North Ayrshire Council Countryside Ranger Training – The Next Generation
The young people on North Ayrshire Council’s Pilot Ranger Programme might just be half way through their course- but already it’s had a life-changing impact on the four people involved in the year-long process.
So far one trainee has gone on to join Police Scotland intending to focus on wildlife crime, whilst another is being ‘fast tracked’ as he has gained a place on an HND course in Countryside Management. The two remaining trainees are expected to complete their CPD training by the end of November.
The Council is one of the first local authorities in Scotland to offer group training to this number of young people through the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association Continuing Professional Development Programme.
Each of the apprentices were allocated a mentor for the year, who they have been ‘mirroring’ and assist in the provision of a full service for Eglinton Country Park and other areas within North Ayrshire.
As trainee Countryside Rangers, the young people carry out a number of duties, including:
Promoting an understanding of the countryside through organising guided walks, illustrated talks, events and themed activities for schools, youth groups, community groups and the general public
- Planning and creating habitats to conserve plants and animals
- Tree planting, pond management and other practical tasks
- Carrying out field surveys to monitor changes in the environment
- Patrolling sites to help visitors and to discourage poaching or damage to the environment
- Managing exhibitions and resource centres
- Taking part in community projects
- Working with local landowners and businesses whose activities may affect the environment
- Keeping records and writing reports
- It’s been a great start to the programme - but plans are in place to try and make it even more successful.
The programme – a joint project between North Ayrshire Council Countryside Ranger Service and SCRA - started in December 2014 and saw the local young people embark on an intensive Countryside Ranger skills development programme.
It was to provide them with basic skills in preparation for various HNC or equivalent courses in countryside management and to carry out the role of Countryside Ranger.
But the training programme comes on top of existing staff workloads and is currently a significant additional financial burden on their service.
So it has been decided that the current CPD programme is not sustainable without being developed into an SVQ.
The service has the support of the SCRA, the North Ayrshire Council Economic Development team and the Scottish Rural University College to investigate this option.
North Ayrshire Council leader Willie Gibson said: “Within North Ayrshire Countryside Ranger Service we are equipping our trainees with knowledge and skills to suit their commitment to conservation, interpretation and education. The programme is proving to be highly effective with both staff and trainees finding the work challenging but rewarding. There has been a lot of positive feedback from both the apprentices and the staff themselves who say the apprentices have re-energised them and given a renewed passion for their work.
Whether the apprentices end up working with the Council or not they will be taking on valuable skills which will only benefit them for the rest of their life. We can enhance the programme which leads to long-term employment, greater confidence and improved job prospects for young people. We also believe that this programme has the potential to be utilised UK wide with some tweaks re: countryside law and historic legislation training.”
Feedback from Staff
Staff were consulted about the apprenticeship programme back in January 2014, in order to ensure their agreement and commitment to the concept. Samples of feedback so far include:
- ‘The enthusiasm and motivation of the trainees can have a positive impact on members of staff, re-igniting similar qualities.’
- ‘In order to train the trainees we are encouraged to refresh our own knowledge and study areas that may not be our specialties, thus benefitting our own CPD's.’
- ‘I first felt that four trainees were going to be a bit much but this number has proven to be beneficial. They have created their own dynamics and look to each other for support both during written tasks and conservational work.’
- ‘Additional skills, abilities from the apprentices eg, Social Media and IT, energy, enthusiasm and youthfulness is imparted to the existing Ranger staff.’
- ‘On the whole, feel having trainees is a positive experience so far, and all have settled in well.’
- It is a wonderful opportunity for us all, but it’s not for the faint hearted. There is a constant fear that we will fail them or that they will falter. But the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘maybes’ will only be encountered as we progress, and until then, like a journey into the unknown, we’re as prepared as we can be, and game for anything…..bring it on!’
Please follow the young people’s experiences on our Eglinton Park Facebook Page.
Cameron Sharp, Countryside Manager, North Ayrshire Council.