A day in the life of a Countryside Ranger
Cheshire East Council’s Countryside Ranger Service manages a suite of parks, trails and open spaces on behalf of the Council and its partners.
At the forefront of the Ranger Service are 12 Countryside Rangers operating in two teams, each supported by a Countryside Officer. Their roles are as diverse as the land that they look after, from upland parks on the edge of the Peak District through to urban fringe greenways on the outskirts of south Manchester. Working alongside the Countryside Rangers are an array of volunteers, including work experience students, retired enthusiasts and mental health support groups.
Carolyn Sherratt works within the southern Ranger team, responsible for the management of a number of sites in the countryside around Congleton. No two days are ever the same; however the following is an account of what might happen on a ‘typical’ early autumn day..........
Cal starts her day with a site check of Dane in Shaw Pasture SSSI. The previous weekend had been unseasonably warm and past experience would suggest that, while the vast majority of visitors respect the facilities on their doorstep, there is still a minority causing a disproportionately amount of extra work.
Fortunately today is not as bad as she had feared – only minimal litter plus the remnants of a small fire to deal with. It is important to address these problems as soon as possible as this site (Cheshire’s only Coronation Meadow) is home to a seasonal herd of conservation cattle. Cal takes the opportunity for a quick head count and visual health check of the cattle, texting her findings through to the local farmer.
Then it is back to the Landrover, which is parked on the adjacent Biddulph Valley Way (BVW) – a disused railway recreational trail linking Congleton with Stoke on Trent. The BVW is also the route for a gas mains pipe which runs alongside. Detailed negotiations have been ongoing over recent days with contractors, who need access to the trail to deal with a suspected gas leak.
Whilst such works are an obvious priority, Cal needs to ensure that the contractors are clear about the environmental sensitivity of the site and the importance of both ensuring public safety and maintaining visitor access.
Agreement is eventually reached for the trail to remain open whilst works are in progress and for additional signage to be posted advising visitors of potential delays. A quick call to the local Sustrans representative reassures him that potential diversions will not adversely affect this national cycle route.
Cal is then joined by one of the team’s long-standing regular volunteers, Karl, whose experience enables Cal to fast-track some of the minor repair and maintenance tasks that are an ongoing part of keeping her sites at a high standard. Their first task is to replace a couple of worn steps that lead from the trail on to adjacent public footpaths.
Encouraging visitors to explore the wider countryside is an inherent part of her role and, as the task progresses, a group of ramblers stop to comment on their work. Their conversation soon gravitates to include the recurring theme of dogs in the countryside. As a dog owner herself, Cal is able to talk confidently about the responsibilities and expectations that both the Council and local farmers will have of dog owners and of the various promotional activities that she has been involved with to encourage appropriate behaviours. With the ramblers on their way Cal and Karl are able to finish off the step renovations, before stopping for a well-earned lunch break.
The afternoon has been earmarked for commencing the winter’s conservation tasks; starting a first phase of re-coppicing alongside the BVW. Having undertaken similar work for many years, the wildlife benefits have been remarkable.
With Karl helping as a second trained chainsaw operator, a small area of hazel is soon cleared. The coupe is next to a small pond, dug out some years to support the local great crested newt population. As a licensed ‘handler’, Cal had surveyed this pond earlier in the year and while she had found evidence of newts it was also obvious that this particular pond was getting regularly disturbed, probably by dogs jumping in – a problem now easily resolved with their cuttings used to create an effective dead hedge around the exposed pond perimeter.
Chainsaws cleaned and sharpened, there is just one last task to complete on site. Cal has organised a guided walk to be held the following week, part of which will utilise the BVW and neighbouring Macclesfield Canal. The full route will be checked another day but this section of the walk is always a useful point to explain to participants about the history, management and challenges of managing the local landscape.
It’s also a great spot to share her knowledge about the local flora and fauna and Cal takes the opportunity to identify suitable trees, nuts, berries and fungi, which she’ll be able to show to people on the walk.
Last job for the day is of a more sedate nature as Cal calls into her office to deal with the many emails and telephone messages; an assortment relating to site management, general public enquiries, plus ongoing administration. There’s just time to update the management plan records to incorporate the work she’s completed today and to check the diary to see what the rest of the week holds – an ever evolving assortment of work that needs to be planned and implemented.
Countryside Ranger, Cheshire East Council