How I became a National Park Ranger

“The view from your ‘office’ is nature porn for the eyes” – My Dad, 2015.

Photo by Dugald Etheredge, 2014

I am asked a lot by friends and strangers how I managed to get my job, so I thought I would share with you my journey. Its worth keeping in mind that every person I have worked with over the last 10 years has come to be working as a Ranger, warden, land operations officer or similar by a thousand different paths. Some more mainstream than others. There are no rules. But there are definitely a few things you can do to increase your chances of finding your dream job in a very competitive industry. For the last 4 years I have been a Seasonal Ranger for Scotland’s first National Park and in July this year I became a permanent member of the Land Operations team.

My current role as a Land Operations Officer

I am outdoors every day. And every day is different. I could be anywhere within the 720sq mile boundary of the National Park doing any number of tasks. From strimming, mowing and litter picking in the summer months to infrastructure repairs and tree work with my colleagues in the winter.

Estate Worker at Newton Park, Bath 2012

Here is my journey….

By 2006 I had been working for 8 years in jobs I struggled to really enjoy. From sales to many customer service roles, a sexual health clinic and as an estate agent, I just couldn’t find a job where I woke up in the morning and thought ‘Wonderful! I’m going to work today’. Air-conditioned offices, smart clothes, gossip by the water cooler and headaches from staring at a computer screen all day – I felt trapped. I lived only for the holidays where I could travel or the weekend where I could be outdoors in the day and party at night. I was bored and restless and although my out of work life was amazing, my jobs just were not fulfilling. I chose to go to university as a mature student (at 28) and change my career. I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do but I knew my learning style and what I was interested in so I chose Geography. The science of climate change, glaciation, and quaternary environments were some my favourite subjects. I have to work hard at academia. It doesn’t come naturally to me but my degree was exciting, stimulating and never boring.

Working at Newton Park, 2010

Whilst at University one of my best friends and I volunteered with the Estates team. Bath Spa University campus is bloody beautiful, rivalled only by perhaps Stirling University. The campus is set in 125 acres of Capability Brown designed landscape and is historic parkland. We loved volunteering so much and when summer came round they kept us on and paid us! It felt crazy to be paid for such an amazing job, with like minded colleagues, a never ending rose tinted summer, practical learning and my favourite part; being tired at the end of the day from physical work not tired from staring at a screen. Whilst at university and afterwards I was volunteering regularly with a number of organisations; A Ranger for Sustrans on their cycle path network, an Estate Interpreter for the National Trust and undertaking a survey project with the Avon Wildlife Trust Living Landscapes Project. Slowly I was finding what interested me (bats, protecting and improving our special places, physical work, visitor management – an eclectic mix but I was slowly figuring it out).

Undertaking my chainsaw certificate with the Royal Agricultural College, 2013.

A year after graduating with my BSc (hons) I started a distance learning MSc in Countryside Management at SRUC in Ayrshire and made the 700 miles round trip north four times a year for study weekends. My husband and I had been visiting Scotland on holiday regularly and the natural progression was to move there. He already had a job in the outdoor education industry but I arrived without work. I started volunteering with the RSPB and also as a Volunteer Ranger with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and continued my studies. This is a very shortened version of events and it wasn’t easy for us to uproot and leave our families but the call of Scotland, the greater availability of jobs in the outdoors and a new start were stronger.

Views from the Loch

I applied to be a paid seasonal Ranger for the National Park and was successful, a competitive process but worth every moment of sitting in all those offices!  And that is how it started. Very few permanent jobs or extensions to contracts come up so it is worth pursing any that do and looking around at all the other organisations on a regular basis for job roles. Also, my stints in offices and customer service jobs have helped me enormously. You need to be able to talk to people, stay positive in every type of weather and situation and give the general public what they are looking for. I have met people with outstanding natural history and conservation knowledge but very little people skills and to work as a Ranger you need to be able to engage with people; from volunteers, children and young people during education and events as well as the general public. Not to mention your colleagues. You also need to love being outside in any weather and be confident in challenging situations.

During the winter months I worked on building and upgrading part of the West Highland Way footpath on the east side of Loch Lomond. 10 hour days in remote, winter conditions. I loved it! I also undertook an extended contract for the Ranger service one year covering maternity leave but I was back to being a seasonal member of staff the following year.

Winter jobs are important for adding layers to your CV and although you may not think retail or manual labour jobs are the dream, they can definitely help give you a larger skill base and give you the time to consider what you really want to do, where you want to go and how much you want it.

Winter work

Working outside as a Ranger (and Land Ops Officer) was my calling! It is honestly a wonderful job where you get to meet people from all around the world, feel you are really making a difference to helping protect and conserve very special landscapes, habitats and wildlife, stay fit and healthy and work with wonderful supportive colleagues. I wake up every morning and think ‘Wonderful, I am going to work today!”

Below are my 5 top tips for getting your dream job and more photos from my career journey:

Number 1: Volunteer and volunteer for a number of different organisations. Most ask for a set commitment per month, sometimes just one or two days. But my advice would be to try different types of voluntary work in conservation; Surveying, visitor management, practical work to name a few. Find out what floats your boat and really immerse yourself in the options available to you. Many organisations have volunteer rangers and this is great experience.

Number 2. Research When looking at the online jobs pages (the best out there is https://www.countryside-jobs.com/ ) there are a variety of Ranger / warden jobs available with many different organisations. Research and think about what you want from your job. Some people have a strong background or interest in education so a community or education Ranger may be better suited to them than a Maintenance Ranger / Warden or Wildlife surveyor. Read through lots of different job descriptions and see what the Essentials are and get them!

Number 3: Education. Not all but many positions ask for a qualification in a relevant subject. Countryside Management, Forestry or Environmental Science and usually HNC or above. However, I’ve worked with Rangers who have music and maths degrees to name a few but they have conservation volunteering experience or other skills relevant for the post. Spend time reading about the world around you, conservation practices, natural history, geology, geomorphology… I could go on… it’s a beautiful world, read about it and then get out there and look for what you’ve learnt (binoculars help)!

Number 4. Be prepared to work seasonally and travel. Very few people walk straight into a permanent, full time job. So be prepared to move for the role. Once you have a season or two under your belt it is much easier to get interviews for the permanent jobs.

Number 5. Ask for opportunities. Be creative, approachable and outgoing. Listen and learn from everyone you can and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. When you have a voluntary post or seasonal job do it really well. It is a small world in this field and you may hear about opportunities from people you are working with.

 

Like minded, lovely colleagues

You get to meet a wide variety of lovely people
The commute

That Tree and watching it change.

Thanks for reading and feel free to message me any questions.


5 thoughts on “How I became a National Park Ranger

  1. You have inspired me – I volunteered for Trees For Life a few years ago and just loved it, also love being outdoors and hill-walking so I really appreciate you posting all the tips and advice…having been stuck in an office most of my life, it’s inspiring to see the potential is there to feel that freedom and passion in something you feel drawn to in life. Great job Sarah x

    Like

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