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A group of civil engineering foundation apprentices lent their skills to Forest Enterprise Scotland in a hands-on bridge improvement project.

The nine first and second year students (S5 and S6 school pupils) carried out surveying and design work using Computer Aided Design (CAD) on two foot-bridges within Culloden Woods, assessing the bridges and putting forward their recommendations for restoration.

Bridging the gap

A table in a conference style room with various people looking at objects on the table

The pupils were able to use existing resources in preparing their design proposals, including trees from the surrounding forest, before presenting their findings to FES staff.  

Factors considered in the designs proposed by the students included aesthetics, the arching of the bridges for pram and bike accessibility, moving and extending the bridges and the creation of new supports, handrails and retaining walls.

Liam Matheson, Area Civil Engineer, FES, who assessed the students’ designs, said:

We really enjoyed being involved with the civil engineering project. There were some valuable outcomes which are beneficial for both the students and for us.

The project is a great example of partnership working and sharing knowledge and it’s also a brilliant way to get the students out on-site so that they can visualise the project and explore any safety risks first-hand.

I’m really impressed by the ideas that have arisen through working with the Foundation Apprentices. The standard achieved is what we would expect from professionals working in the industry.”

Following the presentations, FES selected aspects from the design elements proposed to agree two new bridge designs.

Gill Berkeley, Head of Curriculum at Inverness College UHI, said:

It’s important to provide opportunities such as this to enable our professionals of the future to build their employability skills.

Live projects are vital in allowing students to apply their knowledge and skills through experiencing real-life scenarios. The college continues to have excellent partnerships with schools and employers that allow students to understand the relevance of subjects such as maths, science and English to the workplace.”

First year Foundation Apprentice Rebecca McClymont, from Fortrose Academy, added:

“Taking part in the Culloden Woods project has allowed me to help with the ground work and see first-hand the finished result. It’s been really nice to go home and talk it over with my mum and dad - they’re so enthusiastic for me.”

Woman in black shirt standing and smiling for the camera in front of a physical presentation

The students will have the opportunity to go on to university or pursue a Graduate Apprenticeship following completion of the two-year course, which is equivalent of three Highers at Grade A. Foundation Apprenticeships are part of the family of apprenticeships, which enable people to progress from S5 or S6 through to degree level qualifications.

The students work is the first stage of a wider project to replace the foot-bridges.  The bridges will be constructed later this year by students from another department at the college. 

The idea for the project was initiated by the Culloden Forest Partnership, an ongoing collaboration between the Scottish School of Forestry which is part of Inverness College UHI and Forest Enterprise Scotland aimed at providing education and research opportunities in Culloden Forest while managing the forest sympathetically to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities. 

Photo credit: Inverness College UHI.