Emma Reece

Emma Reece

Community Ranger, National Trust, South Devon

Describe your job in a nutshell, what might a typical day be like?

The main focus of it is to improve the link between the fantastic countryside that the National Trust manages and the community that live and work in it, but also to encourage use by visitors as well.

Work duties vary a bit depending on the time of year – in the winter our jobs are much more ranger-based, so we do a lot more work around conservation management – a lot of this is done by contractors as it’s on quite a big scale; so things like scrub management and other tasks relating to stewardship agreements.

We do some events during the winter, but they are mostly during the spring /summer season, when it is much more focused around working with different groups. We run events to get people outdoors and raise awareness of the sites that we look after, and working with local schools (mainly primary schools) to engage them with the outdoor environment, particular through the National Trust’s “50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4” campaign which has been really successful.

After I finished my masters I started volunteering for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (now TCV) and I absolutely loved it, and I thought “wow – you can actually do this as a job?!”.

What route did you take to get to this position? How did you get your first break in this sector?

I went to uni and did a biology degree, and then I did a Masters in Marine Science. At the time I didn’t really know anything about ranger work. I was always very environmentally-focused in what I was doing, but I thought I would go into research.

After I finished my masters I started volunteering for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (now TCV) and I absolutely loved it, and I thought “wow – you can actually do this as a job?!”. Before that, being a ranger as a career really wasn’t on my radar.

As soon as I started volunteering with them I really wanted to get a paid job doing that as well. So I volunteered with them full time for over a year to get work experience, and they helped me get my tickets which you need for this kind of work (things like First Aid, Chainsaw, Pesticides etc) in return for the volunteer work that I did for them. That gave me my foundation of practical experience. I then eventually got a job with Groundwork in Plymouth. But without the volunteering I wouldn’t have had the right experience to get that first paid post.

What skills do you use in your job?

A lot of it is communications skills, particularly with community work. With ranger work in general you’re always interacting with lots of different people – whether that’s farmers, councillors, or the general public.

You’ve got to be good at planning as there’s always a really high work load with lots going on, so you need to be good at prioritizing your work. When you start doing ranger work you do it because you love being outside in the countryside, doing physical work is a big part of it. When you progress in the job you can find that you move away from that and become more office-based which I think a lot of us struggle with at first.

When I was with Groundwork I was really lucky to be promoted to a management position quite soon in my career, but I decided that I wasn’t ready for it, and I really missed being outside and hands on, so I left that and returned to a more practical job. But I think now I am ready to move away from that and take on a more strategic role with a slightly different focus to the work – I still love getting outdoors and getting stuck in when I get the chance though!

South Devon coast

Is the job what you expected?

Aspects of it – this job is quite different for me as I’ve never worked for a land-owning organisation before. As the National Trust owns the areas that we look after there is a responsibility there; there’s a lot of work with tenants which is also quite new to me.

I think I knew what to expect but there have been lots of really good, new experiences. I think it’s quite a challenging job as we manage such a large area, whereas previous jobs have been much more focused on a specific site or a smaller area.

What personal qualities do you need for a career in the sector?

You have to be very determined as it’s a really competitive field to get into.

I think you can forget sometimes what an amazing job it is when you’re doing it on an everyday basis, but when you get to go out onto the amazing sites that we look after – you realise how lucky you are to be doing the job. It’s definitely one of those careers that you do because it means something to you; you don’t do it for the money.

Having a lot of determination, particularly initially when you’re trying to get that first break, or that first paid job, and even more so now when everything is more competitive with the difficult financial climate that we’ve had.

And a lot of enthusiasm – it can be really challenging – everyone has their own idea of what conservation should be, whether they know much about it or not, so you can be doing something really good but you can get a lot of negative responses from people for what you’re doing. So you need to work in a good team that understands that and can offer support too.