A Career in the Countryside…
Firstly, let me introduce myself, my name is Sarah and I currently work as a Visitor Centre Officer for Natural Resources Wales (NRW). NRW has several visitor centres throughout Wales, I work at Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre in Mid Wales. I started my journey at this site in 2010 as a Visitor Centre Assistant. The site was managed by Forestry Commission Wales at that time, which has since merged into the relatively new organisation, Natural Resources Wales.
Qualification wise, I completed A Levels and then attended the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies in Aberystwyth, studying a Higher National Diploma in Countryside Management. This qualification included a placement year, where I spent 12 months with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust at one of their nature reserves in Coventry. This was the year I became hooked! It firmly cemented my interest in working in a public facing role within a countryside environment. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and greeting visitors, leading school groups on various environmental education activities and I learned so much about all kinds of flora and fauna and how important it is to teach others of their importance and how to help look after them. A qualification in Countryside Management opened many doors outside my day-to-day work. In my spare time I learned how to ring birds and became a qualified ringer, I worked with my local community woodland group and ran environmental education sessions and I helped to set up and monitor several wildlife related projects such as bird box schemes and red squirrel monitoring.
My placement year actually inspired me so much, I went on to gain a higher education qualification in Environmental and Development Education once my HND was completed. I cannot recommend gaining hands-on experience enough - even in a voluntary capacity. It helped me decide where my passions lay and gave me so much insight. From there, I had a number of temporary short-term contracts working for companies such as the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and local councils in either face to face visitor roles or ‘countryside ranger’ type roles. I then applied for a permanent role with Forestry Commission Wales/NRW as a Visitor Centre Assistant and I am happy to report, I have been here ever since!
The Visitor Centre Assistant post is such an exciting role. It is one of the most integral roles in the smooth running of the visitor centre. We currently have a team of 3 permanent assistants and 2 seasonal assistant posts and between them, they ensure the centre and immediate environs are safe and welcoming for our visitors. The job itself is incredibly varied. It includes site H&S checks, making sure the site is tidy and free of litter, that the centre is well stocked with leaflets, that our interpretation is clear and in good order, that our reception and retail outlet is manned and well stocked and that everything runs smoothly. Our visitor centre assistants also lead activities during the school holidays for our visitors, such as pond dipping, bat walk evenings and Halloween, Christmas and Easter activities. It really is a role where no two days are the same! It is perfect if you enjoy meeting and greeting, telling people about the local area and what they can see and do, promoting conservation, working with people from all ages and backgrounds, being part of a team and striving to always do your best, as every day there will be visitors who have never been to the site and have yet to be enthused about the beautiful scenery and wildlife they can see and of course how they can help appreciate and look after it where they live. I was in this Assistant role for about 4 years before progressing through the organisation, first as a Recreation Ranger, at the same site, where I was mostly responsible for the wider recreational facilities and ensuring our trails and woodlands were safe and inviting for visitors, to my current role as Visitor Centre Officer, where I now manage the overall running of the centre and site. I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who has an interest in the natural world, enjoys working with people and thrives in a varied, fast paced environment.
Check out the organisation at Natural Resources Wales
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