Ranger Tales: Rowan Patterson, Academy Ranger

Academy ranger Rowan Patterson

Rowan Patterson recently completed our Ranger Academy course and shares his experiences of working in the great outdoors as part of the Belfast ranger team.

What made you decide to apply for the Ranger Academy?

I had studied psychology at University of Stirling in Scotland but realised that it wasn’t for me. Instead I had always enjoyed the outdoors and realised that I could have a career, working to protect it as a ranger!

During the next year I returned to Northern Ireland and volunteered with the Castle Ward ranger team, the Conservation Volunteers, as well as a couple of conservation projects in both Cyprus and England. This helped me understand what I wanted to do and allowed me to build up the relevant experience to apply for the Academy.

How have you found the experience of being an Academy Ranger?

The academy has changed my life completely. I went in to it with next to nothing, in terms of relevant qualifications to become a ranger or experience in the working world, but come out with certificates in a wide range of machinery and equipment, a BTEC in Countryside Management, and two and a half years’ worth of day-to-day experience working in a ranger team. The role is one that suits those who don’t have much experience or training very well because you are allowed to make mistakes! This helped me ease into the role and enjoy it even more. It has truly been a pleasure and a privilege.

Rowan planting a wild flower meadow at Minnowburn
Academy ranger Rowan planting a wild flower meadow at Minnowburn
Rowan planting a wild flower meadow at Minnowburn

What would you say to someone who was considering applying for the Ranger Academy?

I would recommend volunteering with a National Trust ranger team. This gives you a day-to-day experience and understanding of life as a ranger as well as knowledge of the Trust and how it operates. Improving your tree, plant and wildlife identification skills is a great way to show how keen you are to become a ranger.  

What have been your best moments

My best moment during the academy was leading a guided walk with the North Down Association. This walk was both the finishing touch to my main project (installing waymarking posts around Minnowburn) and a big step for me, leading a walk for the first time – a key part of being a ranger. The Members’ Association had kindly part-funded the project, so we decided to hold a wildflower tour of Minnowburn for them whilst also showcasing the signs that their money and generosity had gone towards. Having previously struggled in speaking to large groups of people, I was quite nervous to begin with but quickly found myself enjoying it!

What do you enjoy most about being a ranger for the NT?

One of my favourite things about the job is simply being outdoors. Just being surrounded by nature is enough. However, the range of work and the amount of people you meet during the whole experience is unbelievable too.

I’ve had a brilliant time with the Belfast team, too, full of craic, challenges and ideas. The team were very supportive and kept me on the right track throughout the process. I was given plenty of opportunities to work at other properties too - seal and nesting bird counts with the Strangford Lough team, path repair and helicopter rides with the North Lakes footpath team and plant monitoring in the Mourne Mountains with the Murlough team.

Rowan pictured with the Belfast ranger team
Rowan with the Belfast ranger team
Rowan pictured with the Belfast ranger team

The opportunity to study for a BTEC course in Reaseheath College was brilliant too. I loved getting to know all the other academy rangers, finding out where they were and what they were doing, and the lecturers there are honestly some of the most patient and inspiring people that I’ve met.

Where is your favourite National Trust place and why?

I’ve always loved Crom Estate in Fermanagh. I spent many family holidays there swimming in Lough Erne, cycling to the old castle and enjoying walks to the butterfly pond. I hadn’t actually thought that I could work in a place like.

However, having worked in Minnowburn now for a couple of years it’s hard not to say that it’s my favourite. Seeing the buzzards daily, catching videos of foxes, badgers, rabbits and other wildlife,  and getting to know Minnowburn’s trees and wildflowers (and the butterflies that come with them) has been such a satisfying experience.

What are you going on to do now?

My immediate plan is actually to do some travelling in Canada. I’m planning to try and get some work as well as getting all the way across from Montreal to Vancouver. I’d like to leave it quite open ended, so it’ll last probably as long as the money does!

When I come back from Canada I’d love to get a ranger job with the National Trust. There’s such a huge range of properties and habitats that you can work in across the UK that the Trust looks after so I really want to see what a few of them are like and experience different methods of conservation.