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So what is Countryside Management?!

It’s been happening ever since man started to use the natural world as a resource. At first, we started by farming, and managing our local environments to make our lives easier. I suspect that we never really appreciated this as Countryside Management as we do today!

As we moved into the 20th Century, the pressures on our countryside started to grow. The drivers for this were mixed and significant. Firstly, we started to think properly about conservation. We realised that intensive farming, climate change and an ever growing population were putting pressure on our countryside and there was an emerging agenda to look after, protect and enhance these areas for the future. Second, we were becoming increasingly detached from our environment or our countryside as we headed ever more toward an urban based society. Countryside Management was therefore required to start enabling the re-connection to this lost element in our lives. Thirdly, as a society, expendable income and increased leisure time meant that ever more of us were heading into the countryside for visits, short trips or breaks, and, as well as placing pressures on it, this use demanded facilities and management to support this use.

In Scotland, this was taking place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. At the same time, the national agency the Countryside Commission for Scotland, or CCS had realised the need to support a dedicated and national approach to the professional management of the countryside and the Ranger was born. Supported in Scotland by CCS and grant aid administered centrally, but available locally, Ranger Services started to appear. Rangers were in many ways the first of a new breed, a new breed that became known as Countryside Managers.

Their role was to help conserve areas of Scotland that were under pressure or threat, to manage these areas for the special qualities they displayed, to engage with people, to ensure that they had the ability to appreciate and learn about these special qualities, and finally, to provide and manage for an increasingly active population that wanted to get out and about into the countryside.

The growth of Rangering in Scotland was rapid. Through the 1970’s and 80’s we saw Rangers reach all corners of the country, both within the public sector and the private sector. In the mid 1990’s CCS changed to Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, who continued to support, through centralised grant aid, the delivery of Ranger Services.

In 1995 a review was held to evaluate what Rangers had achieved, and to look at refreshing the strategic approach to Rangers being involved in Countryside Management. This review distilled the work of Rangers into 4 areas; Ensuring a Welcome, Mediation between the Public and other Users, Caring for the Natural Heritage, and Promoting Awareness of Natural Heritage. These were an evolution in the initial drivers for Countryside Management and suited the emerging services well. Ranger numbers continued to grow, and in the late 1990’s there were in the region of 350 – 400 FTE Ranger posts in Scotland and many other associated Countryside Managers.

Of course, the mid 1990’s through to the early years of the new millennium, saw a relative explosion in Countryside Professionals. The awareness that had led to the first Countryside Managers, those Rangers in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s had continued to grow and public awareness of topics such as conservation had continued to develop. The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 introduced Biodiversity to the world at large, and through that decade a new Countryside Manager, the Biodiversity Officer was born. Later on in the 1990’s there was an increasing desire for greater access to the countryside, resulting in the posts of Access Officer joining the hallowed rank of the Ranger.

These were not necessarily new jobs – Rangers had been dealing with biodiversity and access since their inception. However, pressure on these key areas had grown to the extent that they now required specialist roles to support them. So from quiet beginnings back in the early 70’s, Countryside Management had blossomed and expanded to support an increasingly pressured environment, and an increasingly detached community that wanted to get out into that environment.

In Scotland, the first decade of the new millennium has also been exciting. Two National Parks have been designated each of which has a staff (albeit employed in one Park and facilitated and grant aided in the other) compliment of many Countryside Managers – Rangers, Access Officers and Biodiversity Officers at the core. But it is also a decade of change. In 2008, SNH undertook a review of Ranger Service policy, set against the review of 1995 and a refreshed policy – Enjoying the Outdoors II (an imaginative title replacing Enjoying the Outdoors I!). This review aimed to rationalise the increasingly diverse work of Rangers across both public and private services, but also across National Parks and governmental agencies such as Forestry Commission Scotland.

The result was the policy statement ‘Rangers in Scotland’ (search Rangers in Scotland on any search engine and you’ll find it!). This further distilled the work of the profession into three key areas; To ensure a warm welcome and provide support to help people enjoy the outdoors; To increase awareness, understanding, care and responsible use of the natural and cultural heritage; and To support the sustainable management and use of the outdoors to meet a range of social, economic and environmental objectives.

These aims again evolved the role of the Ranger, notably reflecting a greater role in ‘heritage’ rather than natural or cultural in recognition that the two are often inextricably linked, and, perhaps more vitally, promoted the expansive role that Rangers play in community engagement and delivering on other agenda’s such as health and wellbeing.

However, the announcement followed in late 2008 that SNH would no longer provide direct grant aid to public based Ranger Services (those in local authorities) and that this grant would be distributed as part of the governments central settlement to local authorities, in a non-ring fenced fashion. Some £2m of grant aid was lost to Rangers in early 2009, although some 50+ FTE posts are still supported in the private sector. The impacts of the loss of this grant aid are still not clear, although anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been the loss of several posts in the past year.

So, what of the future? Scotland’s Rangers have a proud history of innovation and success. Over the past 40 years, Scotland’s Rangers have delivered services to our environment and people that have been recognised around the world as demonstrating some of the best practice there is in Countryside Management. We are one of the few countries where the Ranger Services are united under a single logo and by common aims and aspirations. But in a period where we do not have national grant aid supporting the delivery of national objectives and policy, and when public spending is under increasing pressure, where will Scotland’s original Countryside Managers be in 5 years time?

logo: Scottish Countryside Rangers Association (SCRA)

Niall Lobley, Chair, SCRA www.scra-online.co.uk
Further information can be found at: http://bit.ly/RangersinScotland




First published in CJS Focus on Countryside Management in association with The Scottish Countryside Rangers Association and the Countryside Management Association on 23 August 2010