Learners of the year announced

Talented aquaculture apprentice Lisa Askham, 24, from Lochcarron won the aquaculture category at Lantra Scotland’s annual Land based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year Awards. The runner-up spot went to Hayley Eccles, 31, from Strathcarron.
Lisa was joined on the podium by other winners from the aquaculture industry. Martin Mladenov, 29, from Lerwick in Shetland, and Marcos Garcia, 23, from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, were both Council of Awards of Royal Agricultural Societies winners (CARAS).
Matthew Anderson, 23, from Oban won the Higher Education Award but was unable to attend the event.
CARAS awards were presented by the organisation’s national chairman Keith Redpath, while other accolades were presented by keynote speaker and former Lantra Learner of the Year, Finulla McCloskey, at a ceremony on March 3 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Dunblane Hydro Hotel near Stirling.
Lisa Askham has completed her Modern Apprenticeship SVQ level 2 in aquaculture at Inverness College UHI while working as a freshwater operative at the Scottish Salmon Company’s Russelburn Hatchery in Kishorn.
A fast learner, she understands the importance of fish health, fish husbandry, and the importance of a stable environment to maximise production and ensure the fish are stress free and healthy.
After picking up her award, she said: ‘Thank you to Lantra Scotland for giving me this fantastic award. It’s great to be recognised for your efforts, and it’s a real boost for my self-belief and confidence in my abilities.
‘Thank you to everyone at Inverness College UHI and Alasdair MacDonald, my manager at Russelburn Hatchery. Without the support and help of those around me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’
Murray Stark from Inverness College UHI said: ‘We are all delighted Lisa has won this award. She has approached her MA qualification with a level of quality and seriousness that is second to none, and used the skills she has developed to improve herself.
‘She is meticulous with her detail in all aspects of her work and thoroughly deserves to be recognised for her efforts.’
Matthew Anderson did a BA (Hons) degree in aquaculture and is now working as an assistant farm manager for Dawnfresh Farming. He is looking to develop his technical and managerial skills with a view to stepping up into a farm manager’s role. He also has plans to attend other leadership programmes.
Matthew said: ‘Thank you Lantra Scotland and CARAS for this great award, it is the culmination of a lot of hard work over the past year. I hope it will help encourage others to start a career in the aquaculture industry in the future.
‘I’d like to thank all involved in the Dawnfresh Graduate Programme for giving me the opportunity to gain experience within the aquaculture industry and also everyone who I have worked with in Dawnfresh Farming.’
Martin Mladenov has completed his Modern Apprenticeship SVQ level 3 in aquaculture at Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) and NAFC Marine Centre, part of the University of Highlands and Islands. He is working as a husbandryman for SSF, which involves feeding and monitoring salmon, observing behaviour, taking weekly samples and making sure they remain healthy. His ambition is to become site manager one day.
‘Winning the CARAS award is a real honour,’ he said. ‘Thank you to Lantra Scotland and CARAS for giving me this award and to everyone who has helped me along the way, particularly my tutors at NAFC and my employer, Scottish Sea Farms. I hope I have done Shetland proud!’
Marcos Garcia studied zoology at Cardiff University, before completing an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture at Stirling University. He then went on to join the Dawnfresh Graduate Programme where he now works as an assistant farm manager.
This enabled him to gain hands-on experience within a successful, growing aquaculture business. In September 2015, Marcos’ site won the Dawnfresh Team of the Month award. His ambition is to become a farm manager one day.
‘It is great to be an award winner tonight and it makes all the hard work worthwhile,’ said Marcos. ‘I’d like to thank Gideon Pringle, Lyndsey Gaja, and everyone involved with the Dawnfresh Graduate Programme for all their support and guidance over the years.
‘I’m sure it will help to give me the confidence to go on and succeed in what is a highly competitive industry.’
Organised by Lantra Scotland, the sector skills council for the land-based, aquaculture and environmental industries, the Learner of the Year Awards are vital for recognising the efforts of trainees, Modern Apprentices, students, pupils, teachers, tutors, training providers and schools involved in the rural sectors.
They also play an important role in encouraging employers to invest in skills for the future, a vital prerequisite to a healthy, vibrant rural sector.
As an indication of how the talent pool is growing, this year’s nominations came in from across Scotland, from the Borders to Shetland.
This year’s ceremony was attended by some of the sector’s leading figures and was hosted by Jim McLaren, former NFU Scotland president and current chairman of Quality Meat Scotland.
Picture; Lisa Askham receives her award from keynote speaker Finulla McCloskey