Harrison Vyse: My time as a volunteer ranger

Harrison Vyse, volunteer ranger at Castle Ward

Harrison Vyse, 22 was drawn to the outdoors from an early age: ‘All my hobbies are outdoors. I can’t stand to be stuck indoors,’ he reveals. ‘I found school hard for that reason and two years into a college course I decided it wasn’t really for me. I went on to study a BTEC Nationals in Countryside Management and got a distinction. I absolutely loved it and so I enrolled in Countryside Management at Harper Adams University.’

In his second year at university, Harrison was given the opportunity to go on a year’s placement, and so in September 2016, he found himself at Castle Ward.

What makes Harrison’s story different is that he was born with Glutaric aciduria type 1 (GA1), a rare but serious inherited condition, whereby the body can't process certain amino acids ("building blocks" of protein), causing a harmful build-up of substances in the blood and urine.

Without treatment, severe and life-threatening symptoms can develop, but Harrison never let this hold him back, in fact, it was quite the opposite: as he explains, 'It hasn’t held me back, if anything my condition has driven me forward. I’m lucky, I have a mild form of the disease; some people are affected much more badly.

Flying the nest to volunteer

‘I wanted to fly the nest and get away from home,’ he reveals. ‘I had visited Ireland a number of times when I was younger, so it wasn’t completely strange to me. When Kim McMonagle, Community Learning and Volunteer Co-ordinator at  Castle Ward, got in contact to say I could spend my placement there, I was both nervous and excited about coming. I had previously lived in student accommodation for short periods but this was the furthest I’d been away from home and for the longest period of time.’

Harrison with Kim McMonagle, Community Learning and Volunteer Co-ordinator at Castle Ward
Harrison with Kim McMonagle, Community Learning and Volunteer Co-ordinator at  Castle Ward

Triumphing as a team

When Harrison first arrived there were a few Health and Safety challenges, but nothing that held him back from fulfilling his potential and becoming a valued member of the team as Paul Livingstone, Head Ranger in South Down explains: ‘Having gone through a number of processes, and being somewhat intimidated by how we were going to involve Harrison  into the team, the Rangers and Volunteers took it upon themselves to deal with the issues that arose. We developed an understanding with Harrison which led to some of the pressure being lifted, and we treated him as simply another Volunteer Ranger.

'This did take some input from the team in general, however, as time passed, we saw that Harrison did have potential and the ability to work in many varied roles. Yes, there may have been a bit more time spent on him than would have been with abled bodied Volunteers, but as it now stands, this young gentleman has proven his ability to get “stuck-in” and deal with life, and the working environment, as would anyone else.’

My work as a volunteer ranger

Depending on the time of year, Harrison’s work at Castle Ward included cutting wood, cutting grass, maintaining trails and creating new outdoors features including a bug hotel, to enhance the Visitor Experience. He also gained his chain saw license and spraying qualification.

‘I’ve really enjoyed being outdoors, swapping the classroom and assignments for practical hands-on experience,’ he says. ‘My favourite part was the maintenance of the trails– you can actually see the difference you make after a day’s work – creating well-defined paths that open up the outdoors for visitors and allow different species to thrive.

After a very successful placement at Castle Ward, Harrison is hoping to become a ranger with the National Trust: ‘I’ve really enjoyed the training and I love how departments work as one team to make real and impactful changes to support nature and conservation. It’s been a fantastic experience and I’ve made some great friends, so I’ll definitely be back to visit soon.’

Volunteers digging in a muddy field at Florence Court

Time to volunteer in Northern Ireland 

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