Mark Astley - Valley Ranger Profile
Area ranger Buttermere Valley
What I love about being a valley ranger is that no two days are the same. The role is incredibly varied – from designing conservation projects with tenants to litter picking and emptying dog poo bins, and everything in between.
What does your job as a ranger involve?
Underneath it all, the valley ranger’s job is to oversee anything that’s happening on land that’s in the care of the National Trust and making sure that whatever is taking place is helping to protect those special places, not damage them.
That could mean working with external agencies like United Utilities who extract water from the lakes in our care, or the Environment Agency to look at the rivers we manage, or Natural England to discuss what condition the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) that we protect are in, and how we can get them to even better condition.
It could mean working with universities issuing licenses for their research studies – everything from moth surveys to taking core samples from lake-bed sediment to examine the effects of flooding. It often means working with big events companies who want to run sporting events in the beautiful scenery that we look after. It’s a really fine balance between making amazing experiences like that possible for large numbers of people, without it having a negative impact on the very landscape that they’re here to enjoy.
A big part of it is also community relations – making sure I’ve got good links to the parish council, and a bit of local ‘policing’ work to make sure illegal poaching isn’t taking place and dealing with the small minority who come to wildcamp but end up creating damage to farmer’s gates, leaving broken glass, and sometimes their partly-burned tent, on the lakeshore.
But it’s not all blocked drains and fly-tipping. Answering visitors’ questions and helping them get the most out of their day is a key part of the job, as well as working with school to try and make sure the next generation of people growing up in West Cumbria have a better understanding of their environment and our conservation work.
" It’s not about me; it’s sharing places with people so they can discover this great big outdoor play area."
Tell us more about your conservation work
Buttermere Valley is upstream of Cockermouth, so my main conservation work is about rivers, helping to enable rivers that have been artificially straightened in the past to function more naturally to provide better wildlife habitats and more natural flood resilience. That includes working with tenant farmers to fence off river courses to allow natural vegetation to recover. These create buffer zones between any nitrogen spread on the fields and stops it getting into the river system. The vegetation also stabilises the banks and makes them less vulnerable to erosion.
I also manage hundreds of archaeology sites – our woodlands are covered with charcoal pit steads and sites ranging from bronze age burial mounds to WWII defences to stop enemy seaplanes landing on the lakes. Keeping the sites clear of trees helps to protect them from damage from tree roots, rerouting paths helps protect archaeological sites from damage.
What’s a typical day?
There is no such thing as a typical day in this role. I could be doing anything from working with volunteers repairing gates, to leading school visits, to dealing with scientist researchers.
I start work at 8am. When possible I try to drive through the valley to have a quick look at what’s been happening overnight – then I can try and solve any problems on the spot if I can; clearing any rubbish away so it looks beautiful for when visitors arrive.
What do you do in your spare time?
I spend time with my sons, they all play sport so I tend to ferry them from one fixture to another. I coach rugby twice a week at the local club, and I like to relax next to the lake during the summer and do a bit of fishing.
What’s the best part of the job?
Not knowing what’s going to crop up the next day – the unforeseen is what gets the adrenaline going and what keeps it interesting
And the best moment is working with schools and families getting people out enjoying the countryside – that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about me; it’s sharing places with people so they can discover this great big outdoor play area.