Tropical bird apprentice wins National Learner of the Year Award

Published on: Monday, 4th December 2023
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Heather-Ann Pedley
Heather-Ann Pedley celebrating with the team - Liz Webb, Conservation Training Academy Manager at Chester Zoo. Right of Heather Ann, Stacey Higgs, Curriculum Manager at DCG and then, Jon Collins, Assistant Principal - Land Based)

A Derby College Group (DCG) apprentice has been honoured with a prestigious national award of 'Learner of the Year' as 'Best Animal Care and Management Apprentice'.

Heather-Ann Pedley received the award at a glittering ceremony held in Nantwich.  The inaugural awards ceremony celebrated land-based and environmental education and recognised the talent that is the future of the sector. 

The awards were organised by the training body Lantra and land-based colleges organisation Landex. 120 nominees had been put forward for these prestigious awards and the winners were selected after a rigorous judging process conducted by industry and sector experts.

Heather-Ann was recognised for her unwavering commitment to her studies and she emerged as a standout candidate in a field of exceptional learners. 

The 27 year-old is carrying out her apprenticeship in the Bird Team at Chester Zoo, a world-leading wildlife conservation and education charity and, as part of her work, has had the opportunity to study at a bird rescue centre located in Java, Indonesia, where she supported the monitoring of endangered birds, both at the centre and in the surrounding rainforest.

Previously, for seven years Heather-Ann had been a dog groomer, then decided to return to study and in turn, gained a Bachelor of Science: (Hons) Wildlife Conservation with Zoo Biology degree from the University of Salford in 2019.

Speaking about the receipt of the award, Heather-Ann said: “It is so lovely to be recognised. I can’t believe how far I’ve come, working with such an amazing team makes it that much easier for me to progress. I’ve had the best time so far and I can’t wait to see what next year will bring.”

Chester Zoo is keen to inspire more young people to take up a career in conservation. The zoo has partnered with DCG to manage the recruitment of new students and to provide full accreditation, including all formal training elements and assessment.

Liz Webb, Conservation Training Academy Manager at Chester Zoo commented on the apprenticeships and specifically on Heather-Ann’s award: “The zoo started the Keeper and Aquarist apprenticeships in August 2022 and have 10 apprentices across all of our sections in the zoo. These 10 apprentices were selected from nearly 500 applicants and have now been with us for over a year. Heather-Anne works on our Tropical Bird Team with some of the world’s most endangered species such as Javan green magpie and Sumatran Laughingthrush, working towards our mission of preventing extinction.

“Heather-Anne is a Distinction level student who continues to produce exemplary work, her apprentice portfolio reflects the professionalism she embodies on a day-to-day basis and we are proud to have Heather-Anne as a Chester Zoo apprentice.  A well-deserved award for a hardworking and professional apprentice!”

Stacey Higgs Curriculum Manager at DCG said: “Heather-Ann is so dedicated to her studies and has such a love of birds. And she is also in a very special place, being at Chester Zoo. She is such an inspiration to others, and we are incredibly proud of her. We have loved watching Heather-Anne grow and develop over the last year, and cannot wait to see how she continues to progress during the final stages of her apprenticeship.”

When she has completed her apprenticeship, Heather-Ann would love to continue to work with endangered birds. 

Details of Level 3 Zookeeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship Course can be found here.

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