Routes into Rangering

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Selfie of Sarah Davis in a field
Shortly after I got my first paid ranger job (Sarah Davis)

I began my career in conservation quite by chance. It took me a longer time than many to settle on the career I wanted to pursue and in hindsight, I’m so glad I waited and honed where my real interests and passions lay. At 28, I began my degree in Environmental Science through the Open University. Many who have also studied this way will understand when I say it was the hard way. Choosing Environmental Science as my subject came after years in jobs that did not inspire me and grasping at threads of interest occasionally.

Freshly laid path curving through a woodland
One of the many paths built in my traineeship (Sarah Davis)

Soon after beginning my degree, I came to the realisation I also needed to work out how to gain experience in the sector, while not really realising what working in the sector even looked like. After more than a year of researching volunteering opportunities locally on the internet with any tenuous link to environmental science, I stumbled upon a ranger team with my local council who ran weekly volunteering days. I enquired and asked about what it involved, completely unaware what conservation in a UK context was. I knew as much as the next person about conservation in zoos and in foreign climes, protecting rare species. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to go along and meet Katie, the senior ranger. It was so far out of my depth to go and do something I felt completely unprepared for, but Katie quickly put me at ease. She explained about the nature reserves they managed and the type of work that the weekly volunteering groups did. It all sounded much like gardening to me! Truthfully, I think I was so passionate about working with nature, I could have been asked to do anything and I’d have been up for trying. This was just as well as I was launched into an ambitious and pretty monotonous project the ranger team had just begun. They were digging a trench that must have been around 1km long for a pipeline to supply water troughs for a new grazing paddock. After the first few sessions, despite the repetitiveness, I was hooked! I am thankful for how welcomed I was, even though my stamina and ability were awful back then. They were a friendly team and plenty of jokes and laughter got us through. The task had a lot of job satisfaction, which anyone who runs volunteer teams will know is important.

I am not sure looking back how long it took before I had fully decided I wanted to be a Ranger but I don’t think it was long at all. I went from doing 1 day a week, to 2 days, to coming in whenever I wasn’t in my paid job. They would all say how they couldn’t get rid of me for long! I eventually threw all my eggs into the basket, becoming a full-time volunteer whilst working in paid jobs just to keep my head above water. I had so much drive to succeed by this point, encouraged by the ranger team, I was prepared to sacrifice to get to where I wanted to be.

Group of volunteers standing next to a new fence on a rainy day
Working with some other volunteers on yet another rainy day (Sarah Cresswell)

Volunteering offered me so much. Working with knowledgeable people quickly meant I picked up bits of wildlife identification and grew a fascination with finding out what every plant, insect and mammal was called. I was taught skills from using a hammer correctly (some would say I still have a very alternative method!) erecting fences and building pathways to hedge laying and running volunteer sessions myself. The team soon realised I was ‘all in’ and it was Tom Bennett, the new Senior Ranger, who took it upon himself to create a traineeship for me. This was born out of the realisation that just volunteering sadly didn’t give me all the skills to make me employable. Becoming a trainee ranger, in exchange for full time hours over a year, they were able to provide me with a Lantra chainsaw licence and in-house training on some of the common machinery. With the same status as a member of staff, I was able to drive work vehicles and act as a member of the team. This helped to improve my confidence that it was a matter of time before I could be paid for doing what I loved. From job advertisements online I created a list of skills and experience I needed to make me employable. Running volunteer work parties and education sessions for community groups, running the visitor centre, planning, and creating public events and becoming proficient in practical skills were some that made my list. This volunteering and traineeship gave me the foundation of experience I needed and the confidence to consider it possible to be a full-time ranger.

Herd of Shetland Cattle in a field
Some of our herd of rare breed Shetland cattle (Sarah Davis)

I got there eventually! Anyone in this sector will attest to the competitiveness for every role and the sheer determination you need to keep applying. I applied for a lot and went through many ultimately unsuccessful interviews until one day, I broke through. I was offered an assistant ranger type role with another local council, and I am still here 6 years later. My current role has slowly evolved so in a full circle moment, I am now looking after our large team of volunteers, still doing all the practical maintenance of 30 nature reserves and greenspaces, running education sessions and public events and surveying in quite a few wildlife groups. I have always loved the variety this job offers and the ability to see your own small impact on wildlife for the positive.

As with many rangers, I strive to be a generalist in wildlife identification while also nurturing a particular passion for botany. This love of plants was built while volunteering and opened a new interest for me. Nature offers us all a pool of interest and knowledge we can be sure we will never master fully and that, for me, is what keeps my love of my job going. I know I’m going to always try to keep learning new things and developing my career and encouraging people seeking to get into the sector to volunteer.

Sarah Davis
Landscape and Countryside Officer
BCP Council
Find out more about the traineeship on  

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with The Conservation Volunteers on 6 February 2023. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 23/01/2023

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