9th May 2022
Bugs, Birds, and Building Walls – More Ranger Training in the Highland
When I applied for this course over a year ago, I had no idea what to expect. I don’t have an ecology degree, I know nothing about environmental science, and I was convinced the term “raptor” referred to a scaley critter from the Cretaceous Period…
So, when January came around and it was time to up sticks and head West, well, I was terrified. I had no idea what I might find over there – could I get myself up Ben Nevis? Could I identify, like, a single tree? And what was the difference between a mell and a maul?! Three months on and while I still have my doubts about reaching the top of the Ben, what I think I might have found, is my calling…
The quantity of information we have covered in this short space of time has amounted to a rather mind-boggling but fascinatingly inspiring experience. We’ve now spent countless days in the hills learning how to build paths, plant trees, identify habitats, navigate our way around, bash those evil roddys, and fend off ticks. There has been a boat trip, bird surveys, pinecone collecting, boar gate building, brushcutter training, and literally every type of weather you could imagine - well, almost, I’m holding out for a sandstorm next week.
One of my favourite activities has been learning to identify dozens of trees, birds, butterflies, and bugs. There’s something about knowing the names of the things that surround us that makes me feel rather competent – and I was excited to prove this to my parents by pointing out every tree species and winged-thing I recognised on the Easter holiday drive home. For them, it was more like the nature nerd equivalent of the infamous “are we there yet?!”
This last week has been spent drystone dyking. We arrived on Monday, pulling onto a driveway just passed Fassfern, slightly unsure of what to expect. Jim, our trainer, talked us through how the assessment would work – 7 hours to take apart and build up just under 2m of wall each. No problem! But many hours, six people trying their hardest, and several ¾ ton rocks later, we discovered there might be a problem after all… Thankfully this was our training week and there was plenty of opportunity to make mistakes and figure out how the puzzle literally fits together. But we got there in the end and made that field woolly-jumper proof once again! Wish us luck for our test at the beginning of June!
After sending some photos to my parents a few weeks ago of our boat trip across Loch Arkaig, they responded with “living your best life”. At the time, I cringed slightly at their attempt to seem down with the kids with this particular turn of phrase, but the more I think about it, the more fitting it actually seems. I’m incredibly thankful that I took the leap and applied for the course during what was probably the 19th lockdown of 2021 and can’t believe how lucky I’ve been with the rest of the team too. We all worry about fitting in, and I’m no exception, but as mother nature would have it, we’ve all come together rather quickly and work as a group very well indeed. This week we’re tackling our next industry award: chainsaw cross cutting and maintenance on the Isle of Skye! With a bit of luck, I’ll still be able to count to 10 at the end of it.