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Becoming an Urban Ranger

Posted: Wednesday 22nd March 2017 by DevonWildlifeTrust

Kieran Shaw-Flach Active NeighbourhoodsDWT Active Neighbourhoods Project

Kieran Shaw-Flach is Devon Wildlife Trust's first trainee on the Active Neighbourhoods Project in Plymouth. In this blog Kieran explains what the role involves and his experience since starting in January 2017.

Volunteers with Active NeighbourhoodsI have been in my role as a trainee with Active Neighbourhoods since January. So far it has been a great experience, meeting new people and getting to know the nature reserves.

A large part of my time has been spent engaging with local communities, doing practical work on the reserves and running volunteer activities. I have also seen some amazing wildlife like curlew on the Tamar water’s edge, Kingfishers and a Song Thrush at Ernesettle Creek, and for my first time ever a bullfinch!

To give a bit of background, Active Neighbourhoods is a lottery funded project being delivered in partnership by Devon Wildlife Trust and Plymouth City Council. The project is working in five areas of Plymouth, to improve these spaces for people and for wildlife.

Surprising quality of Plymouth's green spaces

Since starting my job one of the things that has surprised me is the quality of some of Plymouth’s green open spaces. Prior to starting this job I didn’t know about some of the amazing reserves dotted around the city. When you visit some of our reserves such as: Budshead Wood, Efford Marsh or Ernesettle Creek it’s really easy to forget that you are in a large, sprawling city! Here in Plymouth we are really lucky to have high quality green spaces right on the doorstep.

Active Neighbourhoods project at DWTEfford Marsh and Budshead Wood have also just recently been as designated County Wildlife Sites! Before taking this job, I didn’t really understand why you need to manage a nature reserve, I thought to myself surely nature manages itself. This is incidentally is true nature does manage itself, but it is also necessary to give nature a hand from time to time. In some of our reserves where all of the trees have been planted at a similar time, the trees are all the same age and there is no age structure. Eventually things will take care of themselves, but this can take time. This is where we come in, to speed things up and to manage the reserves in a way that provides the greatest biodiversity. In the next few months I will be working on my brush cutter and chain saw licenses, so will be able to help more in the hands on management of the reserves. Recently I had a go at hedgelaying, which was really fun!

Working with the local community

Probably the most rewarding part of the job is working with members of the local community to improve their local green spaces. We planted a fruiting hedge in Ernesettle, and it was incredible to see members of the community pitching in to plant a hedge, which in the coming years they will bear fruit that they can harvest and eat. A local boy had not planted trees before, but by the end of the day said he had planted 27 trees! After two days of planting we were able to see the amazing job that we had done.

Kieran Shaw-Flach Devon Wildlife Trust

On the other hand it can be hard to initially engage people from the local community. For many people getting out, and into a wood can be a daunting step. Persuading people to make that step, can be challenging, initially people can be a bit wary of you as they maybe have a negative perception of the council. But once you get a bit of momentum and people see the work that you are doing, and they also see other members of their community getting involved it gets easier.

The majority of local people I have talked to have been really positive about the work going on in the reserves, and thankful for it. Finding out what concerns local residents have is really important, in community engagement. You need to know what people in that community want and need what the local issues are. If you go in there blindly changing things you can potentially cause more harm than good.

A career as a Ranger

Before taking this job, I knew that I wanted to work in the environmental sector, but I wasn’t quite sure in which area. I now really want to become a Ranger. For me it has an amazing variety in terms of the day to day and also the skill set required to be good at your job. It is a perfect combination of engaging communities, teaching people about the natural world, protecting wildlife and hands on practical conservation.

Find out more

You can read more about Kieran's experiences on the Active Neighbourhoods Project on his personal blog, 'Becoming an Urban Ranger'.

Read DevonWildlifeTrust's latest blog entries.

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