2018 learner of the year awards

Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year Awards 2018

The talents of the country’s top land-based and aquaculture trainees and Modern Apprentices were celebrated recently at Lantra Scotland’s 16th Learner of the Year Awards.

More than 200 guests, including finalists and their families, event supporters, employers, training providers and industry leaders, gathered at the DoubleTree by Hilton Dunblane Hydro to take part in Lantra’s largest awards’ ceremony yet.

Emma Staniforth, a previous overall learner of the year winner, spoke about her experiences as one of Lantra’s industry champions. The keynote speech was given by Dougie Vipond, TV presenter of sports and outdoors programmes and Deacon Blue founder member and drummer. Dougie then presented winners and runners-up awards for the agriculture, aquaculture, equine, horticulture, game and wildlife, land-based engineering, trees and timber, fisheries management and environmental conservation categories.

In addition, there were prizes for the CARAS awards, Higher Education Awards, the Secondary Schools Award, Jean’s Jam and the Tam Tod Trophy.

Highlights of the evening included the naming of the Modern Apprentice of the Year, the Overall Runner-up and finally the Overall Winner. The top accolade went to game and wildlife trainee Megan Rowland, while the Runner-up award went to horticulture apprentice Reece McNaughton. Megan also won the Game and Wildlife industry category and was one of five winners of CARAS awards. Sine Soszke meanwhile took the Modern Apprentice of the Year Award.

Megan, aged 25 and from Dornoch in Sutherland, has been doing an HNC in Game and Wildlife Management with North Highland College UHI, while working for Practical Land Management. She was brought up in Orkney and has been actively involved in crofting and farming all her life. After relocating to the Highlands in 2012, she worked in the conservation sector for several years, before becoming increasingly interested in integrated land management and the field sports industry.

Megan said: ‘I was really thrilled tonight to be named as winner of the Game and Wildlife category and to get a CARAS award, but couldn’t believe it when my name was read out as the Overall Winner too. To be nominated for one of these awards is something to be proud of and it is humbling to be amongst such a talented group of finalists. I would like to thank my employer Robbie Rowantree for nominating me, my tutors at North Highland College UHI, as well as my friends and family for all their support over the years. I hope this award encourages more women to consider a career in game and wildlife. Thank you!”

Robbie Rowantree said: “Megan thoroughly deserves to be rewarded for all her hard work. Having joined us with very little experience, she has undertaken her role as Assistant Land Manager with great aplomb. The feedback from clients is that she has exceeded expectations across all areas, in what is an intense and very challenging setting. She is an exceptionally talented and driven person and it is entirely appropriate that she is being recognised in this way.”

18-year-old Reece from Kelso was delighted to pick up the Overall Runner-up Award. He has been doing an SVQ Level 3 in Amenity Horticulture through Borders College, while working for Mertoun Estate Gardens.

Modern Apprentice of the year is 18-year-old Sine Soszka, from Dornoch. Sine has been doing a Modern Apprenticeship in Agriculture through SRUC while working at Fearn Farms for J Scott & Partners. She quickly developed a niche in stock management and currently leads the indoor lambing team, looking after 800 stud ewes.

Sine said: “It’s fantastic to win this award. I’m passionate about what I do and not even the weather can put me off. I think it helps that I have a supportive team at Fearn Farms and I adore working with the sheep, cattle and my beloved dogs.”

In addition, the five winners of the prestigious CARAS (Council for Awards of Agricultural Societies) awards were: Sine Soszka, Robert Pickford, Kiernan Paxton, Megan Rowland and Dr Jenna Ross.

Dr Ross, from Tarland in Aberdeenshire, was also the winner of the Higher Education Award. The 32-year-old — a fellow at the University of Aberdeen and Stellenbosch University in South Africa — has done ground-breaking research into bio-molluscicides and is in the process of completing an MBA through Robert Gordon University.

The Higher Education award runner-up was 26-year-old Claire Simonetta, who achieved a BSc (Hons) 1st Class in Agriculture at SRUC. Claire runs a beef and sheep hill farm on the Isle of Mull with her partner.

The HND-level winner was 21-year-old Caitlin Ross, from Loch Lomond in Argyll and Bute. Caitlin has been recognised for her inspiring work juggling family life with working on the family farm and regular commutes to SRUC Oatridge, where she successfully completed her HND in Agriculture. She also recently featured in the Scottish Government video ‘Women in Agriculture’ and is a keen member of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers.

The Secondary Schools Award, which is supported by the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland in recognition of schools with exceptional standards in rural skills training, was won by Wallace Hall Academy with last year’s winner, Ullapool High School, taking the Runner-up spot.


Jean’s Jam Award, which is for the most inspiring mentor or trainer across Scotland, was awarded to Borders College horticulture lecturer Nigel Gibb. The prize was donated by training instructor Elspeth Watson in memory of her friend Jean Costello.


The Tam Tod Trophy went to Environmental Conservation apprentice Scott Milne of Stirling Council Fisheries. This award is made in association with Countryside Learning Scotland to an outstanding young learner and was created in memory of the late Tam Tod, described as a well-loved gamekeeper, ghillie and lifelong friend of the countryside.


Overall Winner for Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year

    • Megan Rowland


  • Overall Runner-up for Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year
    • Reece McNaughton


  • Modern Apprentice of the Year
    • Sine Soszka


  • Agriculture Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Sine Soszka
    • Runner-up: Kieran Paxton


  • Aquaculture Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Alan Tangny
    • Runner-up: Scott Forder


  • Equine Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Laura Manby
    • Runner-up: Heather Moir


  • Fisheries Management and Environmental Conservation Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Scott Milne
    • Runner-up: Jamie Gemmell


  • Game and Wildlife Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Megan Rowland
    • Connor Aubrey


  • Horticulture Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Reece McNaughton
    • Runner-up: Jennifer Wright


  • Land-based Engineering Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Cameron Howie
    • Runner-up: Mathew Howie


  • Trees and Timber Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Aaron Ross
    • Runner-up: Reece King


  • Higher Education Learner of the Year:
    • Winner: Dr Jenna Ross
    • Runner-up: Claire Simonetta
    • HND-level award winner: Caitlin Ross


  • Secondary Schools Award:
    • Winner: Wallace Hall Academy
    • Ullapool High School


  • CARAS Award Winners:
    • Kieran Paxton
    • Robert Pickford
    • Dr Jenna Ross
    • Megan Rowland
    • Sine Soszka


  • Jean’s Jam Award:
    • Winner: Nigel Gibb


  • Tam Tod Trophy
    • Scott Milne

The 2018 Learner of the Year Awards were organised by Lantra Scotland, the sector skills council for the land-based, aquaculture and environmental conservation industries.

According to Kevin Patrick, Director of Lantra Scotland, the awards play a vital role in celebrating the achievements of trainees within Scotland’s rural sector, as well as encouraging employers to invest in the next generation of talent.

He continued: “Our awards highlight the incredible people, the great work they do and the career opportunities within Scotland’s land-based, aquaculture and environmental conservation industries.

We are also very grateful to have the support of a range of people and organisations who make holding an event like this possible, including Skills Development Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, ABP Food Group, BAGMA, Countryside Learning Scotland, Easterton Stables, Elspeth Watson, George Linton Memorial Trust, National Farmers Union Scotland, Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland, Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, Scottish Forest and Timber Technologies, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scottish Salmon Company, Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation and SRUC. Lantra Scotland is supported by the Scottish Government.

Thanks also to the independent judging panel comprising: Ray Jones (Chair), Former Chairman of Scotland Food & Drink; Lisa Connell of The Scottish Salmon Company; Rebecca Dawes of Jane Craigie Marketing; Erika Hay, Journalist and Consultant; Keith Paterson of Forestry Commission Scotland, and Keith Redpath of Redpath Farms.”