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A changing (political) climate

Logo: SCRA

By George Potts, Chair, Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus our national differences and our common experiences. The restrictions linked to the health emergency diverging across the different government administrations and the common “staycation” surge of visitors which put enormous pressure on our urban greenspaces and rural locations.

SCRA Chair, George Potts
SCRA Chair, George Potts.

Resisting the temptation to lay claim to wisdom and foresight, SCRA (with a good measure of wisdom and foresight), had already commenced a process of political engagement which, during the staycation crisis, helped set a context for the role Rangers could undertake to mitigate these challenges.

Starting in 2017, SCRA carried out a survey of Ranger numbers across Scotland and, through research and recollection, identified posts which had been lost since 2008, the last year a strategic policy document for Scotland’s Rangers had been published. Unsurprisingly, we identified that there had been a reduction of some 35% in Ranger numbers, 149 posts, plus far fewer Seasonal posts recruited, far fewer promoted posts available, and far fewer fixed term contract opportunities. SCRA estimated this took the total to well over 200.

These findings formed the basis of a petition submitted to the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in February 2018. 

We were granted a hearing by a cross party selection of MSP’s (Members of the Scottish Parliament). Our case was well received and was continued to allow further evidence to be submitted.

An important milestone in progressing our push for a national strategy for Scotland’s Rangers was the publication of the Glover Review

This review looked in detail at the management of designated landscapes in England. The combination of DEFRA (i.e.UK Govt) commissioning this report and the favourable references to the role of Rangers at the core of this review’s recommendations weighed heavily on the views of our petitions committee. SCRA put forward the argument that England now sought to establish the very model that Scotland had allowed to disintegrate. The Glover review’s assertion of “1000 more Rangers in England” had been picked up by the national press and gave SCRA the opportunity to identify a pro-rata number of 90 for Scotland, still well short of the job losses we had recorded, but tremendously useful in securing a positive outcome from our submissions.

A Scottish Parliament Committee room (SCRA)
A Scottish Parliament Committee room (SCRA)

SCRA had asked for a new strategic framework for Rangers in Scotland, the Public Petitions committee agreed and instructed SCRA, NatureScot and a number of other partners to work together to deliver it and report back. This facilitated a reconvening of our Ranger Development Partnership which, in the tumult of the age of austerity, had fallen into abeyance. The partnership featured representatives of the two National Parks, NGOs, Local Authorities and government agencies such as Historic Environment Scotland. Over the next 18 months this partnership chipped away at wording and created a vision which intended to carry the Ranger brand forward to 2030. Significantly, the re-establishing of this network was also to pay immediate dividends when the “staycation” crisis arose.

The policy document was only “launched” this year, delayed by the impact of the pandemic and in the forlorn hope of holding a launch event. Which was not to be.

The policy recognises the important role a Ranger can play in connecting people and places, the skills, professionalism and commitment they bring to that role. This is aimed at potential new employers and community groups but also at managers who have not had Rangers in their remit before. This is particularly pertinent as a common experience especially in Local Authorities. Of course, as with any policy document, what it doesn’t say can be as important as what it does say, so this created some disquiet amongst senior figures. It is not the prescriptive document they would like to see, doesn’t state essential aims and leaves the door open for “woolly thinking” on how and by whom elements of a Rangers job can be done. Guilty.

The great advantage of the policy is that it leaves scope for employers to fit into funding opportunities, corporate structures and new delivery models. Bearing in mind that the profession is at a low ebb in terms of “boots on the ground” we are not in a position to take a hard line but instead must keep demonstrating the value for money and strategic outcomes we can achieve. To that end there is a bold bid to re-introduce reporting of the collective effort of our national network. The headline figures this will generate are intended to secure political support and ensure a strong profile for the work of our profession.

The crisis. Suddenly we are part of a nation which tells people not to congregate in greenspaces nor sit too long on park benches. Just as suddenly they are released from these draconian restrictions and flood into our countryside and coastal resorts. Once again Rangers were on the frontline, trying to cope with unprecedented visitor numbers and high levels of anti-social behaviour, some deliberate, most unintentional, but way beyond the capacity of a Churchillian “few” to deal with. 

In September, a parliamentary debate on the need for action centred on the role Rangers could play. Our earlier engagement with the cross party selection of MSP’s during the petition hearings generated an informed debate and a ready consensus which set in motion processes to identify funding to allow the recruitment of more seasonal Rangers. By April, some 30 Rangers had been recruited for the 2021 visitor season including 4 new permanent posts, and up to 20 more seasonal posts are in the pipeline. “Every cloud…….”

The future presents as many challenges as it does opportunities. Our recent Scottish parliamentary elections saw “more Rangers” mentioned in all the mainstream manifestos. The new balance of power in the parliament is committed to increasing the number of seasonal Rangers.

SCRA now has an important job in lobbying to turn some of these seasonal posts into permanent posts and persuading the Scottish Government to establish a new sustainable funding model to secure the future of our profession. Circumstances are such that there is a “now or never” timetable attached to this aspiration.

Wish us luck.

scra-online.co.uk

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