Working for the National Trust as an Area Ranger is a very fulfilling and varied role and one of my favourite parts is working with volunteers. This can happen in a variety of ways and I wanted to share with you an insight into the range of people we work with, starting with Full Time Volunteers.
Former Full Time Volunteer, Ellie
Current Full Time Volunteer, Amy
Full Time Volunteers… these tend to be younger people who have just finished or are in the middle of a university course. When starting to look for work, they may well find they meet the academic requirements for environmental and conservation jobs but, by default, are lacking the practical experience. We have also taken on people who, for one reason or another, have decided on a career change. Again they might be looking to gain some practical knowledge or just to confirm that the grass is indeed greener on the other side, before taking the plunge!
This, as with all volunteers, is a tremendous resource to the National Trust. It is great to be able to work with people who are willing to give up their time and enjoy learning something new and to pass on our knowledge and enthusiasm for what is more a vocation than just a job. We support their development by offering accommodation or assistance with travel costs as well as providing certificated training such as the safe use of pesticides and brush cutters; surveying and monitoring skills.
‘Santander’ group hard at work
Corporate Groups… an increasing number of large groups from different companies are looking for volunteering opportunities for their staff. These tend to be for a day at a time so are great for getting tasks done that require a large number of hands-on and enthusiastic people. Team building is their primary goal so I tend to give them jobs with an achievable outcome such as painting railings or raking up cut hay meadows.
Volunteer Robin getting ready for a day’s work
Retired and part time workers… another invaluable source of help to ours or any other National Trust team. The reasons to volunteer are always varied and can be for social interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation. Finding time to volunteer can also be hugely rewarding and when people are willing to share their vast wealth of knowledge and experience, we are only too happy to provide them with the opportunity to do so bit.ly/2k89SLP
Simon Rose, Area Ranger
The car park at the Skirrid mountain north of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire has been open for just over a year. This was one of the first National Trust pay and display car parks in our area and it has been quite a steep learning curve for looking after and maintaining it. We went from having a lay by that could hold a maximum of 15 cars on the busy Abergavenny to Skenfrith road to having a spacious safe area for 60 plus vehicles to park – see the before and after images of when it was first opened below.
Before – limited parking in the lay by
After – spacious area away from the busy road
Posts inserted to help protect and maintain the entrance
Ongoing improvements to the car park have taken place including inserting wooden posts to mark the edge of the entrance and around the ticket machine. These help to guide visitors to the parking areas and prevent people from driving on the grass verges, which could cause damage to the land, and possibly get stuck.
As with the majority of the timber we use elsewhere, these posts were felled and processed locally at our own properties. One of my volunteers, Alan, profiled them before being treated for weather proofing. Continuing the volunteer theme, Amy one of our full time volunteers who is working with various members of the team to gain some practical conservation experience, helped me put the posts in place.
Ready for treating
Amy working hard to help prepare the site
Unfortunately over the last year the ticket machine has suffered some attempted break-ins which have left it looking a bit shabby. We decided to replace it with one that will be able to scan membership cards and move it to a more central and secure location in the car park. Also after a year of operating the pay and display service, we have reviewed and adjusted the tariffs to better reflect the visitor usage.
A more central and secure location for the replaced machine
Update hourly car park tariffs
The income from the car park helps towards the upkeep of the area but also contributes to the vital conservation work we carry out on the Skirrid to allow all our visitors to continue enjoying the countryside.
As with all of our sites we are constantly looking to make our visitors’ enjoyment the best it can be.
One of the greatest strengths the National Trust has is the depth of knowledge and experiences its staff and volunteers possess. Whether it be curators or room stewards looking after stately homes, gardeners or groundsmen and women looking after estates or in our case rangers looking after tenanted buildings and open countryside.
Finding the time to get together with colleagues from other places can be a challenge. Last February, along with some rangers from the Gower, we took a couple of days out to visit The Lizard in Cornwall. The idea was to meet up with some like-minded people who face similar challenges to us, share our experiences and techniques used for the conservation work we carry out and to see if we could come up with better ways of working. We spent the first day clearing laurel (an invasive species) from woodland at Penrose near The Lizard. This type of task is so much easier with a big group of you, hence the term ‘many hands make light work’! After an evening spent socialising and networking in the local pub the second day was a bit quieter. We spent time walking around The Lizard and Penrose as well as talking to staff and volunteers about the work they were doing. We also marvelled over the amazing lunch they put on for us in the woods; fresh fish cooked on an open fire amongst other delights.
The Cornwall Rangers accepted an invitation to come to Wales this year, so again the Brecon Beacons team piled into the minibus and headed off to meet them, this time on the Gower. On a very wet and windy day at Rhossili we all mucked in to clear gorse from the cliff top. The weather conditions meant the Gower rangers couldn’t put on a similar spread for lunch although the Storm Kettle was put to good use, boiling water for a hot cup of tea in the fresh air. At low tide we battled the elements to walk out to the end of Worms Head and then retired to a local pub for an evening meal and to dry out.
Apart from the obvious benefits of getting away for a few days there is a huge amount to be gained by sharing the wealth of knowledge and experience rangers at different places have built up over the years. You can also look at the negatives and learn from each other’s mistakes as well as being able to share equipment and kit when possible.
A whole host of reasons why it’s good to get together!
Simon Rose, Area Ranger
I think we are all fortunate to live in such a stunning part of the country, and I feel especially so having a job looking after many of the special places that form part of this magnificent countryside.
As an area ranger I look after a wide variety of different properties including farms, estates, buildings, river walks and car parks. Working with colleagues as well as full and part time volunteers we engage with many people including tenants, customers, contractors and everyone else in between.
One of the challenges we face is litter! The term encompasses everything from the odd tissue that’s fallen out of someone’s pocket to stolen cars abandoned and burnt out. Along with other organisations, we seem to spend an ever increasing amount of time and resources dealing with this problem as we have to pay to dispose the majority of rubbish we remove.
As you can imagine car parks are a particular hotspot. People enjoying a take away and depositing the packaging out the window, builders dumping rubble etc. and people who make the effort to clear up after their dog but then sling the bag in a hedge or tree!! Yes seriously! Here are a few photos showing some of the litter I have been faced with.
It’s frustrating to think that dealing with this is taking time away from the core conservation work we carry out to preserve our iconic landscape. Maybe the increased pressures put on us by local authorities with regards to rubbish and recycling are contributing to the problem. Maybe the fast food and drink providers should look again at their packaging or how about us as consumers taking responsibility for disposing of rubbish appropriately!
On a lighter note I look at the way my kids are taught in school about how to recycle and look after the environment and I think there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m the new Full Time Volunteer ranger at the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire base and whilst I am here I will be getting involved in a wide range of projects with both the estate and the nature teams.
We have recently been busy maintaining the railings at Clytha, litter picking and
Early developments of the Skirrid pond
strimming around paths to keep the walking routes easily accessible and looking beautiful. We have also been busy landscaping a nature pond that will be surrounded by a grassland and picnic area at the Skirrid car park. It is early days for the pond, as you can see from the photo and our basic plan below giving you an idea of its location, but we hope to see lots of wildlife within and around it soon, such as frogs, newts and damselflies.
Basic plan giving an idea of the location
Meadow Brown butterfly
With the nature team I have been busy nature surveying. This includes a weekly butterfly survey at Lanlay where we have found many Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoise Shell butterflies. We have also done many flora surveys and I have been blown away by how many beautiful plants are within National Trust properties in Wales. Due to careful maintenance and management of the land, especially controlling grazing levels, the National Trust has been able to welcome many plant species back to areas where they have previously been lost.Some of my favourite plants I have seen are: the elegant (pale coloured) Heath Spotted-orchid at Lanlay, the beautiful (deep purple) Southern Marsh-orchid at Coelbren – of which we found a whopping 48, and the primitive looking liverworts and mosses at Henrhyd Falls adding to its majestic atmosphere.
The majestic Henrhyd Falls
I am very much looking forward to the rest of my time with the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire National Trust team and am eager to learn more about the important land management and habitat conservation work they carry out. I hope that some of you will venture out to see some of the amazing plants and places that I have mentioned above.
Full Time Volunteer Ranger
At the end of last year we decided to replace an old section of parkland railings that formed part of a field boundary on Ffynonnau Farm. The original hedge had grown up around them making them impossible to maintain.
The Woodlands team have been hard at work
The Woodlands team cut back as much of the trees and bushes as they could but were hampered by the original railings being entwined in the trees. Traffic lights were also needed as some of the bigger trees had to be felled on to the busy adjacent road.
Some of the many supporting stanchions
I needed to replace 150 meters of railings which meant getting 120 stanchions (metal frames) made to support the railings. With the help of my volunteers we managed to paint most of the frames in the workshop before starting the job. Because cattle will be kept in the field we concreted every 10th frame in place to give extra support to the railings.
I used a solid metal bar connected with short sections of tube for the railings which was then welded together on site using a portable welder generator.
Making use of an old style
There is a right of way that crosses the field and the fence so I had to put a style in as a legal requirement. I recycled an old one and re-enforced the railing with steel tube to take the weight of people climbing over it. As part of the Clytha river walk we are encouraging people to walk along the inside of this stretch of railings and cross the road through the 4’ gate. This is a lot safer than walking along the edge of the busy road.
We had a working holiday at the beginning of March carrying out a variety of work during their week of volunteering. With their help, and the aid of a few days dry weather, I managed to get the railings under coated and top coated. As you can see below they seemed to enjoy the task! The work was mostly funded from the tenant farmers farm improvement grant and goes a long way to maintaining the historical views around the Clytha Estate.
Happy volunteers providing vital support to the team
Simon – Area Ranger
This is what we are starting with…
This is the next challenge to tackle in the walled garden on the Clytha Estate. These old cold frames have seen better days as you can see!! The mental health charity, Growing Space, uses the gardens as part of its horticulture course and are very keen to be involved in the restoration project.
…helped by a donation…
As luck would have it we were contacted recently by a lady who was taking down an old green house and was looking to donate the glass to a good cause, having heard of our earlier greenhouse restoration in the gardens. I went down to Bath last week to pick the glass up, there’s a mish mash of shapes and sizes, but we can make the frames to fit the glass.
…some steady driving…
We can use locally felled and milled National Trust timber for the frames, my carpentry volunteer Allan will profile it. I’m hoping that Growing Spaces will help clear out the growth and re-build the walls. This is what it should look like when it’s finished.
…for something like this.
Simon Rose – Area Ranger