Teaching fish to swim!
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By Debs Carter
I briefly worked as a volunteer for Sussex Wildlife Trust on Seaford Head after being made redundant, which inspired me to look towards a new career; the ranger there ran an enthusiastic large group of volunteers, I knew almost immediately this was something I wanted to do.
I had an exuberant love of being outdoors whether coast or countryside which I wanted to turn into something exciting; I had no previous ranger experience but that wasn’t going to stop me.
I have always been a confident person and willing to try anything at least once, what I was advised at Plumpton College was that I had lots of transferrable skills from my past career as a Shore Support for Seismic crews & vessels which was a start!
Yes I had life experience, organisational, management and people skills; I needed now to work on land skills.
So whilst on a two year countryside management course, to gain this necessary knowledge, I volunteered for the National Trust at Bateman’s at Burwash, working mainly on woodland management with the ranger there.
We also led guided walks together, dealt on a daily basis with the visiting public and took part in team events held there such as Apple day or hay making.
Now that I am a Countryside Ranger for West Sussex County Council, working with volunteers, either individual or groups, my own experience of being on the other side of the fence is invaluable.
Volunteers are made up of a kaleidoscope of people, different ages, personalities, varying knowledge and experience all with a passion for the outdoors, wildlife and enthusiasm. Many will have held careers in countryside management or similar and have a mountain of knowledge to share.
Many who volunteer are also studying for a future career in the countryside; making that step from a volunteer with years of experience to a new role without any experience at being paid to do the job, can be a huge step.
As a volunteer I wanted to soak up knowledge, share the love of the countryside and task at hand with the leading ranger, to be appreciated and feel like I was making a difference and invaluable to the team however large or small and show I had initiative.
As a new Ranger I am mindful of all of that, plus that most, if not all will have way more knowledge & experience than me, yet they rely on me to lead, to manage the task in hand, to organise their day and ……oh yes, of course, make the tea!
On days when I have volunteers working with me, I want them to get the best out of their day, they are giving up valuable time and energy to do a fantastic job; to organise a task and delegating a suitable task for an individual is quite complex when you first start. However enthusiastic a volunteer may be, you still have to be mindful of that person’s ability, and their wellbeing is your priority, as is their enjoyment….. no pressure then!
In my previous role I would give company training of health and safety on board vessels to men who had been seamen all their lives, there was nothing in my training they didn’t already know, not dissimilar to teaching fish to swim! So I have always found you get the very best out of people and get accepted ‘into the fold’ by the way you respect and treat others. A smile always goes a long way too, who would want to spend the day with a grumpy ranger!
Most countryside management organisations could not run without the enthusiastic and reliable volunteers.
Paid roles for those looking for a career in countryside management are very few and far between, those lucky enough to secure a role (like myself) realise the importance of this wonderful ‘army’ of individuals willing to work with you and ensure together we take care of all our beautiful landscapes and habitats to the best of our ability. Volunteers are just simply amazing.
Find out more about volunteering with Debs at firstname.lastname@example.org
Debs is the CMA Representative for East Sussex, why not find out what she gets up to in that role on Instagram @cmaeastsussexrep
First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with The Conservation Volunteers on 10 Febraury 2020. Read the full issue here