Young people from across the UK have been able to bridge the “skills gap” caused by the pandemic, thanks to a scholarship from a leading Shropshire-based environmental education charity.

Almost 400 16 to 25-year-olds applied for just 80 available places on the Field Studies Council’s Young Darwin Award scheme, with many saying they missed out on vital practical fieldwork because of the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mollie Clay, biodiversity learning development officer for the charity which has its headquarters at Preston Montford near Shrewsbury, said the Young Darwin Award had helped the successful applicants to “top up” the skills which would help them to forge careers in the environmental sector.

Mollie said: “In 2023, 383 young people applied for 80 available scholarships. This mirrors the trend from previous years of the scholarships being substantially oversubscribed, even though we added an additional five places this year to mark our 80th anniversary.

“We wouldn’t be able to offer young people this amazing opportunity without the support of our donors, so we are very grateful for their support.

“This programme is in demand. We have worked very hard to remove barriers that might stop young people from applying or attending the course, so we’re delighted that this year we had an increase in applications from people with a neurodiversity or from ethnic minority or disadvantaged backgrounds.

“In the current cost of living crisis, financial restraints had also stopped some young people from attending other courses and training.

“The only thing that mattered to us was that everyone who received a scholarship had a genuine passion for nature and the environment. Many of the applicants told us their lack of practical fieldwork experience due to the pandemic was holding them back in job applications, so it’s great that we could help them bridge that gap.

“The environmental sector offers a huge and diverse range of career opportunities, and the Field Studies Council’s courses can equip young people with the skills to pursue those opportunities with confidence.”

The Young Darwin Award brings young people together to learn and socialise with others who share their passion for the environment.

Part of the scholarship offers the chance to attend an immersive study week at one of the Field Studies Council’s centres, where they learned practical skills as well as developing vital transferable skills like leadership, teamwork and resilience.

Feedback from the scholars showed that 100 per cent would recommend the programme to others, with 98 per cent saying their expectations had been met or exceeded.

One scholar said: “This experience solidified my interest in pursuing a career in conservation, and gave me the introduction to practical skills as well as the community to pivot into this pathway.”

Another said: “If you feel like because of barriers to your development and learning that you won’t make it, this course will show that you can make it and gives you the tools and experiences to start doing so.”

The scholars will receive support from the Field Studies Council for the next three years, including discounted courses, free access to resources, online and in-person events and mentoring.

Mollie added: “The evidence is clear that what scholars find the most beneficial from the immersive weeks is being with likeminded people who share their own passions. Scholars can explore and share their interests with others in engaging environments, and they feel safe in these environments and can openly discuss their interests with no judgement.

“Huge thanks to everyone who makes the programme possible, and we hope we can continue to offer this opportunity to even more young people in the future.”

For more information about the Field Studies Council, visit