An acclaimed Lake District apprenticeship scheme to boost declining rural skills is seeking top honours.
A finalist last year in prestigious countrywide awards, the national park's Fell Futures project is going for gold as six new protégés join the pioneering action force.
Backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, they will be honing expertise repairing footpaths, bridges, boundaries and protecting woodlands, rivers and habitats for the next 18 months.
Eight have already been trained and are now either in full-time employment or continuing in education.
Apprenticeship supervisor Matt Eaves said the scheme - set up to address serious shortages in a range of countryside skills - had been a resounding success.
He explained: "We are hoping our bid in 2014's National Apprenticeship Service awards will lead to further top-level recognition, it would be very rewarding for the keen, new intake.
"There was a lot of interest from high-calibre candidates for the six available slots. Finn Laverack, 19, from Ambleside, flew back from the Alps for the practical test. We have selected very capable young people aged from 16 to 23.
"They are already getting stuck in to serious work and will spend one day a week at Newton Rigg College, Penrith, studying environmental conservation."
Matt said the previous group had gone straight into full-time employment with the Lake District National Park (LDNP), National Trust, South Lakeland District Council, BAE systems and Lakes Tree Surgeons, while three were continuing with their studies.
"They have learned a raft of skills, including forestry management, tree planting, natural river bank stabilisation, dry stone walling, fencing, hedge planting and laying and fell path construction."
Running since September 2012, Fell Futures is a partnership between the LDNP, United Utilities, Forestry Commission, National Trust and Environment Agency.