger was identified as one which would be perfect for an Apprenticeship, increasing access to what has traditionally been a hard to enter and very competitive role. This was the second Apprenticeship role we’d recruited to and the College was really helpful, filtering applicants to a shortlist ready to invite to interview. We are committed to developing the Apprenticeship programme where we can – we’ve had a very positive experience and would like to continue in the future.”

Countryside Ranger Rob Nicholls, who has been Line Managing Chris since the start of his Apprenticeship, agrees: “The competition for these roles is fierce – I did a year in industry volunteering with the National Trust to gain my experience so I know how important combining practical work and qualifications can be.”

Speaking of Chris and the impact he’s had on the organisation, Rob comments: “It’s been a fantastic experience. Chris has brought enthusiasm, hard work and positive energy. He’s already started to take on important projects, including one monitoring river flies to measure water quality, where he also coordinates volunteers. A major part of the organisation’s role is around engaging with people and partnership working, so these skills are vital to acquire early on.

“Chris has also helped out with a successful barn owl box monitoring project and we’ve just installed our 100th box. He has a fantastic rapport with our volunteers and is great at coordinating the logistics needed for site activities. He has helped us to progress and deliver vital projects and has been a real asset to the team, helping whoever needs it.”