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Woodland Edge

Ramblings of a (would be) Volunteer Ranger - Part 1!

Volunteers

Carla Robinson, Administration Officer with the National Forest Company, talks about why she was drawn to be a ranger on the National Forest Way.

The idea for volunteer rangers to help look after the National Forest Way was outlined at one of our fortnightly Team Meetings. Afterwards, before I forgot (or could change my mind) I emailed my colleague asking if she would consider an 'amateur' like me! 

Of course she said yes! But let me explain: an amateur at walking might sound slightly bizarre, melodramatic even, but I knew that the type of people the NFC might initially invite on board with this programme would be what I call 'professional' walkers, that is, experienced walkers who are probably members, if not leaders, of walking groups; people who know their public from their permissive footpath, who don't need to be told to be prepared for all weathers and eventualities, who can follow directions, read a map, use a compass (not that you need a compass to walk the Way!) and so on.

So why was I quick to volunteer? Mid-life crisis? Feeling community minded? Needed the exercise? Route just happens to run through the village where I live? All of the above! With a significant birthday looming and the bodywork in need of an overhaul (not to mention a few nips and tucks!), I was desperate for an effective form of exercise with the least risk of injury. You may laugh, but over the years I have had my fair share of injuries whilst trying to keep fit. There was the broken back from playing rounders (four days in hospital to ensure no serious damage and a month off work); the badly sprained ankle a few years ago in what was only my second week at kick-boxing classes - kids in the class thought it was hilarious as I bounced to a halt on the mat, but it was very painful and meant a couple of days off work. Then, in spring 2015, in what turned out to be my final kickboxing class, I broke my wrist. Now I know you shouldn't put your arm out as you fall but it was a reflex reaction. Result? Missing an event I'd been helping to organise for weeks, on the following day and one of the NFC's biggest planting events the following weekend - not to mention eight weeks off work. Couldn't drive, dry my hair, brush my daughter's hair, not to mention other things you don't need to know about!

Anyway, I digress greatly.  Walking is one of the best and safest forms of exercise - what risks can there be?   OK so you could twist your ankle on uneven ground, be trampled by cows, gored by a bull… Actually, I won't make light of these things because they have been known to happen, albeit very rarely and, without being too health and safety-ish, most risks can be minimised by being sensible, respectful and not ignoring warning signs when walking in the countryside. 

At the first meeting of the would-be rangers, our co-ordinator, Caroline, set out the idea for the scheme. I couldn’t stay for the refreshments, but the idea, not to mention the cake, went down well and all those attending signed up. Due to work commitments, I also missed the main induction meeting and so it wasn't until the tool training session that I finally met my fellow rangers. Not only met but landed the job of snapping them for their identity cards - smiles permitted! It was also a chance to meet up with the fellow ranger I would be sharing a section with (the National Forest Way is divided into 12 stages). Turns out we are both novices and we agreed it would be useful to walk our section together on the first occasion.

The tool training was provided by a couple of rangers from Staffordshire County Council. They spoke about their role in helping to keep public rights of way in Staffordshire in the best condition they can be and offered tips and guidance on the correct use of tools. In recent years, Staffordshire County Council has looked at the way their teams work and now, rather than everyone being responsive to work required anywhere in the County, they are allocated their own 'patch', thus enabling them to build up a relationship with landowners and walkers/walking groups, and ultimately becoming more pro-active in managing rights of way - as far as budgets will allow.

Now don't be concerned when I talk about tool training. You won’t be seeing us volunteer rangers with a pair of loppers poking out of our rucksacks, or a chainsaw slung over our shoulders. The idea is that we report back on any work that may need doing - broken stiles, missing/broken marker posts etc - which will in turn be passed through to the Rights of Way teams at the relevant County Council. It may be that they are happy for us to undertake tasks such as cutting back undergrowth - but this will only be done at their instruction and with their permission. 

How does Carla get on as she ventures out on her ranger duties? Find out in the next instalment!