South Downs National Park Rangers
PUBLISHED: 00:24 01 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:06 20 February 2013
While you're enjoying our new National Park, give a thought to the men and women maintaining and enhancing it. Kate Eastman learns more about the life of a ranger.
The South Downs is Englands newest National Park and it became fully operational on 1 April 2011. The Park covers an area of 1,627 square kilometers in southern England, stretching for 140 kilometers (87 miles) from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east through the counties of Hampshire, West and East Sussex. Recognised as an area of outstanding beauty, the South Downs is also home to a multitude of vibrant working communities steeped in history and traditional English culture and is home to more than 110,400 people.
The Park covers the chalk ridge of the South Downs, with its celebrated chalk downland landscape culminating in the iconic chalky white cliffs of Beachy Head, but also a substantial part of a separate physiographic region, the western Weald, with its heavily wooded sandstone and clay hills and vales.
Ranger Jeremy Burgess (pictured overleaf) manages rangers from the Brighton and Hove part of the South Downs across to Beachy Head, which is about 350 square km. Jeremy has been working with the National Park since last April and worked in the Sussex Downs for four years before that, but he has been a ranger for 25 years. There are four of us in the National Park team. My job involves managing that team, and all of us work in partnership to build relationships with land owners and communities, explains Jeremy. Our work can include anything from leading volunteers, conservation work, mending gates on open access land to working with village communities. The parishes down the Ouse valley are a good example of this, theyre looking to develop an off-road cycleway for safe cycling between Lewes and Newhaven and weve been working with them to help draw together the different communities to get them constituted as a group and wherever we can advise and support the project.
Jeremys job is different every day. I can be in discussions one day about clearing some scrub off a historic monument and the next day Im talking about transport and bus services. I first became interested in becoming a ranger when I was 14, spending my summer holidays volunteering in Dartmoor National Park, he says. Then I followed the career path of going to college, studying a degree in countryside management and then starting out into the role.
Jeremy wanted to become a ranger initially because he enjoyed working outside. In the early days it was much more practical, I was doing more rural skills like building stone walls, especially on Dartmoor. As time goes on the rangers roles are very different, and you evolve to the environment. Theres still a practical element but there is much more community involvement. Because were in our first year as a National Park were very much developing relationships. We are also very keen to try and develop some large initiatives, one of which is to do with the heritage coast. All around the white cliffs of Seven Sisters and Beachy Head were trying to draw people together to get added value for the area in terms of managing the landscape but also in education and recreation. There are lots of different people working in the area but actually getting them to work together is difficult. The best thing about my job is that no two days are the same and that I am doing something that I really enjoy and feel privileged to be able to do.
Tom Parry covers the central east area of Sussex from the river Adur across to Storrington. One of the projects I have been working on recently is a community scheme called Steyning Downing scheme. As part of Steyning Grammer Schools forest skills education, we bring 30 children out into the Downs every Wednesday to work on this project. The scheme has been leased about three hectares of derelict chalk downland by the Wiston Estate and I help the children out where I can, explains Tom. Last summer a lady from the Sussex Wildlife Trust and I co-wrote a management plan to cover the whole scheme that involved clearing some ash trees. The children and I have been doing that all winter, chopping some big trees, and we couldnt have done it without them. Youve got to watch the children very closely otherwise theyll end up cutting a tree with somebody else sitting where it would fall. It would be less tiring if I was on the saw but theyve done a brilliant job. The trees are being cut down because there is an old rifle range called Steyning Combe which is quite a decent chalk down that is grazed and fenced and the area were working on is next to it. There is a scrubby pasture area where you can see there is grass underneath so were cutting back these trees to bring back the downland. Weve got this 1947 aerial photo and there isnt a tree in sight!
Tom has been a ranger for a couple of years and volunteered before that. I was volunteering whilst at college where I was studying wildlife management. When I finished a couple of years ago I managed to get a job with the National Park, says Tom. My day to day job varies depending on the season, this time of year there is a lot of scrub clearance, organising volunteers and contracting some work. We get some cash for ourselves that we can spend on areas of land where the managers are good enough to let us on. Farmers will get funds for scrub clearance but a lot of the time the payments are pretty poor so we can help out and top up there or help with volunteers.
Tom wanted to become a ranger because: Its quite nice to see the changes we make over time, you dont achieve anything quickly, so a lot of the time we work on neglected downland that is all scrubbed over. You clear a load and it looks awful, it looks like a bombs hit it but give it a few years and you see things popping up that havent been there for 50 years. That is really nice, as long as you have the appropriate management going on.
Graham West covers part of the western Weald about 100 square miles from Gratham and Lodsworth, going east to Bury, Fittleworth, Stopham and up to Northchapel. Its probably the most wooded part of the National Park. The main area of my work is woodland management so I work in partnership with farmers and land owners, explains Graham. We have a lot of large estates in our patch and we work with those guys to get conservation projects off the ground. There is a mixture of liaising, facilitating and manual work, getting permission to get the volunteers in and getting permission to work on the ground. We also help landowners with grant scheme applications, particularly woodland grant schemes and felling licences so we can get the work done on the ground.
At the moment Graham has two big projects hes working on in terms of woodland management. One is working with the Cowdray Estate. They have one of the last strongholds of Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterflies, a very woodland butterfly that only survives in big open spaces in coppice fields. There are only three sites in West Sussex where the butterfly still exists so weve gone in there and started coppicing again to ensure the species survives. This has been achieved by partnership with the butterfly conservation and the Cowdray Estate. Last year we had the largest number seen there for years, about 40, explains Graham.
The other project Graham is working on with a colleague is called Duncton Hanger. It is escarpment woodland planted in the 1960s with western red cedar which is not a native conifer. Its a very difficult site with a scarp slope but its a high designation conservation area. It has special scientific interests so its really important that we get the conifers removed, explains Graham. Its not so much felling the conifers but getting them off site too, were looking at the possibility of using heavy horses for the extraction which is still a niche specialisation but there is still a demand for it as they can get in quite unusual terrain.
Graham has been ranging for 16 years, working on the South Downs for 10 years. I remember being dragged up to the top of Southwick Hill by my mum and Nan, explains Graham. Ive always really enjoyed the Downs in particular.