At our recent AGM in Balloch, we met up with Kirsten Dallas, the First National Trust for Scotland (NTS ) Ranger Apprentice.
Congratulations Kirsten, how does it feel being the first NTS Ranger Apprentice?
It was fun being the guinea-pig and helping figure what things worked best. I can still hardly believe how much I learned and experienced in just 18 months, I had a blast.
Tell us a little about the Scottish Ranger Apprenticeship…
The award is a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme that you complete whilst working as a ranger. SCRA says that “the CPD journey helps you to identify your aspirations, set objectives for your development and chart your progress towards achieving them through a CPD plan”. You work towards your development and the award through the experiences and training you have whilst working as a ranger.
You choose which specialist competencies you would like to work towards that best suit your particular ranger job or your interests. Most of the time you are carrying out your normal ranger job but with the help of your line manager, or mentor, you build in ways to develop your skills and knowledge. Keeping a portfolio of evidence demonstrates that you have covered all the requirements of the different competencies. This is assessed by your manager and verified by experienced ranger professionals.
For those of us thinking about taking part in an apprenticeship, how long did it take you to achieve the award?
My NTS apprenticeship was 18 months. I was recommended to spend around 20% of my time working towards the award, so roughly 1 day per week. The good thing about CPD is it is flexible and can fit around your work commitments but that does mean you have to be quite strict with yourself to make sure you keep regularly working towards the award. It is easy to feel there is always other ranger work needing done!
What did you find most challenging?
It was sometimes difficult to think up ways of evidencing the work I was doing and the skills I as demonstrating. I became a total hoarder, keeping anything at all that might become useful as evidence – I ended up with all sorts of pictures of me doing random things. My email inbox has still not recovered!
…any worst moments?
There were challenges along the way but I’m sure it’s when things get tricky that you learn the most.
What’s the best thing about being a Countryside Ranger?
There are so many things! Spending time outdoors learning about your site and helping to protect its special qualities and wildlife; meeting people and being able to share with them your love for the place you work, and the variety, no two days the same, you never know what new challenges you might face next.
The highlight of the NTS ranger apprenticeship was being able to work at 3 very different and very exiting places. I was first part of the North-East Ranger Service who work at sites all over Aberdeenshire. I was able to experience planning and running a real mixture of events for different ages and interests.
I then spent the summer working on St Kilda, a bit of a dream come true! The main focus was looking after visitors and ensuring the island was well maintained and safe from any damage. It was such a privilege to have time to explore the islands and really get to know the place.
My last stop was a winter at Mar Lodge Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms. There I was able to experience a lot of practical estate maintenance, including chainsaw work, helping build bridges and upkeep of the visitor facilities. It was amazing to spend so much time out in the hills.
Do you have any tips or advice for any aspiring apprentice rangers?
Get out there and start doing it! Nothing beats practical, hands-on experience of ranger work so join a local conservation group or start volunteering. Try and experience as wide a range of tasks as possible and you’ll be well on your way to being able to demonstrate to potential employers that you will be able to tackle whatever the job might throw at you.
Where did your ranger journey begin?
Growing up I was always outside and loved exploring nature, making things and generally running around getting muddy! The idea that you could do that for your job seemed pretty good! My Mum has an amazing knowledge of plants and wildlife so I’m sure some of my interest will have come from her.
I started as a volunteer ranger with the National Trust for Scotland at Balmacara Estate in the autumn of 2014. I realised it was a career I could get really passionate about. The staff, at Balmacara and the NTS, gave me so much support, and a great introduction to rangering, for which I am hugely grateful. I learned so much in the 6 months I was volunteering. I got a seasonal ranger job there in 2015 and then applied for the apprenticeship.
Where will your journey take you next?
I was lucky to have 3 job offers from the different NTS places I had been based at. Doing the apprenticeship really worked out for me. It was hard to choose but I decided to take a job at Balmacara where I first started rangering.
I chose this job because it included a lot of things I haven’t had experience of, such as writing management plans, running a crofting course at the local high school and some of the responsibilities of a ranger manager. It feels quite like being an apprentice again and I am loving learning lots of new things. I hope the experience I am gaining from this job, combined the apprenticeship, will leave me well set up for taking on other ranger jobs in the future.
If you could be a countryside ranger anywhere in the world, where would that be?Scotland! There is nowhere better. There is a long list of places I would love to visit all over the world, particularly places with amazing mountains such as New Zealand and Patagonia, but I see myself always wanting to live and work in Scotland. I guess a love of mountains and the sea is what keeps bringing me to Scotland’s west coast
…and finally, what are you #wildabout ?
Footpaths – both building them and using them! Maybe only a ranger could get excited about something most people don’t even think about on their day out, but so much thought goes into building a really good path that will stand the test of time and protect the countryside from damage we could cause roaming around without them.
All that hard work is then enjoyed by thousands of people, allowing them to get out and about in the Scottish countryside, learning about new places whilst being surrounded by nature and gaining all the benefits that can bring to the body and soul.
Thanks for sharing your apprenticeship experience with us all Kirsten. Wishing you every success in the future, it sounds like you’ve laid the foundations to a great career as well as to countryside footpaths!