Meet the rangers at Ickworth

The rangers at Ickworth who look after this grand estate © Elizabeth Thomas

The rangers at Ickworth who look after this grand estate

Meet the rangers… the guardians of Ickworth’s park and woodland. The team of two paid staff, five volunteer rangers and 32 other volunteers perform a diverse range of tasks from planting, managing and coppicing trees and processing firewood, surveying wildlife to leading trailer tours and maintaining the miles of paths and waymarked routes throughout the park.

We met up with Senior Ranger, Dee Gathorne-Hardy, to find out more about what they do.

Spring must be a busy time for you – tell us about what seasonal tasks are ahead of you?
With visitors starting to come in higher numbers in springtime, there’s a lot to do making sure footpaths, gates and stiles are maintained and routes waymarked. Spring is actually a quieter time for woodland management: we tend to leave wood alone and let it grow as the birds are nesting. We do the coppicing and planting in the winter. At this time of year we try to get out the wood that has been cut down and mill large timber into planks for October’s wood sale. And as we start to get towards the summer there’s lots of mowing and strimming to do.

Why is the rangers’ role so important?
We help people to enjoy the estate by enabling access and hopefully getting them to come back and enjoy the conservation, either historical or nature. Not only do we manage these places for visitors and members, but also for the nation.

How did you get into this line of work?
I’ve always lived in the countryside and enjoyed rural places. I first volunteered with the National Trust when I was 17, then went on to study countryside management at Newcastle, and volunteered again afterwards. I like the outdoors and working in the outdoors, and working with people who are committed to conservation. Here it’s perfect because you’ve got both the history of the site and the history of the house.

What is a typical day in your life?
It depends on the season. In winter we are more focused on wood management, while in the summer it’s more estate management. Throughout the year we do guided tours, build bridges and stiles and hold special events like community education and getting the local community involved in repairing the children’s play area, for example.

What do you like most about your job?
The thing I like best is working in woodland with ancient trees with people really committed to conservation. It’s a great feeling to manage these places for visitors – without our visitors and members we wouldn’t be here.

And I don’t mind the weather… when it’s freezing cold in winter the contrast to a lovely summer’s day is part of the enjoyment.

What’s your most memorable moment in the 15 years you’ve been a ranger at Ickworth?
I remember once walking through the deer park one early morning when there was a hard frost and the sun was out. Across the valley I saw two red stags, which are incredibly rare to see here, running and fighting at the same time. They were locking antlers and oblivious to everything else. Moments like that imprint in your mind.

What is your favourite area of the park?
The ancient pollards – there’s a beautiful view over the valley not far from the icehouse. It’s very peaceful with beautiful views and a row of ancient oak trees.

Rangers’ fact file
The Ickworth estate covers 1,800 acres
There are 600 acres of woodland
900 acres is taken up by parkland
250 ancient trees make their home in the park
The rangers process 30 tonnes of firewood for the Porter’s Lodge boiler a year
There are over 20 miles of waymarked routes in the park
The oldest tree in the park – the Tea Party Oak – is thought to be around 700 years old