Thursday, 2 April 2015

Life as a volunteer Ranger

New chainsaw skills in use
For the last eight months I've been one of the full time residential volunteers with the National Trust in Cornwall, based with the Rangers at Poltesco who take care of all the Trust land around the Lizard. Here’s just a little bit about my experience.

Although I’d volunteered previously with various conservation groups, a lot of this job required a whole new and unfamiliar set of skills. When I first started I couldn't have told you the difference between a hacksaw and a bow saw and it was news to me that there were so many different spades for different jobs. The team had the unenviable task of making a Ranger out of me!

Sign making in the workshop
Strimming a path, felling a tree, putting up a fence, repairing the coastal path and to be honest most of the jobs we did were all new to me. Straight away I joined the team on the day to day jobs and  some tasks were easier to get to grips with than others.  I’ll not lie, some tasks were frustrating! You get taught how to do something and it looks simple enough, but actually doing the job ended up being another matter entirely. Some days my head and my hands were clearly in disagreement! For the brilliant Rangers, for whom the idea of putting up a fence is probably as easy as changing a light bulb, I can only imagine how hard it was to watch me fumble over a simple job. But they didn't show it, I was encouraged to give things a go and that trial and error was no bad thing. Meanwhile the Rangers would have discretely managed to complete the whole of the rest of the job around me with effortless ease and they’d still be smiling and encouraging me with my task. Eventually it pays off and one morning you’re given a job where you find yourself gathering the right tools, equipment, and doing the job with less and less guidance. Don’t get me wrong, I know I've still plenty still to learn. The wonderful part of this job is that there is always going to be more to learn because working outdoors you've got all kinds of variables thrown into the mix.

In the last eight months I've gained practical skills from all sorts of experiences, including swailing (controlled burning of) heathland,  fixing fences and gates, herding cows, repairing the coastal path, making and repairing signs, relocating ponies, removing rubbish across the Lizard, painting landmarks, building bridges plus I've also qualified in use of brushcutters, strimmers, chainsaws, and received first aid training. Through the Lizard Rangers, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend a week volunteering on Lundy with the Landmark Trust, helping re-point the Church.

helping ring Shearwaters on Lundy
Back on the Lizard, the team also do some fantastic events with local schools, visiting groups from further afield, and community groups, and as a volunteer you join in with these activities. I didn't expect to find myself searching for giants and pixies around Poltesco, or making start and finish lines for a snail race, but these are some of my favourite memories. I think we can all agree that we live in times where so many of us are disengaged with the natural environment around us and sometimes I know I get a little bit depressed about the fate of nature, but when you see people of all ages out and about enjoying nature together you can’t help but be uplifted and it restores your faith that there is hope for the natural world.

I never had a day where I didn't want to go to work, there was always a laugh to be had, and every day was different. There is such variety in the role and I gained a whole new set of skills to take forward. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the wonderful staff and other volunteers I worked with at the Lizard and neighbouring Penrose National Trust. It is a beautiful place but it was the enthusiasm, kindness and knowledge of the staff that made my experience so awesome and a time that I will never forget.


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